Telework is exploding in popularity: According to a recent Consumer Technologies survey, 34 million Americans work from home at least occasionally; by 2016, experts estimate that 63 million workers will work for companies remotely. Telecommuting is better for the environment, and is known to increase workers’ happiness and productivity—but how do businesses fare when many of their employees are out of sight?
If you’re willing to make the effort to set up a work environment that accommodates teleworkers, it can be a boon to your business. You can hire the best workers for the job, no matter where they live; reduce turnover; and save money on office expenses. Here are some steps for implementing a successful teleworking policy.
Set expectations from the start. Whether you’re hiring a purely remote worker or allowing an existing employee to work from home, it’s important to come up with a set of standard guidelines to ensure that your remote employees will perform their roles well. These policies will vary from organization to organization and role to role, but should answer questions such as when the worker must be present in the corporate office, if at all, and whether he’s expected to be available by phone at certain times each day. You may also wish to make the employee’s right to telecommute conditional on meeting set milestones.
Incorporate technology that makes it easy to communicate virtually. There are many web and mobile apps available that can help teams communicate no matter how far apart they are. Use project management software such as BaseCamp or one of the many available alternatives, which you can use to set and track employee milestones, share files, and send messages on a web-based platform. For instant communication, services like Skype and gChat allow you to talk through instant messaging, phone calls, or video chat.
Make sure each remote employee has the right technology to do the job effectively. If you’re hiring independent contractors, they’re responsible for providing their own equipment; however, if you’ve hired W2 employees, it’s your responsibility to provide them with adequate work spaces. Many employers will provide an expense budget so that workers can choose the office furniture and equipment that they prefer; others will purchase equipment directly for staff. Typical expenses might include a laptop computer, a cell phone, a printer, a desk, and a high-speed wireless Internet connection.
Focus on milestones, rather than hours worked. When you’re employing remote workers, it’s generally difficult to tell how much time they’re actually spending working on each project. Though time-tracking software is available to help you monitor employee performance, many managers prefer to shift the focus from time spent on a project to the results that have been achieved. To facilitate a results-focused work environment, make sure that each new project has a set of clear milestones with expected delivery dates—for instance, a website developer might be asked to complete wire frames for the site over the course of one week, and then complete a mock-up by the end of the following week . In order to incentivize employees to go above and beyond these goals, you might consider offering a bonus structure to reward employees who consistently meet their milestones ahead of time.
If possible, host occasional in-person events for all employees to attend. If all of your employees are local to the region, you may simply require that all employees attend a weekly meeting in person. If your staff is spread out geographically, consider hosting an annual summit, in which all employees will travel to a central location for a period of a few days to collaborate in person on existing projects and focus on the business’ future. Making the effort to encourage in-person communication may lead to new ideas and projects that employees wouldn’t have come up with in a purely virtual environment, and the experience can strengthen relationships among the entire workforce.