Four out of 10 U.S. employees currently work remotely at least some of the time, according to research conducted by Global Workplace Analytics. What’s more, about twice this many say they would like to work remotely at least on a part-time basis, such as two or three days a week.
Clearly, telework has been widely adopted by both employers and employees all across the country. But many businesses that have adopted telework are struggling to find the right balance when it comes to managing remote employees.
Here are six tips to help you manage employees who are working remotely at least part of the time:
1. Prepare employees ahead of time for remote work
If employees have never worked from home before, they may have no idea what to expect from a remote working arrangement. So you can’t just throw them into the deep end and expect them to be able to swim. Spend some time training employees for their remote working responsibilities.
For example, prepare a curriculum that educates employees about things like time management when working remotely and the use of any special technology they may need to work from home. Also make experienced remote employees available to answer their questions and serve in a mentoring role, especially during their early weeks and months as remote workers.
2. Treat remote employees the same way you treat on-site employees
Not surprisingly, remote employees often feel distant and less like they are members of a team than on-site employees. Therefore, it’s important that you treat them the same way you do office employees when it comes to things like scheduling meetings, especially one-on-one time with their supervisors.
It’s also important not to show favoritism to on-site employees over remote workers. For example, employees working from home should have the same promotion, advancement and other opportunities that employees in the office have.
3. Set clear expectations with regard to job responsibilities and work schedules
Employees’ job responsibilities shouldn’t be any different just because they’re working remotely, although the way that they perform their jobs might be a little different. For example, remote employees won’t have access to some of the tools that are physically present in the office, at least on the days they’re working from home. And the way they interact with coworkers will be different, including other employees they supervise.
Remote employees should generally be expected to work the same number of hours at home that they would if they were in the office. But some companies give remote workers flexibility in terms of when their hours are worked, especially if they don’t have to interact regularly with customers or other employees. For example, a remote employee who’s an early riser might be allowed to work from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. so she’s available to spend afternoons with her kids when they get home from school.
4. Use technology tools wisely
In many ways, it’s modern technology tools like the Internet, email and videoconferencing that have made telecommuting possible for today’s employees. But it’s important that these tools be used wisely in ways that enhance the work experience. For example, teleconferencing can be a valuable tool for enabling on-site and remote employees to actually see each other when speaking, as opposed to voices heard over a speaker phone. This is especially important with remote meetings where participants’ voices can become indistinguishable from each other.
At the same time, tech tools need to be reliable and work like they’re supposed to on a consistent basis. Few things are more frustrating for remote employees than being unable to download files from a virtual private network, struggling with a bad connection on a videoconference or receiving meeting invitations during times when they’re off the clock.
5. Make sure remote employees feel included
One of the biggest challenges of managing a remote workforce is creating a sense of inclusiveness for remote employees. Since they’re not coming into the office and physically interacting with their coworkers on a regular basis, it’s easy for them to feel like “second-class” employees.
Therefore, you should be proactive when it comes to including remote employees in company activities. For example, offer to cover the travel costs so remote employees can attend special events like the annual holiday party or milestone celebrations. And if you’re handing out any kind of special items to employees like gift cards or baskets, make sure you send the same items to your remote workers.
6. Plan a remote communication strategy
There are various ways to communicate with remote employees, such as by email, text message, telephone or video. So it’s a good idea to plan ahead of time for which types of communication are best for different situations and needs. For example, serious discussions should probably take place by phone or video while more routine conversations can probably be handled by email or text.
It’s also important to devise a plan for how often remote workers should be in communication with the home office. For example, you might require remote employees to check in with their supervisor at least informally once or twice a day, along with a formal video meeting once or twice a week.
The most important thing, however, is to keep the lines of communication with remote employees open at all times. It’s critical to ensure that an attitude of “out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t creep into the minds of coworkers and supervisors. Make sure that remote employees know they can contact their coworkers and supervisors at any time about any work-related issues or questions that arise.
If anything, teleworking is likely to become even more common. Even if none of your employees are working remotely now, there’s a chance some might in the future. So now is the time to devise plans for how you will manage a remote workforce.
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