In the past few years the number of employees working remotely has increased significantly, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report. Whether these employees are working from home, shared work spaces or coffee shops, research shows that remote workers are often more productive than their office-dwelling counterparts, their job satisfaction is higher and they are less likely to quit. (Plus, it can help companies save a lot of money on in-office costs.)
I couldn't agree more. As the co-founder and CEO of Tradeshift -- a global-business platform connecting enterprises with their suppliers -- I find that the benefits of allowing employees to work remotely go beyond increased production and decreased office costs. Employees given the option to work remotely tend to be more loyal. In my experience, people thrive when they know that their employer trusts them and they tend to rise to the level of responsibility and self-motivation required from a remote worker.
Executives and managers, though, are presented with a unique set of challenges when dealing with remote employees, whether they are remote full time or part time. For example, employers may feel uncomfortable not being able to watch or keep track of remote employees throughout the day. They may also fear that communication will be more difficult if employees are not physically in the same office.
Of course, each business is different and there is no one-size-fits-all way to manage remote employees. However, here are a few things that managers can do to have success with remote workers:
1. Implement a formal policy. To make sure that everyone is on the same page, work with your HR department to create a policy for remote workers. Include specifics such as when employees can work remotely, the types of tasks that can be completed remotely and the expectations regarding how reachable by phone or email a remote employee should be.
Setting up clear expectations is key to avoiding miscommunication and abuse of policy.
2. Set up instant-messaging systems. Allow employees to communicate with each other from wherever they may be working by investing in a corporate instant-messaging system. This way employees can ask quick questions and send simple reminders instantly without having to send emails. This slightly more productive communication tool will help ensure that constant communication is as possible remotely as it is in the office. Some platforms businesses have used include HipChat, Campfire and Chatter.
3. Enable video communication. For status meetings or conference calls, encourage remote employees to communicate over video. There are some great video calling services available, including free Skype and Google+, which cost nothing.
The real benefits here are nonverbal communication cues which can lead to less miscommunications and better relationship building between colleagues. Talking on a video chat also decreases multitasking since both parties involved can see the other. This often helps with keeping employees on track and focused.
4. Leverage cloud technologies. One of the most important factors in how successful remote employees can be is whether or not they have the right technology. Ideally, employees should be able to access any files or data that they can access in the office while working remotely. This may require a number of different networks and servers depending on the size of your company, but one good practice is to invest in quality cloud technologies. If your company uses secure, cloud-based software for everything from customer relations to invoicing, employees will be able to easily access whatever they need from wherever they may be working.
While I certainly don’t think that working remotely is the right choice for every employee or every business, it is definitely worth considering for the right people at the right times. If implemented correctly, a remote working policy can lead to happier, more productive employees, decreased office costs and an overall healthier company.