Digitally speaking, we are more connected to each other than ever before. And as technology continues to advance, so do our opportunities to successfully telecommute.
Gallup reported that in 2016, 43% of employees in the U.S. worked from home at least some of the time, up from 39% in 2012. As mentioned in our 2018 predictions, we expect this percentage will continue to rise.
There are a number of reasons for this increase in remote work—aside from the ease of communication made possible by virtual technology, employees are wanting to reduce commuting time, increase flexibility, and boost their sense of autonomy.
Gallup further revealed that "despite not always having a manager nearby to monitor their productivity, remote workers actually log more hours at their primary job than do their on-site counterparts." This counters some of the misconceptions people may have about working remote, such as the idea that remote workers are just watching TV all day, distracted by pets or family members, or taking intermittent cat naps. Though it may come as a surprise to some, it appears that fewer office-related distractions, more autonomy, and the comforts of home can increase productivity and motivation for many employees.
For some businesses, a remote work option can seem ideal, while others may fear it will be more of a burden than it's worth.
Here's the single factor that will make or break the success of telecommuting:
Whether employees are near or far, conversations need to be happening on a regular basis, and with the same amount of frequency as they would in an office environment. While every company is different, allowing employees to telecommute—either full time, once a week, or every once in a while—takes a unique set of navigation skills beyond the job at hand. And to do so successfully depends on the priority given to conversations—the less they are prioritized, the harder it will be to make remote work work for everyone involved.
Regardless of physical proximity, feedback needs to remain ongoing and communicated in the moment. When challenging conversations are in order, such as a confrontation, both employees and leaders will need to be sensitive about the mode of delivery. For conversations that are more sensitive in nature, a video chat or in-person meeting would be most appropriate, whereas chat, text, or email may suffice for day-to-day logistics.
Before agreeing to let an employee work remote or hiring someone for a remote job, be sure to talk through your expectations, along with theirs. Ask about their individual preferences and how they work best—some people are most productive when working remotely, some when working in the office, and others when there is some combination of the two. Be clear and upfront about the hours you want them to be available, types of communication and frequency required, times you will need them in the office, etc.
Once they've been telecommuting for a few weeks, check in again. What's working, and what isn't? Adjust as you go to ensure both employee and manager are satisfied with the situation. Decide what the appropriate cadence is for these check-ins, and make sure they are happening.
For those considering offering telecommuting options to their employees, or for those who already do, here are some additional ways to ensure these continuous conversations are taking place:
1. Provide the Right Tools for Communication.
Exactly what you provide depends on the agreement made with employees, and beyond the computer hardware, ensure you have the technology set up to make communicating and collaborating easy between team members. Also provide training for these programs for those who aren't familiar to avoid delays in communication. Use internal chat platforms (such as Slack), SharePoint, and shared folders that are accessible remotely. The technological form of collaboration should be made easy. Even if employees are in different locations, the ease with which we're able to engage in conversations and share ideas as they arise remains critical.
2. Make Meetings Work.
Those dialing in to a call can be forgotten, so be sure to include them fully in the conversation. Although they aren't sitting in the room, they have valuable ideas to add. Consider asking them to give an update early on to ensure everyone is aware of their presence, and take the time to ask for their input. Ask specifically if they have questions or thoughts, as appropriate. It can be more challenging for someone dialing in to find a way to chime in once a conversation really gets going, so make sure to provide plenty of opportunities for them to do so.
3. Provide Opportunities for In-Person Interactions.
This isn't always easy as people telecommuting may live far away from the central office, but when you can, provide opportunities for team members to meet face-to-face. This could mean an off-site event once a year, or weekly meetings you expect the remote employee(s) to attend. Even a short amount of face-to-face time can strengthen employee relationships and make communicating through technology more productive during remote work.
4. Trust Your Employees to be Accountable.
Without trust, there is nothing. Trust is BIG. Employees crave it, employers must give it, and people require it as a fundamental component to all relationships. Without it, there is hand-holding, micro-managing, clock-watching, and side-glancing paranoia–none of which is productive, and all of which can have a negative impact on employee well-being. Trust your employees to be accountable for the work at hand, just as they would if they were in the office. In most cases they are, and it's also possible they're being even more productive.
The bottom line is that telecommuting can be a great perk for your employees, and something that improves overall morale and company culture…if done right. As with any endeavor, having the conversations necessary for success and the ability to discuss issues as they arise is critical.
We've pinpointed 5 critical types of conversations you need to be having with your employees, whether near or far. Each of these conversations is a different animal, requiring a unique approach in order to drive the most value. Download the free eBook here.