6 Steps to Make Telecommuting Work For You

Does your company offer employees the option to work from a home office? There are a lot of reasons why this could be good for your business, even if it’s something you only occasionally make available to your employees. In addition to fostering greater work-life balance, it could also help increase your employees’ productivity significantly.

In 2013, Stanford University did a study that suggested the option to work from home was very beneficial to a call center the researchers followed. In fact, as a result of seeing a 13% increase in the productivity of the at home workers and an overall 20-30% improvement when other factors were included, the firm made the option available to all employees. This lead to an even larger 22% improvement in worker productivity.

Other studies of remote versus in-office workers have found those who work at home are more productive. Additionally, some of the other benefits of allowing employees to work from home include:

Employees who work from home can be more engaged.

A Gallup study suggests that remote employees tend to work longer hours than their on-site colleagues and are more engaged – up to a point — in their work. This could be the result of a private workspace with fewer distractions than the current trend of open working environments. While some roles do require an environment that encourages collaboration, many employees can better engage in their work with fewer distractions.

Remote workers can feel more connected to their companies.

The same Gallup study suggests that remote workers score higher than their on-site counterparts on the “opinions seem to count” and “mission and purpose” questions on the survey. While this might seem counterintuitive, it would appear the remote workers (at least in this survey) tended to feel more connected to their companies, despite the distance between where they were working and their colleagues.

Your pool of potential talent is much broader.

Depending upon the nature of your business, you may find that not being restricted by a physical location means that your access to talent is greater (and maybe even cheaper). By widening your net, you may be able to find the skills your business needs in other parts of the country, strengthening your business as well as saving some money.

Remote work can foster a greater sense of work-life balance.

On the surface, fostering work-life balance might feel like something that only benefits your employees, but it’s also a potential boon for your business.

I’ve long been a proponent of the idea that work-life balance may be a big challenge in our totally connected world. Because smartphones, tablets and laptop computers have many employees potentially “on” 24/7, I think the real goal is probably successful work-life integration. And remote workers seem to be better able to more seamlessly integrate their work life and their home life, partly because they don’t have the addition of a commute or the time away from home at the office each day. This reduces burnout, turnover and the expense associated with finding and hiring new employees.

Will it work for you?

This is all fine and good, but how do you make it work for your business? Earlier in my career I worked for a man who was totally against people working remotely. He once had an employee who was supposed to be “working” from home, but wasn’t. He wasn’t productive and eventually lost his job. As a result, my boss was completely soured on the idea of remote workers.

To be fair, it’s hard to blame him. Unfortunately, I’m convinced it wasn’t the idea of telecommuting that was the problem — it was the employee. A bad remote worker is likely a bad employee wherever he or she works — at home, or on site.

The following six suggestions will help you determine if this is something that will work for your business, help you take steps to ensure that you create an environment where your remote workers can maximize their contribution to your business, and enjoy the benefits of greater work-life integration.

Six steps to successful teleworking

1. Define your objectives

There are some things that are problematic for a remote employee, even though there’s more technology available than ever before to make collaboration easy. It’s important to know what you want your remote workers to accomplish and determine whether or not it’s possible for them to do it from a remote worksite. Keeping your objectives clear for both you and your employees is important and will set everyone up for success.

2. Rethink how you look at work

It’s long been thought that the number of hours an employee works is a good way to measure their performance. Unfortunately, that’s not the best way to measure productivity.

For example, growing up in a family business, my father expected his employees to arrive early and stay late every day. If he saw anyone leaving at 5 p.m. (when we closed our doors for the day), he would ask, “Do you have your track shoes on?” He confused hours worked with stuff accomplished and lost more than one great employee who was incredibly productive, but didn’t want to “live” at the office.

If your managers like to keep tabs on the employees to make sure they are always at the job, a remote workforce might not be a good idea for the business — it will likely drive them crazy. By allowing your employees the flexibility to work from home, they might not always be at their workstation, but they may be more productive than your on-site employees. And, according to the Gallup study cited above, they may even work more hours than their on-site colleagues.

Micro-managing any employee is a bad idea, but it will be a complete failure with a remote team.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Make sure out of sight is not out of mind. Although avoiding the temptation to micro-manage is important, that doesn’t mean you can ignore your remote employees for days at a time.

Speaking from experience, as both a remote worker and the manager of remote workers, regular communication is an important part of keeping remote workers engaged. The frequency could be different depending upon the employee or their job role, but for me, every two or three days seems to be a good cadence for an informal chat, and a weekly formal visit feels like the right frequency for me. The informal conversations could even take place over chat — the important thing is to make sure your remote worker feels like they are part of the team even though they work off site.

4. Leverage technology to facilitate better communication and collaboration

Over the years, the tools available to make telework easier and more viable have really improved. As good as a phone conversation is, a WebEx or other form of video conferencing is even better.

As a remote worker, it’s a lot easier to understand the context of a conversation if I can see the body language associated with what’s being said. As humans, the visual cues associated with facial expressions in conversations help us understand what’s really being said.

Internal chat apps and email also make it possible to collaborate with people from anywhere across the country, or around the world for that matter. But remember, there is no body language in a text message or email, so you’ll need to make sure you’re being clear with your comments.

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Using the right technology can make the difference between an employee who feels engaged with the rest of the team and one who feels isolated and forgotten.

5. Establish metrics and manage to a scorecard

Consider this a flashback to No. 1. Once you’ve established your objectives and know what you want to accomplish, establish a handful of metrics to track performance that will allow your remote worker to be the most productive. This is a very tactical approach that I found very helpful when managing remote workers. It can also be valuable for measuring the performance of outside vendors.

When employees know what you expect, understand how their performance will be measured, and what success looks like, they will likely be successful.

In the 35 or so years of my career, I’ve met very few people who go to work with the objective of failure. Most people, regardless of where they work, want to be successful. Your job is to make sure they understand what success looks like. Then get out of their way.

5. Establish a cadence for in-person face time

The frequency of these face-to-face visits will be different for every business, but as a remote worker I appreciate the time I get to spend with my colleagues in the office. My department often schedules special team events for when I will be in town to accommodate my travel schedule, and I leave those visits energized. I tend to visit every six to eight weeks (depending upon what’s happening at the time), which works out to be a pretty good cadence for me.

Over the last few years I’ve become aware of more colleagues who work remotely, and we’ve talked about how they feel about their situations, the companies they work for, and their ability to get things accomplished with the flexibility of working from home.

Granted, this isn’t for every business or every employee. The success or failure of a remote workforce largely depends upon your ability to hire the right people, putting the right communication infrastructure in place to foster collaboration, and working together with your employees regarding how you measure success. If successful, your engaged and productive employees will enjoy greater work-life integration — a win for both of you.

Ty Kiisel is a contributing author focusing on small business financing at OnDeck, a technology company solving small business’s biggest challenge: access to capital. With over 25 years of experience in the trenches of small business, Ty shares personal experiences and valuable tips to help small business owners become more financially responsible. OnDeck can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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