The number of companies with partial or entire workforces telecommuting or working remotely is increasing and employees are working from home for a variety of employers, across industries.
A 2014 national study of 1,051 employers with 50 or more employees at for-profit and nonprofit organizations conducted by the Families and Work Institute and Society for Human Resources found that:
- 67% of companies allow some employees to work some regular paid hours at home occasionally
- 38% allow some employees to work some regular paid hours at home on a regular basis
Given this new reality of a modern, physically disconnected workforce, there are two key issues to be aware of, says Chicka Elloy, a nearly 10-year remote working veteran and , director of global talent management at BCD Travel, one of the top 100 companies for remote jobs.
“The first is trust…and the second thing is communication,” he explains. Ellow speaks from experience as an employee who has written advice for remote workers and as an HR leader for a 13,000-strong workforce with nearly 30% of employees working remotely worldwide and 64% working remotely in the U.S.
An HR Professional’s Best Advice
This is a two-way process: HR teams and managers must trust that the employees that have been hired to work from home are doing their jobs–and employees need to be sure to work to continuously earn that trust, says Elloy.
“You have to be proactive and intentional,” Elloy says. Teams should be proactive in building relationships and intentional with spending time spent on emailing, phone calls, and remote meetings, particularly to eliminate confusion which can lead to over-emailing or poor meeting management.
- Employees working remotely should wait 15 minutes before sending emails. After the time’s up, review what you’ve written and make sure you’ve communicated your points in a clear and effective way without raising any potential questions for your readers.
- Consider global differences in culture, if applicable. “I manage a global team, so working with different cultures adds a different layer,” says Elloy.
- When you can get together in person, take advantage of that face time to strengthen and build relationships. “I go into the office twice a month to continue that relationship [building],” says Elloy.
- Don’t fall victim to “out of sight, out of mind.” You need to intentionally build relationships to be remembered and included in the process.
- Take advantage of every meeting and phone call and manage that time wisely, since employees may not always have the chance to have that immediate form of communication.
Hire for success with employees WFH
Having a remote workforce “makes the interview and the selection process that much more important,” explains Elloy. “You need to find an employee that’s right for that environment.” Be clear and upfront about what your expectations are.
Remember the benefits
Employees will cut out commuting time and are likely to get more done, says Elloy. “When I work from home, I’m more productive,” says Elloy. “I’m more effective in my role. I laugh with my wife, where I use to be sitting in the car for an hour to an hour and 45 minutes, I can walk my dog for 45 minutes.”
Plus, you can expect these results, too, says Elloy: savings on overhead costs, higher employee engagement, higher employee retention, and having an attractive recruiting incentive for employees.
Take advantage of technology
Strong leadership will recognize the needs of employees for tools that assist with communication, particularly with remote or partially remote workforces. Elloy says his company has benefited from implementing company-wide use of the same tools for instant messaging, customer relationship management, and video conference calls. Prior to having uniform tools in place, teams were working on an ad-hoc basis, which created inconsistencies.
Management’s Best Advice
Emily Sidley, senior director of publicity at Three Girls Media, a virtual public relations and social media management firm has this advice for fellow managers overseeing teams of remote employees, working both part time and full time.
“You don’t want your employees to be confused about who to ask for questions about payroll, their rights as employees” or other employee information and resources, she says.
- For hourly employees she recommends using a tool to track their hours.
- “Make sure they understand this time is to be used for working and what activities fall into that category,” she says. “[In] the same vein, clearly lay out how often they need to take breaks and how long the breaks need to be.”
Create recurring checkins and reviews
Sidley has a weekly staff meeting, recurring one-on-one meetings with individual team members, and has a stated open-door policy regarding employees reaching out over email or phone. “Because employees don’t have as much face-to-face time, it’s important to provide feedback and let them know how they’re doing on a regular basis,” she says.
Are You Prepared to be a Remote Employee?
Whether you currently work at a company that has some or all employees working remotely, some or all of the time, it is becoming increasingly likely that this is a new reality you will encounter over the course of your career. Below are some tips for you to consider from employees currently working from home some of the time.
Christina M. Blackburn, a project manager at Speranza Human Compassion Project who works from home often, says no to TV, napping, working in her bedroom, or working with kids, unsupervised by someone else, at home. “Get a co-working or small office space if possible…I now lease an office space downtown for a really low cost.”
Create a routine
“The best advice I have is to keep hours as normal as possible,” says Amanda Basse, marketing coordinator for staySky Hotels and Resorts, who works from home several days a week. “As a working mom, it is easy to fall into the habits of working late hours and early morning, but I find I am most productive when I keep a steady schedule and only use the ‘flex’ hours as needed. I make a list of goals to accomplish each week and I am sure to work towards those to keep me on track.”
Create a healthy work life
Remote employees need to build in time for socializing and taking breaks, both of which happen more naturally at in-office environments, says Elloy.
- Find unique ways to connect with your coworkers. “I used to Skype into the office and not really talk all the time,” says Elloy, who was able to stay connected by hearing what was going on in the background and chime in when it made sense.
- Discuss with your boss and family what’s going to work for you because work and home life are going to blend, Elloy says from experience. “I never have my computer in the bedroom. I never have the phone out when my kids are home.”
- “Find an ‘accountability buddy,’” he adds. “When I first started, I had a [neighbor] down the road…keep me on track so I didn’t get distracted.” An accountability buddy will help keep you from getting too isolated–or too distracted.