Changes in technology have brought about one of employees’ favorite workplace trends: telecommuting. Given the benefits it offers, many employees are seizing the opportunity to work from home.
But are they being set up for success?
In a 2015 Flex+Strategy Group survey of more than 600 employees, 52 percent of respondents had never received training on managing flexible work arrangements. Furthermore, eight out of 10 employees had never used project management software and two out of three had never used video conferencing.
If employees aren’t getting experience or training for those integral parts of working from home, chances are they’re lacking more important telework training.
When an employee transitions from working in an office to working remotely, they have to learn new ways to work with others and schedule their time to be productive. Unless employers want to wait for employees to figure it all out through trial and error, they need to step in and offer support.
Here are four ways employers can offer telework training and prepare employees for success while working from home:
1. Define means of communication.
One of the most obvious challenges for telecommuters is communicating with co-workers and supervisors who are in different locations. In fact, in a 2014 survey by Software Advice, 38 percent of remote workers said communication was the most difficult part of working on a virtual team.
Employees have trouble communicating virtually because they lack an understanding of the benefits and difficulties of unfamiliar forms of communication. Verbal conversation is the most natural way to communicate with co-workers but, outside of the traditional office, talking face-to-face isn’t always an option.
Instead, teleworkers have to rely on emails, messaging platforms or texts to discuss work. Because these methods don’t provide employees with body language or verbal cues that aid in comprehension, misunderstandings are more common. However, unlike face-to-face conversation, discussions via these methods are permanent and can be revisited by employees whenever and however many times it’s needed.
By providing telework training about the nuances of the different forms of communication remote workers use, employees can better understand which choice will be the most effective way to convey their message. Companies can even develop a system about which form of communication is best for each situation. For example, daily updates about a project’s progress can be given through emails, but video conference calls would work better for brainstorming sessions.
2. Foster collaboration.
The relationships employees develop in the office have a tremendous impact on their productivity and job satisfaction. In a 2015 Virgin Pulse survey of more than 1,000 employees, 66 percent said their co-workers positively affected their focus and productivity. Additionally, 40 percent listed their co-workers as what they loved most about their job.
When employees spend the majority of their working hours outside of the office, they can begin to feel disconnected from the rest of the team. Depending on the nature of the virtual team, some members may never meet in real life. Talking and working with faceless email addresses all day can make remote workers feel lonely.
But no man -- or telecommuter -- is an island. If the right type of collaboration is encouraged between employees working at home, their relationships can be as strong as those in-office.
Begin by taking the time to properly introduce all members of a virtual team. If possible, have them meet in person so everybody has a face to put to a name. Give them virtual team building training so they can begin to develop trust and understanding of each other’s strengths and skills.
If possible, give them a virtual water cooler. Allow them to have a chat room or email chain for non-work related interaction. This gives them the same social connection they’d have with co-workers in the office break room.
3. Define how technology can be used productively.
While technology has made work easier in a lot of ways, it’s also created new ways to avoid work. In a 2015 CareerBuilder survey of 2,175 HR professionals, respondents ranked the top work productivity killers. In the top five were cell phones/texting (52 percent), the Internet (44 percent), and email (31 percent).
This poses a big problem for teleworkers, considering these technologies are also what enable them to work from home. However, employees will never be productive if they’re spending half of the day checking their inbox.
Take the time to create a schedule about when and how often employees are expected to be reading and answering emails. If everybody knows and understands that Mary is only going to check her email every two hours, she won’t feel the pressure to respond to every message immediately and can instead concentrate on her work.
It’s also important to recognize that each employee processes information differently. While some employees prefer long emails with all the information and instructions they’ll need for the day, others need to digest things in smaller doses.
On the other hand, some people find it hard to stay organized when their inbox is full of a hundred new emails everyday. Employers should discuss with employees how and how often they prefer to receive so remote employees won’t hit information overload.
4. Encourage a balance between work and personal time.
A big problem with bringing work into the home is that employees feel like they have to constantly be available, even after they’ve put in a full day’s work.
A 2014 Cornerstone report surveyed more than 2,000 employees about their productivity. When asked about working outside of the office, 26 percent of employees said they feel they can’t “turn off” and are often working during their personal time.
It’s up to employers to formally tell employees that the number of hours of work required of them while working remotely is the same as in-office. And while it might seem silly, employers also need to train telecommuters to take breaks.
A great tool to remind employees to stop and step away from the computer for a moment is the app OfficeHealth. It’s widely known that spending hour after hour sitting at a desk can have detrimental health effects. OfficeHealth schedules regular alerts to encourage workers to take a smart break by doing short, easy workouts.
By giving remote employees, or all employees for that matter, access to OfficeHealth, employers show they care about employees’ health. If telecommuters are formally told to take regular breaks, it also let’s them know they don’t have to be chained to a desk all day and that their employer values their personal time.