There are more than 34 million Americans working at home, at least occasionally, according to the research firm, Forrester. By 2016, that number is expected to hit 63 million, which estimates virtual workers will consist of 43% of the workforce. That’s a lot of people working in their pajamas.
Working from home used to be viewed as a necessity in a limited amount of cases: bad weather, employee suffering from sickness, kids home from school, etc. Some leaders in the past only saw the “home” part and not the “work” and did not believe employees had the capability to actually do their job from home. But thanks to the increasing effectiveness of technology, many positions at a company can be done from home and the workers still get things accomplished. Work isn’t so much about a place, but rather an “action,” meaning you don’t need to go to a designated location to get work done, you can do it from anywhere with an Internet connection.
Some say that team members who work remotely are actually more engaged and committed to their work than those who work in the office. Think about it, employees can save time and avoid a long commute by waking up and getting right to work. In addition, when there are flexible hours, they can get the work done when they are at their best for productivity, instead of being constraint to the 9-5 time frame.
In addition, companies can save overhead costs by offering employees the chance to work at home and they can also expand their job pool to other locations, perhaps even global candidates. Employing remote workers really does provide endless amounts of opportunities.
If you’re a manager with direct reports that work at home either on a full time basis, or just occasionally, there are some items you need to keep in mind. Here are some tips to make sure you are managing them just as effectively as if they were in the office:
You first need to map out with your employees the expectations around working remotely. Do you have an instant messenger (IM) system that needs to be established? How soon are employees expected to respond to email? Keep in mind that in the office environment, emails are not always answered right away. While you might think there are several distractions at home (TV, children, constant food breaks) there are just as many at the workplace such as water cooler talk, long lunches, unnecessary meetings, etc.
Still, you must be clear and assertive about the level of performance you expect people to achieve. Deadlines are still very real and people must be held accountable.
Don’t forget to communicate
The success of your projects often depends upon how well your team works together and how well you provide team leadership, this doesn’t change just because some of the employees are working remotely. One big issue with remote workers is the lack of face-to-face time between the manager and the employee. Obviously, video conferencing can aid with this but not everyone has the time to chat via video every day. Be sure you enforce the clear and specific goals and make sure you review progress on a monthly basis, whether that is through email, on the phone, video conference, or in person.
When you establish and communicate clear goals, people know what they have to do to be successful and they know how their efforts will help to produce winning results in the organization.
Just as much as you are concerned about your employee’s work and productivity, you need to complete your own work obligations as well.
You also need to make sure you are available to your employees. Let’s say your remote workers are some of the best direct reports you ever had and no conflict has come up. You still need to be present when they need to talk with you. It is your duty to serve as a good role model for others, and to have the personal qualities of a leader.
With a bit of flexibility, and some give and take, remote workers might be the best thing to happen to your company since casual Fridays.