8 Ways To Better Manage Remote Workers

Posted by Robert Cutchin on 12/29/16 8:00 AM
Robert Cutchin
Posted on: December 29, 2016

As you look at ways to maximize profits in 2017, keep in mind that one effective method to cut costs while increasing productivity is allowing certain employees to work remotely. According to the Department of Labor, nearly one-quarter of Americans and 38% of people in management, business, and financial operations now work from home at least some of the time. Your business can save an estimated $11,000 per work-at-home employee per year by lowering overhead, increasing retention rates, reducing sick days and increasing productivity. Each telecommuter can personally save $2000–7000 as well.

Half of the U.S. workforce holds a job that can be done at least partially at home. If workers with compatible jobs telecommuted just half the time, the national savings would be $700 Billion a year (that’s greater than our national budget deficit), and according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, “the greenhouse gas reduction would be the equivalent of taking the entire New York state workforce permanently off the road.”

If workers with compatible jobs telecommuted just half the time, the national savings would be $700 Billion a year...

If you decide to allow employees to work at home, you’ll likely need to adjust your management techniques. You’ll need to communicate differently and more effectively since you can’t physically walk into their workspace and see how they are doing. Allowing employees to work remotely requires trust and good faith by both parties. Here are some things to consider when managing remote workers:

1. Create a written company-wide telecommuting policy.

First and foremost, make sure that having the employee work at home does not affect your customers or other employees. You don’t want to ruin your customer experience or create extra work for the rest of the team. Decide the parameters for remote work and define the types of jobs that are compatible with working at home. A clear written policy helps set expectations and alleviates feelings of favoritism from employees whose jobs require them to commute to the office every day. Your HR manager should help write this document, or you can contact a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) or Administrative Services Organization (ASO) like Propel HR to help you define your telecommuting policy.

2. Define hours and expectations.

Let the employee know if she needs to work specified hours or if her hours are flexible. Make sure that the employee understands what she should be working on and exactly how much work is expected in a designated time period. Don’t let ambiguity creep into your expectations. You can’t hold someone accountable if they don’t know what you want them to do.

3. Stay in touch.

Communication is essential to bridging the physical gap. The telephone is still the quickest way to effectively communicate with a remote worker, but texting and email have their places. Weekly conference calls with the whole team, including both in-office and work-at-home employees, can promote unity and help everyone stay on the same page. There are also many communication and project management apps that can help you share ideas and track work progress. I think Slack is great for direct messaging, file sharing and team conversations. Now it also has voice and video calling built in. Trello is an excellent app to organize projects and track workflow in real time using a bulletin board system with checklists and due dates. Document management and storage systems like SharePoint can also be effective tools for teams that collaborate on projects.

4. Set deadlines.

Deadlines are crucial to maximizing productivity and defining expectations, and they are particularly important for remote workers who have flexible hours or work on time-sensitive projects. Try to set realistic deadlines but don’t be afraid to push the stay-at-home employee. Telecommuting often affords flexibility and privacy. Away from the distractions of the office, your employee may be more efficient and may be able to get things done faster than at the office. If you set a short deadline and the employee succeeds at meeting it, be sure to acknowledge her achievement. Be careful not to set difficult deadlines too often though, or you risk burning your employee out.

5. Make sure the telecommuter has what he needs to succeed.

There are no firm rules as to who must provide the office equipment and supplies for the telecommuter, but it’s important that the work-at-home employee has the tools he needs to do his job. Spell out in a document what the job requires (such as computer, printer, Wi-Fi speed, etc.) and specify what the company will supply and what the employee must provide. Electronic devices such as computers and smartphones are often provided by the employee but sometimes the company supplies them or helps pay for them. Any equipment that the company supplies needs to be documented and a policy needs to be in place to handle potential loss or damage. Again, contact your HR Manager, PEO or ASO to help draft this document. Make sure your employee has a designated office at their home where he will be free of distractions and able to communicate by phone without noise or interruptions. Confirm that he has a dedicated workspace with an appropriate desk and chair. In most cases, the employee will provide his own furniture but knowing about their workspace helps you ensure his productivity.

6. Consider children and other distractions at home.

One of the pitfalls of working at home is the multitude of distractions that the home environment provides. While the flexible schedule and freedom of telecommuting can help your employee balance work and life more effectively, distractions, like doing laundry, running errands and cleaning the kitchen, can also be a goldmine for the master procrastinator. Again the key is proper communication of your expectations. If the employee is not meeting your expectations, especially if he was meeting them while working in the office, talk to him about his daily schedule. If the employee has young children, make sure they have adequate childcare during work hours. It is impossible to fully concentrate on work and children at the same time. The flexibility of telecommuting allows the worker to pick up his sick child from school or take care of his kids on a snow day, but he shouldn’t try to work while taking care of the children. It’s not fair to the company or the kids.

7. Use HRIS technology.

One way to track the time of an off-site employee is using a Human Resource Information System (HRIS). Your company may already be using such a time-tracking system in house. The remote worker can enter his hours on his smartphone or computer, and both of you can track his time at work. HRIS systems can also help the employee track each project individually. Both you and the employee can see his pay history, access his benefits and manage his vacation time. 

RELATED READING: Six Ways HRIS Technology Can Help Your Growing Business

8. Bring the telecommuter into the office from time to time.

As valuable as the flexibility of telecommuting and the savings of money and time are, there is no substitute for the value of meeting in person. If the employee lives far away, consider flying her in occasionally so she can form relationships with her co-workers and bond with the team. Having a quarterly meeting where everyone attends can be inspirational and can lead to greater focus and productivity. If the employee lives closer, ask him to come into the office more regularly, like once a week or twice a month. One of the downsides of telecommuting is the lack of social interaction. The employee can feel lonely and left out if she doesn’t engage with her peers enough.

The Huge Upside of Telework

Telecommuting saves your business and your employees money, increases productivity, reduces turnover and even helps the environment. It allows you to hire talent that lives in a different state or country and gives your employees an opportunity for greater work-life balance. If you have employees that could do some or all of their work at home, consider giving them the freedom to telecommute at least one or two days a week. You’ll notice the difference in their morale and in your bottom line.

Topics: Employee Management

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