In today’s wired world, information can reach many places at once, in real-time, and this has had a radical effect on the way business is conducted today. Given the proper resources, a computer, an Internet connection and access to the company’s internal network, many people can and are opting to work from home or other remote locations.
In fact, a Microsoft 2010 U.S. Remote Working Research Summary showed that 62 percent of people surveyed believed they could fill their job duties at a remote location.
And, according to the Telework Research Network:
- 20 to 30 million Americans currently work from home at least one day a week
- 15 to 20 million are road warriors / mobile workers (work at least 10 hours per week away from home and from their main place of work, e.g. on business trips, in the field and use online computer connections when doing so)
- 10 to 15 million run home businesses
- 15 to 20 million work at home part-time (with about half doing so 1-2 days a week; and about 3 million are based at home full-time (including self-employed)
Working remotely offers many benefits for employers, employees and even the environment. Fewer commuters on the roads means reduced fuel consumption, traffic congestion and air pollution. According to a report released by the American Electronics Association, an estimated 1.35 billion gallons of gasoline could be conserved annually if every U.S. worker with the ability to telecommute did so 1.6 days per week.
Imagine avoiding this!
For individuals, working from home improves work-life balance. Surveys have shown that 33 percent of people considered telecommuting the best recruiting incentive. Employers also benefit from these arrangements with increased productivity (over two-thirds of employers report increased productivity among telecommuters), reduced office expenses, reduced travel costs, and lower absenteeism and turnover.
All this to say, telecommuting is on the rise. But for managers trying to effectively manage their remote employees, the arrangement raises concerns, including: loss of control, fear of productivity drops, and reduced security.
To address these issues, here are 7 best practices for managing remote employees:
1) Make Use of Technology
Remote workers need to be given technology that allows them to work in diverse settings and overcome obstacles when unexpected circumstances arise. The basic tools they need include:
- A laptop with wireless adapter
- Reliable Internet access
- Secure remote access to the company’s internal network
- Access to corporate messaging systems (SMS, IM, voicemail, email)
- A phone (a mobile phone is must for mobile workers)
There is a panoply of resources to help make you and your remote workers’ lives easier. It’s important to know what the latest innovations in technology are and make an effort to adopt them. Access to e-mail and the company Intranet is a start but there are other available technologies that can help build stronger teams and improve overall organization.
For instance, having a discussion board or internal company blog where members can post photos and discuss various topics related to work and the industry can help create stronger bonds and keep the remote employee in the work loop.
Setting up a wiki, where all employees can access company information (operations guides, important documents, deadlines, FAQs, team calendars, etc.) is a great way to track progress and organize information among large groups.
2) Use Video-Conferencing
Video conferencing – whether through Skype, MegaMeeting, Telepresence or Google Video Chat – allows you to have face-to-face contact with your remote employee, especially when important matters are at stake.
When managers rely on voice and e-mail communication to reach workers off-site, research has shown that only 7 percent of communication goes through. So you need to supplement your communications with frequent face-to-face interactions.
Communicating effectively by email also turns out to be challenging. Five studies showed that participants who sent emails overestimated their ability to communicate by e-mail and that participants who received emails overestimated their ability to interpret e-mail.
Participants who sent emails predicted about 78 percent of the time their partners would correctly interpret the tone. However, the data revealed that they did so only 56 percent of the time. The receivers in the study “guessed that they had correctly interpreted the message’s tone 90% of the time.”
Video conferencing helps convey tone, body language and facial expressions that are fundamental to effective communication.
3) Plan & Organize Ahead Of Time
A lot can happen when you’re on the go. Given that your remote employee might come across various factors that cause disruption in their work, you need to have set strategies to deal with such occurrences (backing up files, for instance.) This again means giving them the right resources and tools. Virtual meetings also demand more preparation to ensure all participants know what’s on the agenda and can participate. This means having material ready for everyone involved ahead of time and making sure you have an audio bridge and multidirectional conference phone designed for audioconferencing – a regular phone just won’t cut it. After the meeting, be sure to follow up by sending an e-mail with a recap of what was discussed during the meeting and confirm the next steps to take.
4) Trust Them
Remote workers tend to be independent and therefore appreciate being trusted to work independently. Many managers like to track their remote employees with diary sheets and weekly updates. Not only do employees tend to fill out these sheets inaccurately (to appease the manager and essentially, get them off their back), the practice undermines trust and can seriously decrease motivation. Self-motivation is already one of the biggest challenges a remote employee faces. Rather than micromanaging them, work on developing a dynamic in which they take personal responsibility for meeting their targets.
To be an effective manager of remote employees, you must adopt a management by objectives approach as opposed to managing by observation. This entails setting goals and action plans with your remote employee, then evaluating their performance based on the outputs or results. When employees are involved in the goal setting/course of action planning, they are also more likely to fulfill their responsibilities.
6) Interact with Them
Pearn Kandola, a business psychology consultancy that offers various services to HR professionals, conducted a large international study on mobile workers and found that because mobile workers frequently work alone they don’t always get the human contact and support they need – putting them at risk of fatigue and burnout.
It’s important to communicate regularly with your mobile workers and remote employees in order to build trust and build a close, supportive relationship with them. It’s very important that you try and put yourself in their shoes. They too can face many pressures. To help alleviate some of that stress, it’s critical that you validate their roles and remind them how important they are to the organization.
7) Use 360 Degree Feedback
To give your remote employee valuable feedback, it’s important to gather input from workers and clients who work directly with them. 360 degree feedback allows each individual to understand how their effectiveness as an employee, coworker, or staff member is viewed by others. It also give managers a broader, richer perspective on their employees’ performance.
Which Kind of Personality Thrives in a Virtual Workspace?
When Pearn Kandola conducted their study, they assumed, as most of us would, that introverted personality types would thrive in a virtual work setting. After all, they tend to be shy and keep to themselves.
The researchers were very surprised to discover that in fact, extroverts are better suited to remote work. They get their energy and motivation from keeping in touch with people and going out and meeting with clients. Because of the reduced contact introverts have with people, they are less likely to keep in touch with their team members. Extroverts appreciate being trusted to work independently and usually enjoy the flexibility that comes with the territory. [Source]
Managing remote employees has its challenges but with digital access to information being so pervasive, more and more businesses are beginning to see that remote work can in fact increase corporate productivity and competitiveness. Managers of remote workers just need to adjust their management practices to overcome the distance and effectively support their remote employees’ performance.