In 2015, more companies than ever before are offering flexible workspace alternatives for their employees, such as hoteling stations and the option of telecommuting. In fact, the 2014 National Study of Employers, conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, found that roughly 67 percent of the U.S. workforce reports telecommuting at some point each week.
Telecommuting has been proven to offer both emotional benefits for employees, like flexible hours and improved work-life balance, and real operational benefits for companies, including improved productivity, less employee turnover, and reduced overhead costs. When engaging in telecommuting best practices, offsite teams are able to collaborate efficiently and effectively, remain focused on projects and daily tasks, and stay organized. However, many employers are still skeptical of the benefits of telecommuting and fear that offsite employees will result in an increased cost of sale instead of an overall reduction in expenses.
In an article on Forbes.com, Anne McGurty, president and founder of Strategize and Organize, says “There’s much to be desired about working from home, but even if you have managers and coworkers you’re accountable to, there are still temptations that can easily sap your productivity and motivation.”
So, how do you ensure that your offsite operations are running like a well-oiled machine?
Structure Work Processes for Remote Workers
Different teams often require different working parameters, and your offsite team is no exception. Special processes and practices should be put into place to ensure that remote employees are given the tools and structure they need to be successful.
- Measure outcomes, not hours. Because remote workers can often be more productive than their office-based counterparts, hours are generally not the most accurate form of evaluating performance. A common best practice for assessing offsite employees is executing performance reviews driven by project results instead of conducting focal reviews.
- Keep employees in the know. Be sure to keep virtual teams informed of all company news and organizational changes.
- Special training for managers. Managing offsite employees requires different skills than overseeing an in-office team. Invest in training management-level employees in the skills and best practices for supervising remote teams.
- Allow for full remote access. Ensure that remote workers have full access to all in-office work systems, including databases, intranet systems, and email.
- Establish regular check-in times. Communicating with your reports regularly, even without an agenda, is extremely important for satellite teams and helps to establish routine and structure.
- Acknowledge holidays. Schedule projects to allow breaks for celebrating holidays.
Build a Virtual Team Culture
Lack of team cohesiveness is a common concern when managing remote teams as it often leads to serious problems—loss of focus, employee rivalries, and increased stress levels and burn-out—that can poison an offsite team’s success. To overcome this challenge, it is vital that managers create a virtual team culture.
- Allow casual, friendly, non-work conversation to occur. Employees often need the support of meeting with colleagues to commiserate. While this may sound counter-intuitive, in an article from ComputerWeekly.com, Sarah-Anne Bray, of Acer Technology, defends this practice by stating that, “You could call it gossip, but there needs to be easy contact at an idle conversational level with colleagues. This is possible despite infrequent face-to-face meetings and vast distances between individuals.”
- Promote givers, discourage takers. “Takers” are employees who are compulsively self-promotional and are routinely trying to score points against co-workers, and these folks can kill your team culture. Instead, encourage and reward “givers”, or individuals who contribute to the team without ulterior motives, to help foster a cohesive and supportive team culture that will keep employees happy and motivated.
- Do not allow arguments to happen over email. Email quarrels are not effective for resolving issues and reinforce poor communication practices. Instead, encourage your team to call one another and work out problems or miscommunications.
- Assign team mentors. These individuals will serve as secondary managers and confidants in charge of guiding the team through cultural, technical, working relationship issues.
- Trust your team. If you don’t trust your reports to deliver good work on time, then you don’t have the right employees.
Invest in Technology
There is a veritable smorgasbord of new software options available to help offsite managers and employees optimize their virtual workspaces. In order to fully leverage this new technology, be sure you are choosing technology that empowers collaboration, such as instant messaging, web conferencing, and file sharing.
Products that create virtual meeting space make it easy for managers and staff to work collaboratively and get projects completed on schedule, and converged voice and data products give home offices communication capabilities of more conventional work settings.