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advice and updates for IT professionals and employers.

Remote employees can be just what your team needs

Employees who only work inside the company walls every day are the backbone of the workforce in this country and beyond. However, many companies have multiple locations, teams in other countries, staff who skip the commute and work from home a few days a week, or who come into the office only occasionally.

“The overwhelming majority of respondents said telecommuting was very much a win-win situation for both them and their employers, with 82 percent saying they have less stress associated with their work,” Sean O’Brien, executive vice president of PGi, says.

However, for some companies, there are no walls, no “office” where everyone reports in, where everyone is a remote employee, and they are quite successful. How do they do it?

Begin at the end

When managing remote employees, keep your eye on the desired outcomes for each employee, the team of which they are a member, and the goals of the company as a whole. When you have a firm grasp of where you want to end up, it’s easier to direct your team members, in the office and outside, to articulate your expectations and to guide them to meet the expected goals.

You can’t set ‘em and forget ‘em

Managing remote employees takes extra effort, according to Rebecca Knight in a recent Harvard Business Review post. In addition to setting expectations and goals, just as you would for the on-premises team members, you have to set ground rules and accountability around work hours, availability, goals, and communication.

Be sure the metrics are the same for the entire team, setting monthly, quarterly, and yearly performance goals as well as “targets for what ‘hitting it out of the park’ would mean.” Then, just as you would with employees working down the hall, “you should check in regularly on progress” through an agreed-upon schedule, Knight says.

Remind them and their colleagues they are all part of the same team

To ensure the remote worker feels they are part of the team, create open communication channels. Schedule daily online meetings and encourage frequent online communications within team members via instant messages, video, and Skype or WebEx. Some companies use open streaming video to enable in-the-office type spontaneous chats through which so much is communicated and through which much so much team building occurs.

“Telecommuting”, by the way, is a term left over from the days when telephone and fax were the only means of remote communication. It is rarely used anymore.

Mark Mortensen, an associate professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, suggests reserving the first few minutes of each call and videoconference to talk about the “things you usually talk about at work – weekend plans, kids, pets, or last night’s big game,” to break down the “us vs. them” tendencies. In addition, managers also must be careful when talking about remote workers so include them in the team and to not create fractures within the team.

When handing out praise, Mortensen continues, be public and generous with the remote team. The casual good job in an office corridor where it can be overheard by others isn’t possible with the remote worker, so be deliberate when acknowledging the remote team member’s contributions when in a public conversation or group email.

Hiring the remote worker

How do you know if the person you want to hire, but who can’t or won’t work in your office 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, is going to get the job done? The same way you would with the on-premises worker – with a few extra questions:

  • Have they worked remotely before?
  • Are they familiar with collaboration software, tracking software, video calling and conferencing?
  • Do they have the physical set-up to work remotely? Whether it’s a corner of their dining room or a desk in a co-working space or a dedicated office, they should have the bandwidth for video calls, wi-fi, a high-speed connection, a smart phone, and a computer with minimum requirements (though you may choose to provide some of the equipment). Wherever it is, it should be a dedicated, distraction-free work space.
  • Are they self-sufficient – they may need to be able to do their own trouble-shooting in case of equipment malfunctions?
  • How well do they focus? There’s no such thing as multi-tasking with small children around, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work around school schedules – if that will work with your own deadline requirements.

Bottom line

Letting people work from home can be a nice benefit, but really, it’s how it affects the project and your company. Research from Paul C. Boyd, Ph.D., lays out the benefits remote workers can bring to your team and your company:

  • Improved employee productivity – Workers are less likely to call in sick for minor illnesses, so they are still productive – without infecting their co-workers.
  • Improved recruitment – Those who have experienced telecommuting tend to seek it in their next position. A remote work situation makes it possible to hire a disabled person who can’t otherwise manage the daily commute.
  • Improved retention –You don’t have to lose workers who move due to a spouse’s job change or other obligations.

Other factors

There are always many factors that go into making a hiring decision. To sum it up for remote workers:

The Pros:

  • Limited distractions for the worker
  • No commute
  • Flexibility for family, personal rhythms
  • Aids geographic diversity
  • Wave of future
  • Usually highly skilled talent
  • Good job satisfaction and productivity
  • Expanded talent pool

The Cons:

  • There can be hardware, connectivity issues
  • Remote employees last in line for promotions as remote workers, not perceived as leaders
  • Harder to integrate the team
  • Communication, social aspects missing

If you are having difficulty filling that in-demand role or you just want to expand the pool of candidates, consider hiring remote workers for your next opening. We at Morton Consulting are ready to help you find the right people for your next project, whether they will be working remotely or in your office.