With the popularity of remote work increasing, you’re likely to start hearing requests to telecommute from your team, if you haven’t already. It can be tough to switch from having a fully on-site team to having some staff members who most days you see only as an avatar in a chat program or a name on an email … and you might worry about how to ensure people are working to the same standard that they did when they were in the office.
But if you’re committed to making telecommuting work for your team, it can turn into a benefit that attracts and retains great employees, more and more of whom want the flexibility that working remotely allows.
Here are five keys that will go a long way toward setting your staff up for remote work.
1. Create a shared set of expectations about what successful telecommuting looks like. Too often, managers of remote employees don’t spell out their expectations up-front and then end up frustrated when they’re not met. To avoid that, get on the same page right from the start on things like core hours that you want the person to be accessible, responsiveness time, not using telecommuting as a substitute for child care, and so forth.
2. Focus on results. I often hear managers ask how they can hold remote employees accountable and be sure that they’re really spending their time correctly all day (as opposed to spending the day watching daytime TV and cleaning the house). Fundamentally, it comes down to getting really, really clear on what results you need to see from the person in the role, and then paying attention to make sure that you’re receiving them. If you focus on the outcomes you’re looking for from the person’s performance, you’ll know whether the person is delivering what you need – and if they’re not (for any reason, whether it’s because they’re taking advantage of being remote or because they’re just not very good at the work).
3. Trust but verify. With all employees, but especially with remote employees, you want to set up systems that will allow you to see with your own eyes how the work in their realms is going. That might mean anything from joining your employee on a few phone calls to get a sense for how she’s handling certain types of customer requests, to reviewing interim data, to doing site visits where you get to see her work in action, to occasionally checking in with the people who depend on her for their own work and asking how they feel things are going. To explain to your remote employee why you’re doing this, you can say something like, “So that I don’t become out-of-touch, I’m going to join your calls every once in a while to see how things are going in practice and so I can be a better resource to you.”
4. Make sure remote staff don’t feel remote. “Out of sight, out of mind” is not a good management philosophy. Be sensitive to the fact that remote employees can easily start to feel out of the loop and unremembered, and make particular efforts to keep them informed about what’s going on in the organization and on your team, and find creative ways to stay connected and collaborate. (Systems like QuickBase make this easier!)
5. Be thoughtful about what must be done in person. If your team contains some people who are remote and others who aren’t, will your on-site folks end up with all the grunt work that’s easier to do on-site, like answering calls coming into the department, sending out mailings, or other in-person miscellanea? If so, give some thought to whether there are ways to even out the load – perhaps having the remote person take responsibility for some piece of shared grunt work that can be done virtually.
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