According to Gallup, 37 percent of companies allow remote work in some shape or form. However, the average employee works from home just two days per month. So, while it seems like companies across the nation are instating successful telecommuting policies, they’re really just taking advantage of modern technology to make their employees happy.
The ease of telecommuting has allowed many companies to incorporate flexibility into the work schedule, but few have introduced a comprehensive remote work policy and have hired full-time remote workers. Many are in a transitionary period where their employees want to work remotely, but they’re not sure how to manage those employees. This leads to awkward policies and strange rules.
If you’re considering letting your current in-house staff work remotely, or want to hire remote team members to join your local employees, follow the advice from these experts to make sure all parties are happy.
Understand that Remote Work is Part of the Job Description
Any employee who has checked their email on vacation or answered a call from the boss at home has participated in remote work. Scott Berkun, author of The Year Without Pants, says remote work is part of most office cultures, just not during traditional business hours.
“Even in companies that do not allow ‘remote work’, remote work is encouraged implicitly by the equipment used and the daily working habits we’ve adopted across our culture. The resistance to the concept of remote work is strange, given the reality of most office work.”
Despite the common practice of working remotely during off hours at home, managers are reluctant to implement it during the day. Their fears are two-fold: They can’t track employee performance, and employees can’t stay in touch with company goings on.
“A common concern about remote work is that company culture will suffer if employees don’t all show up at the office every day,” says Nicole Fallon at Business News Daily.
“Staff members who telecommute similarly fear that they’ll miss out on important office bonding time by not seeing their co-workers face-to-face. With the appropriate use of communications technology, companies can make sure their culture remains intact, even with full-time telecommuters.”
A strategically implemented remote work policy can make all parties happy while keeping everyone connected.
Draft a Concrete Telecommuting Policy
Informal policies are easily abused and can cause frustration when different parties follow some rules but not others. As remote work continues to grow, companies need to establish written guidelines for their remote staff.
“Companies need to consider drafting policies and documents that clearly communicate how the organization supports flexible working styles,” says Kavi Guppta, a technology-in-the-workforce writer.
“You won’t have all the answers or protocols in place immediately, but it’s important that a rough framework is in place that can be adjusted and improved over time. Remote work habits shouldn’t impact home office processes, and vice versa.”
It’s OK if your first policy has flaws; however, developing something will that you can modify will provide a solid foundation for future disputes.
“Your policy should [thoroughly] address work hours,” says Kim Lachance Shandrow, writing for Entrepreneur. “Are telecommuters required to work during your company’s set business hours, or will they have a flexible schedule that they can determine themselves? Also be sure to address management oversight. How often will managers check in with telecommuters and vice versa?”
Furthermore, remote hires should also receive a copy of the employee handbook with the understanding that it also applies to them.
“Even though your remote employees are not physically in the office, they still need to adhere to all relevant rules outlined in your employee handbook,” says Ramon Ray of Smart Hustle Magazine. “For example, if you have defined policies concerning work-related electronic communication, these rules continue to be applicable.”
These guidelines are meant to help managers and employees. This way, remote team members will meet company expectations but won’t get abused and overworked by managers.
Track Employee Performance and ROI
Another overlooked aspect of remote work is employee ROI. Many companies have found that telecommuting leads to higher retention rates and job satisfaction, but few actually track that in their own companies.
“A 2015 study conducted by FlexJobs and WorldAtWork found that 80 percent of companies offer flexible work options, but only 3 percent measure programs to quantify ROI,” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO & founder of FlexJobs. “Without measurements, it’s impossible to leverage remote and flexible work to support company goals.
“At UnitedHealth Group … performance measurements like work quality, retention rates, and employees satisfaction are tracked to determine the ROI of work-at-home (WAH) arrangements.”
Along with employee satisfaction, managers should also set up new metrics for managing performance.
“Rather than being overly stringent and attempting to manage their time and efficiency on a day-to-day basis, provide them the freedom they require as remote workers,” says Blair Thomas, co-founder of EMerchantBroker.
“Measure their performance, and as long as they’re attending daily meetings and working as effectively as others, treat your remote employees like secret weapons. Constant monitoring of time, and keeping track of their every move, will only serve to engender stress and reduce their efficacy.”
This analysis will also be important during their annual reviews, as raises will have to be determined based on accomplishments, not time spent in the office.
“Having your team work remotely places special emphasis on the need for a compensation system based on output,” says Lee Rosen. “You’re not going to know what they’re doing, when they’re doing it, or how they’re getting it done, so you need to build a system that rewards results.”
Tracking your remote employees can feel like an uphill battle, which is why it’s important to set job satisfaction metrics, performance metrics and project incentives that your team can work toward.
Build an Inclusive Company Culture
Along with setting professional guidelines, companies transitioning to remote work also need cultural goals and beliefs.
“If you have a strong company culture established before you begin distributing work remotely, it is essential to have just as strong a focus on maintaining that culture as your workforce becomes more geographically diverse,” says Mike Smalls, founder and CEO of Hoopla Software.
However, adjusting your company culture might start within. Many career experts have seen toxic cultures without remote employees, much less with them.
“People blame distance for a lack of culture,” says Poornima Vijayashanker, founder of Femgineer. “But when it comes to communication, even in-house teams struggle with it. I’ve come across teams where people don’t know what the person who is sitting right next to them is working on! Hence distance isn’t the culprit. The culprit is a closed culture, where team members work in silos and don’t communicate about their projects.”
Similarly, as you create opportunities for your remote team, look for ways to make your in-house staff more flexible.
“One of the most empowering parts of being able to telecommute is that employees have more control over their hours and break times,” says Ariana Ayu, author of The Magic of Mojo. “Allowing them to have flexibility when they come into the office will also give them that feeling of control. If nothing else, giving them a window of time within which they can choose their hours will have some of the same morale-boosting effects as telecommuting.”
As you make decisions to improve the happiness and satisfaction of one party, ask yourself how all other workers will be affected and whether they will be able to enjoy the new changes.
Find Your Communication Balance
As companies work to build a culture that includes remote members so they don’t feel stranded on an island, those companies need to evaluate their communication practices.
“[A] lack of regular contact can lead to confusion about their status and performance,” say Debbie Vasen and Ann MacDonald at LoveToKnow. “While the old adage ‘no news is good news’ may be true in some instances, a lack of news or communication can make a worker feel isolated and uncertain. Without a daily smile and chitchat from you near the coffee machine, a worker can start to wonder if he or she is valued.”
Furthermore, that daily chitchat is also a crucial part of the training experience.
“While formal training programs are an essential part of onboarding and development, informal learning can comprise up to 75% of total learning, often taking the form of causal interactions among colleagues who pass along tips for handling specific challenges,” says Tricia Sciortino, president of eaHELP.
“Companies can foster a virtual environment that serves the same purpose. Create private groups where employees can seek out new information, share best practices, and share the kinds of conversations and encouragement that would typically happen in the hallway and around the break room.”
There is good news about remote employees missing out on small conversations during the day: Their minds are free to focus. This lack of distractions is often why employees choose remote work in the first place, and why they feel more productive.
“One of the advantages that comes from working remotely is the relative freedom to avoid bad meetings and other low-barrier distractions,” says Gregory Ciotti of Help Scout. “But communication still needs to occur on a regular basis, and oftentimes everything gets pushed to email, creating a bottleneck that results in remote teams spending more time in email than office workers.
“Instead, remote teams should create a messaging hierarchy that offers guidelines on what sorts of messages are appropriate for which medium.”
Examples of this hierarchy include weekly calls, daily emails and casual chats. Each form of communication harbors different types of conversations, so your remote team has an appropriate outlet for every problem or question.
Assign Projects and Place Remote Workers on Teams
Finally, one of the best practices for engaging remote employees — especially newly telecommuting team members — is to encourage teamwork.
“In a practical sense, requiring teamwork and collaboration helps telecommuters maintain productivity by removing some of the isolating aspects of telecommuting work,” says Anum Yoon of Current on Currency.
“As with any strategy or ground mindset, creating teams can have its pitfalls. Do your research and course correct as necessary. You want employees to feel a sense of connection and mutual pride in their work — you don’t want your employee base split into factions or consistently making bad decisions thanks to group shift.”
Not only does teamwork encourage communication and concrete deliverables, but it also helps your remote members build personal bonds with their colleagues.
“You can’t think of a remote worker initially as, ‘well, I can’t find this person locally so I’m going to find a remote worker,'” says Formstack CEO Chris Byers.
“You might be able to get away with that, but that remote worker is likely going to feel out on an island. If you really want remote to be a thriving part of your organization, somebody from a leadership level has to own that culture and make sure the remote employees are engaged with everybody else.”
Transitioning from fully in-house employees to a team of telecommuters and remote workers is going to have its growing pains, but managers who are strategic about how their teams work can see their employees thrive.