Call it a workplace double-edged sword: When done correctly, allowing employees to work from home can promote flexibility and increased job satisfaction. Done poorly, it can be a mess.
“If it is an ad-hoc process without structure, no one knows how to meet expectations; and you end up with a work environment where people lose faith in each other and in the idea,” warns Sara Sutton Fell, founder of FlexJobs and remote.co, companies that provide telecommuting resources. “But when companies build a work environment that gives structure and support to a remote working program, you can have a productive and happy working group.”
According to a 2015 Gallup poll, nearly 40 percent of all American workers have telecommuted in some form.
Whether a company has a few employees or teams that work remotely full time or part time or an entire company is made up of remote workers, Sutton Fell says, thoughtful management and consistent communication is key. Here are her suggestions:
Talk with staff and management to get their suggestions and concerns about how to implement a telecommuting program that will work for your company. Determine which jobs, tasks or people are best suited for remote working, and assess if you have tools and systems in place to be successful. Are databases and software available remotely? Is your tech support team ready to assist? What are the best ways to structure and monitor workflow? How will peers and managers communicate and check in with each other? And how will productivity be assessed?
TRY IT OUT
Conduct a trial period to see how things go. Set goals and assessment criteria, and then refine the plan based on what you learn. “By having a trial you have a chance to work out problems and build trust, which is crucial to success,” says Sutton Fell.
Write a clear policy for managers and employees that details procedures, expectations, goals and review processes.
To support employees who do work from home either full time or part time, she offers these tips:
ASSESS PERSONAL STRENGTHS
Sutton Fell says the most successful out-of-office workers tend to be those who are self-starters and good communicators. If an employee has shown the ability to self-motivate and problem-solve on his or her own, she says, that person is likely a good candidate for remote working. If you have someone who needs more guidance and structure, she suggests working out a specific plan for goals and checking in.
When companies build a work environment that gives structure and support to a remote working program, you can have a productive and happy working group.
THINK ABOUT TECHNOLOGY
Make sure employees who will work remotely have the technology on hand to do the job you need them to do. Make sure there is a plan in place for robust connectivity to the web and that the computers they plan to work on are set up to support the tasks they will be asked to do.
LAY OUT WHAT’S EXPECTED
Everyone needs to have a clear understanding of goals and expectations. Make sure your remote employees know if there are certain hours when they should be online and accessible each day. Sutton Fell recommends creating clear ways to communicate deadlines and deliverables, and she says it is important employees are trained on task management and communication systems they’ll be asked to use.
Ongoing clear communication between team members and management can help address problems as they arise and also foster a collaborative bond beyond the office walls.
“It’s about building a work environment based on trust,” she explains. “A manager may not see an employee walk into the office each day at a certain time or have the chance to chit-chat at the water cooler; but if there’s a clear system of accountability and communication in place, you can absolutely create a productive and happy team.”