The number of employees who regularly work from home has more than doubled in the last decade, according to Global Workplace Analytics. It also reports that office workers are away from their desks at least half the time. Distributed teams that cross multiple time zones are increasingly the norm in many industries. Managing remote workers today is an essential business skill.
Using remote workers lets businesses tap skill sets that may be absent from local labor markets. Teleworkers save their employers money by reducing the need for real estate, furniture, parking, security, cleaning, utilities and more. And workers like it, too — telework helps reduce absenteeism and turnover and boosts productivity.
But remote workers pose challenges, notes the Harvard Business Review. For workers to feel like part of the same team, they must overcome the daunting barriers of time and distance. When one group of employees is just going to work when another is getting off, connection does not come easy.
Fortunately, a set of basic approaches to managing remote workers is emerging to help with the task.
1. One of the key factors to keep in mind is treating everyone, remote or not, as part of the team. Management software maker Lighthouse suggests balancing the scheduling of teleconferences, videoconferences and other virtual meetings. That means sometimes asking home-office workers to stay late or arrive early to meet with far-flung workers, rather than always having remote employees adjust their schedules. This reduces remote employees’ resentment and encourages everyone to feel they are sharing the burden.
2. Maintaining open, well-used lines of communication as a matter of policy is vitally important with remote workers. Make it standard practice to include remote workers in meetings, using videoconferencing or other virtual meeting technology. Don’t allow out of sight to equal out of mind.
3. Use technology to make communication as effortless as possible by adjusting policy and supplying appropriate communication tools, such as VoIP and video links.
4. Leverage text messaging and social media platforms to ensure that remote workers can stay in touch with the office and other locations.
5. Use secure, cloud-based file storage to give remote workers access to the information they need, at any time they need it, so they feel supported and enabled to do the necessary work.
6. Schedule regular physical visits to remote offices for face-to-face chats with teleworkers. Remote teleworkers should be invited or required to physically appear in the same locations as other teammates.
7. Emotional connections need special attention with remote workers, notes project management tool supplier HiveDesk. It can be tempting to get right to business when conversing over long-distance communication links. But take time at the beginning of videoconferences and teleconferences to cultivate and maintain informal bonds by discussing personal matters with teleworkers.
8. Include remote workers in every kind of incentive offered to home-office people. That includes pay, benefits and financial incentives as well as praise and t-shirts printed with the company logo. When everyone is spoken to in the same way and gets the same rewards, it’s easier for them to believe they are working toward the same end, even if they are on different continents.
The growth in the number of remote workers is an established trend. Managing teams spread across multiple locations, time zones and even continents presents challenges. But with the right technology and policies in place, remote workers can be led effectively and efficiently and be every bit as productive as on-site employees.