In today’s wireless world, information can reach many places at once and in real-time. This has a radical impact on the way business is conducted.
Given the proper resources, a computer, an Internet connection and access to the company’s internal network, many people can and are working from home or other remote locations. Likewise, given the price of commercial real estate, commuting and traffic challenges and the unyielding global war for talent, many organizations are appealing to the employee or potential employee who wishes to work remotely.
I’ve been a remote worker, I have made a career in Human Resources, and I work for an agency that provides solutions for collaborative technology. This week, a tour through my Twitter feed led me to read something wherein all three of these worlds nicely collided.
I read “8 Ways to be Totally Awesome at Remote Work” – it’s a fun article, with tips on how to be efficient and productive even though “no one is watching.” I thought it would be fun if I complimented that article with some tips on how to SUPPORT the remote employee.
1. Choose wisely
Not everyone is cut out for remote work. Managers should make sure the employee is self-directed and self-disciplined, responsible and accountable, and capable and competent to perform the job with little or no direction and assistance.
Managers should also make sure the job and activities can be efficiently done “off site.” There is nothing more awkward than approving remote work and then realizing the duties need some “physical” presence at the office.
2. Be flexible
Remote work arrangements and strict structure are not good bed fellows. Compromise and flexibility will be needed when deciding when the remote worker needs to be in the office, when and how meetings will occur, when and how training will occur, how physical files or documents will be sent/gathered, etc. Rigidity and sacred cows may be possible when everyone is physically present but the introduction of remote work almost always comes with the need to change how and when the work is done. While I am not suggesting managers need to kowtow to the remote worker, I am suggesting that compromising goes a long way in ensuring efficiency and engagement.
In addition, some managers think remote work is flexible and/or beneficial “enough” and therefore, the remote worker shouldn’t have the same flexibility for taking time off, attending their kids’ activities, etc. This is simply not true; remote employees who are being responsible, who are holding themselves accountable and doing their jobs well from a coffee shop or their basement deserve the same amount of flexibility that similar employees down the hall receive.
3. Communicate to all stakeholders and customers
Managers needs to communicate to all people “touched” by the remote employee’s work that he/she is now going to be working from a different location. Thorough communication helps identify the expectations for both parties as well as provides an avenue to discuss challenges, barriers or concerns. (Please note, this type of communication would be done if the employee was moving to the organization’s office in the neighboring city so it goes without saying that good communication should happen when the employee is allowed to work remotely.)
4. Make good use of technology
Employers and managers should adopt collaboration hardware and software that effectively enables group think and engagement across distance. One of the objectives and/or benefits of telecommuting is significant cost savings; this is sabotaged if technology isn’t put into place to support the effort.
Whether it is by providing file sharing software, audiovisual solutions, collaboration technology or virtual work spaces, employers and managers should give the remote employee and his/her colleagues an opportunity to succeed in their work by providing the right technology to support it.
5. Manage by objectives and outcomes
“When the cat is away, the mice will play.” This, unfortunately, is true for many work environments, remote or otherwise. That being said, management by objectives and outcomes has become a common way of incentivizing work. With remote employees, it is often the only way. When the methods and means of the work are not critical, the outcome becomes the thing that is measured or inspected.
And here is the kicker, if the outcomes and results are not what is expected, the remote work agreement needs to be re-evaluated and/or stopped. No employer is mandated to allow employees to work from home and the simple fact is, if it’s not working, it needs to stop.
6. Evaluate fairly and thoroughly
Do I even have to write this? Shouldn’t Managers be doing this with everyone, regardless of where they work? Of course they should!
Managers sometimes find the rating and feedback process tricky, and they struggle even more with remote workers. This may be because they don’t know how to effectively manage by objectives. It could be they simply don’t know the remote employee as well as they know other employees because teleconferencing has been their primary foundation for the relationship.
That being said, Managers need to consider the remote employee just as they would with any other employee. If the remote employee was “granted” the permission to work offsite, one can assume he/she is competent, accountable and otherwise. Perhaps this is a good reason to expect more from them, and perhaps a Manager can expect tighter timelines because operational interruptions and distractions are removed with the remote worker.
Common sense and logic go a long way when evaluating what is reasonable and fair, and Managers need to consider the totality of the situation when evaluating the performance.
7. Engage consistently and often
Remote workers have a tendency to be “out of sight and out of mind” and regardless of their independence and self-discipline, they don’t appreciate being left out or forgotten. Also, working independently without professional interaction isn’t good for creativity, innovation, problem solving or, for some, sanity! That being said, everyone, including the remote worker, needs to take a pro-active role in engagement. Complacency with communication leads to distrust, resentment, and inefficiency so Managers need to stay on top of this both in their own activities and in those of the remote worker.
8. Be patient
Remote work, while it may be increasing and becoming easier with the digital age, is still complicated. The dynamics of the relationship need to be positive, the competence and discipline of the employee needs to be high, the work itself needs to be ripe in order to be done effectively in a remote setting. Furthermore, the work and employee need to be supported and enabled with technology, the maturity of the work team needs to be high enough to support the remote relationship, and the communication from all parties needs to be effective. It is not a matter of IF these things will falter, it is a matter of WHEN.
That being said, patience is required. Managers are able to pull the plug immediately the moment remote work causes a problem but I suggest they hold tight, learn about why it’s failing and see if they can put processes in place to mitigate the challenge. They may find that the solution to one problem solves others or perhaps even increases performance improvement in another area.
Other employees also have to be patient, and empathetic for that matter. It is difficult to be isolated from others, and it’s a price the remote worker pays. Tension, stress and similar issues are likely to affect relationships and communication but writing that employee off or disengaging with the employee is not effective. Rather, demonstrating a bit of patience and understanding will go a long way into establishing a positive dynamic.
So there you have it. “8 Ways to be Totally Awesome at Remote Work” offers tips on how to be an awesome remote worker. This post offers what I hope are valuable tips on how to support such work.
Good luck to you and your remote staff!