April 13, 2017
For years, businesses have treated remote work and telecommuting as an occasional thing which an employee can do on a Friday. But thanks to the constant march of technology, more people are now working remotely on a regular or even a full-time basis. Employees are no longer bound to their desks from 9 to 5, and this trend will only increase as the ever-increasing millennial workforce demands greater flexibility.
Employers should understandably be concerned about workers not being immediately available, and there are unique challenges towards telecommuting which a business must address. But if telecommuting is managed correctly, it can be a net benefit for a business as long as employers know the differences between managing workers in the office and home.
Remote Talent Is Better Talent
Obviously, some employees are wholly unsuited for telecommuting and will do nothing without structure or someone monitoring them. But a business committed to telecommuting can generally find better workers and improve the productivity of its current workers.
In the former case, a business can pick up extremely talented employees who would not be able to move to its headquarters and thus can recruit from the best people in the world instead of the best people in just a city or region. For the latter case, it has been well-documented that remote workers are happier, report themselves to be more productive, and are more willing to work longer hours and less willing to leave. As employees work more hours and a business hires people from across the world, those businesses can now be available 24/7 instead of merely 40 hours per week.
Using more remote workers carries other benefits as well. A business with fewer office workers can get a smaller, cheaper office which saves money in supplies, utilities, and rent. Workers should be always ready to work at their home computers easily get to their computers at home instead of being late thanks to commuter traffic. Businesses should view telecommuting not as an occasional treat, but as a company policy which will save money and result in happier and better workers.
But Beware of Communication Issues
Telecommuting done right can result in a better, more efficient office. But the emphasis here is on “done right”, and there are problems with telecommuting beyond workers using the free time to goof off.
The biggest problem with telecommuting is communication. Technology like the Internet and Skype has made telecommuting possible and easier, but face to face remains the most effective means of communication.
These communication problems can take on several forms. It can be harder for unprepared employers to get on top of what progress has been made. If you hire workers from across the world, time zone differences can cause missed meetings. But the biggest problem is that communicating through a computer does not build the same emotional bonds compared to face to face.
While a 2016 employee survey found that telecommuting was generally beneficial for the reasons listed above, it observed that “remote employees do rate their ‘relationships with co-workers’ lower than do all workers.” Remote employees cannot chat with each other about sports or their personal lives, creating a purely professional relationship without camaraderie. In fact, relationships can become more negative as those who are barred from telecommuting become jealous of those who can.
Other issues with telecommuting include the fact that some employees need structure and employee fears that they will be forgotten and passed up for promotion if they are not in the office. But practically all telecommuting issues revolve around communication, which requires stern yet open management to address.
In the End, Remote Workers Are Still Worth It
Telecommuting is generally beneficial for employee and employer, but it requires serious, diligent management and communication to attain the greatest benefits. Employers must ensure that employees do not become isolated by technology and feel that they are truly part of the company instead of mere mercenaries.
There are plenty of approaches towards building camaraderie, but the basic idea is to constantly communicate with your employees outside of delivering and receiving assignments. Hold regular one on one meetings. You can do this by setting up an efficient VPN encourage remote workers to fly to headquarters on a semi-routine basis to see their company with their own eyes, and do not forget about their long-term career aspirations.
Other aspects of managing remote employees include promoting a results-driven approach which ensures that they complete their assignments efficiently and making sure that goals should be well-defined. Do not try to monitor them by demanding regular progress reports which distract them from their actual jobs and kills trust, but make it clear that telecommuting is a perk and not a right.
The nature of telecommuting means that more than ever, managers will have to really manage and keep track of employee performance while ensuring that they feel like part of a team. But while managing telecommuting is challenging, it offers numerous benefits that make it worthwhile. If your business does not have a telecommuting plan, start one. If it does, look at expanding it.
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