Shackling employees to their commutes and cubicles is so 1990s. Today’s workers want the flexibility to telecommute and work on their own schedules, but that’s not necessarily bad news for employers.
However, letting employees work from home (or Starbucks) makes many employers apprehensive. Yet, growing evidence shows that greater freedom kindles creativity, innovation and productivity. In one study highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, remote workers delivered almost an extra day of work a week in added productivity than their office-based co-workers.
Even when businesses understand the productivity benefits of allowing their employees a more flexible way to work, many are hesitant to let employees out of their sight.
If you’re considering how to give your employees more flexibility to work at home or wherever they choose, here are five tips to help get you started:
1. Start with a trial period. When an employee asks if they can work remotely, the answer doesn’t need to be an immediate yes or no. Testing the waters is a good idea for everyone. Pick a trial period, such as three months. This gives everyone an opportunity to see if it’s successful.
2. It’s not an all-or-nothing choice. Similar to offering a trial period, remote-working arrangements don’t have to be work at home or work at the office. They also don’t have to be everyone or no one. Any added flexibility is good for employees’ overall job satisfaction and productivity. Give employees as much freedom to work remotely as makes sense for the type of job they do. Some roles, such as administrative assistants or project managers, whose roles require direct interaction and engagement with other employees in the office every day, may not be given the same flexibility for remote work as those whose work is more autonomous, such as a customer service representative or someone in sales. Additionally, you can set a certain number of hours or days employees can work remotely – giving them some freedom, but also keeping some face-to-face contact.
3. What you do for one doesn’t have to be for everyone. You don’t need to implement a policy right from the start that allows everyone to work remotely. If one or two employees are requesting permission, enroll them in a trial period. If it goes well and there are more requests, you can expand the trial period to more employees. If the results continue to be positive, you can think about reworking your remote work policy for everyone or for the job roles where it makes sense.
Along these same lines, you may want to set expectations about when remote work will or will not be permitted. For example, if an employee’s last performance review had too many “needs improvement” areas, then working from home might not be something that employee is allowed to do.
4. Get the right technology in place. If employees, such as those in sales, will be making a lot of phone calls, sound quality is important. To ensure your business is always represented professionally, it may be worth requiring a more advanced phone system for an employee’s home or alternate place of work than just a cell phone.
Another technology consideration is how and where remote employees will connect to your network or access and distribute business information. Public hotspots, such as coffee shops and airports, are easy targets for hackers. The best way to ensure that remote access to your network is secure is through an IPSec virtual private network (VPN). A VPN allows employees to connect securely from any location with Internet access to your secure company network – whether it’s the coffee shop down the street with an unsecured WiFi connection or your employees’ home office. Because of the added level of security a VPN provides, the use of a VPN should be a mandate for any employee working offsite on unsecured networks.
5. Measure productivity. Many managers worry they won’t know if their employees are working productively or not. Find a way to measure this – whether it’s through availability software (offered in Microsoft® Office 365) or specific metrics such as a certain number of deliverables per week, a specific number of sales, or even a weekly check-in via Skype or a phone call.
Digital technology enables remote workers to be more effective and innovative, allowing them to escape time-wasting meetings and focus on getting strategic work done. Remote workers are also often more productive, as the Harvard Business Review study showed. They are less distracted by office chatter and more focused when they can choose the venue in which they can best perform their jobs.
Giving employees the flexibility and freedom to work where, and even when, they want is good for employees and employers alike. By starting with small steps and trial periods, you’ll be able to figure out a long-term remote work policy that allows your employees more flexibility, productivity and creativity – and that’s good for everyone.