Working away from a centralized office appeals to both businesses and employees, making the practice a significant employment trend. Recent Gallup polls show that about 37 percent of all workers telecommute to their job some of the time.
Companies like remote workers because they reduce overhead costs while increasing employee satisfaction. As a result, businesses can operate with fewer fixed costs, enjoy low turnover rates and higher employee engagement. Employees see telecommuting as a way to increase their flexibility when juggling personal and professional responsibilities. Employees who work from home produce more, feel satisfied, and have a higher sense of loyalty compared to their counterparts in the corporate office.
Although the nature of some businesses might not work well with a remote workforce, many companies have embraced the concept and profited from it. A firm can overcome the challenges of managing a distributed workforce by setting some ground rules.
Set Clear Expectations
Companies with remote teams should begin by setting clear short- and long-term goals. They should delegate responsibilities and assign tasks and projects in an open environment, according to a hierarchy of needs beginning at the company level and ending at the individual level.
Thorough planning can help people understand their roles within the organization and support a culture of accountability. For example, a firm concerned about results has no need to track employee work hours, but a company focused on the control of their workers will want to define a minimum daily timeframe during which everyone should make themselves available.
Hold Structured Meetings
Companies with remote teams must have a well-defined schedule for structured meetings with team members to keep everyone in sync with the status of the company and their projects. Some teams might require daily meetings organized on Skype or Slack that provide workers with updated task lists and instructions.
Weekly meetings might take longer and require status updates and reports from the previous week and a review of activities planned for the coming week. Individual one-on-one meetings with employees and their supervisors can help resolve performance issues, provide special incentives, and coaching.
Utilize the Right Tools
With goals and plans for their achievement in place, both employers and their remote teams can come to an agreement on the adequate tools and equipment necessary to execute their responsibilities. Here are three different groups of online tools that can help employees work remotely, over the Internet, while keeping track of documents, phone and video calls, and other types of communications.
Skype and Sqwiggle are two excellent examples of online tools that only require users to download the software or app to get video calling, file and screen sharing (on Skype only) to facilitate online meetings. If you’re looking for a whole suite of tools, try Google Apps that can offer a multi-user calendar, sharing Google Docs with permissions, shared Google Drive, Gmail, and Hangouts for video meetings.
Collaboration tools can help you share documents, presentations, or manage tasks of multiple workers to issue a final product. Evernote is one shared workspace that allows you to collaborate online and track changes. Trello is a team management tool that lets you organize separate boards for a project, idea lists, notes and details, and you can even assign them to different members of your team. Basecamp is another tool to manage team projects and individual assignments that also lets businesses communicate with their clients. There are many other collaboration tools out there; a thorough research can help you identify the ones that best suit your needs. For example, a less popular, but equally efficient collaboration tool is Workgroup, an app that facilitates group communication of distributed teams through messaging, making it easy, fast and convenient.
File Storage and Sharing Tools
There’s nothing like the power of the Cloud for finding good sharing tools and shared drives. It’s available 24×7, whether you’re open for business or not. It’s easily accessible from any laptop or mobile device. Some of the more popular Cloud file storage and sharing tools are Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive. They all come with their own data limits and rules, but most will allow you to store and share text, audio, and video files.
Trust your Remote Team
Companies must have faith in their remote teams. Without trust, the organization will become crippled by micromanagement that can bring productivity to a screeching halt. Some remote workers might face the temptation to slack off and let others carry the team. Clear ground rules and written expectations for each employee will help workers fulfill their responsibilities.
Trust goes both ways. While employers might only reluctantly trust employees who work at home, those remote workers can have trust issues with their employer as well. Regular communication and experience will help establish mutual trust. Neither the employer nor the employee will want to jeopardize the relationships they enjoy.
Remote teams present challenges to companies, especially those accustomed to the traditional employment model. Aided by supporting tools, businesses can achieve their mission using goal setting, planning, communication, collaboration, and trust to build a reliable remote workforce.