Telecommuting is rapidly becoming a serious option for employers looking to attract and retain top talent. More workers are demanding the option to work from home – at least some of the time – and employers need to take these requests seriously.
Offering a telecommuting option can initially be attractive to employers; lower overhead, less hands-on management, increased productivity and happier employees are all potential benefits. But managing a remote workforce isn’t without its problems.
This article will look at 7 of the biggest challenges of managing remote workers.
While research has shown that telecommuting leads to increased performance, many managers have a hard time trusting that employees will work efficiently while not in the office. Without the same level of ability to track and monitor outcomes, managers may not always know if work is actually getting done.
This makes having regular check-ins important, as well as having set deadlines for tasks and projects. Give employees flexibility in terms of work hours, but also be clear about your expectations – what exactly you need, and when you expect it to be done.
According to a survey by Robert Half Technology, 30 percent of US CIOs cited communication as their biggest problem when managing a remote workforce. Without proper communication, employees and managers can feel disconnected and are more prone to experiencing misunderstandings.
To ensure proper communication, Robert Half suggests 4 tips to improve remote communication:
- Outlining expectations: Be clear about how often you’d like remote workers to check in and be available to you.
- Make use of technology: Without access to proper communication tools, collaboration becomes very difficult. Ensure employees are trained to use data-sharing, online meeting and project management tools.
- Schedule real-time meetings: Build in opportunities for workers to meet face-to-face to improve communication and reduce isolation.
- Check in with your employees: Working from home without appropriate boundaries can lead to overwork and even burnout. Regularly support and assist employees with maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
3. Data security
Employers are understandably concerned about the potential to lose important data or to experience a security breach on remote computers. Many remote workers regularly work from coffee shops or shared offices, or access the internet via other unsecured wireless networks.
Employers also have no way of restricting outside access to remote workers’ laptops or phones; if an employee allows a friend to use his or her computer while at home, for instance, the employer will never know.
Remote workers should be expected to commit to certain security measures for their work computer and data. This might include installing encryption software, restricting the use of company-issued laptops and keeping company files and devices in a secure location when not being used.
One of the first difficulties that many companies face when they introduce telecommuting is training new hires. Even with the most comprehensive training manuals and written procedures, employees can struggle without having the in-person support of colleagues.
Having a training program in place is critical when managing a remote workforce. In addition, assign a mentor to each new hire to answer questions or offer support via phone, email or video chat.
5. Building and maintaining a strong company culture
Communicating and nurturing a strong company culture among a remote workforce can be extremely difficult. Much of a company’s culture is communicated and modeled by leadership; this is obviously more challenging when workers and managers don’t regularly work together in person.
Hiring employees who have already demonstrated similar values and beliefs as the company is a great place to start. Setting up regular one-to-one meetings between workers and management can also help, as well as periodically getting together for casual get-togethers.
Working as a team can be difficult at the best of times; but add thousands of miles and multiple time zones to the mix and it can seem nearly impossible. This is why having great tools in place is so important. Workers must be able to communicate and collaborate to share ideas and data seamlessly.
Some tools that can help with collaboration between remote workers include:
- Skype: Use Skype to hold one-to-one or team meetings, to talk with clients or to hold group chats.
- Dropbox: Ensure all employees have access to company files, no matter where they’re working from. Dropbox allows them to upload and share files among team members, and ensures that no important data gets lost.
- Basecamp: This software lets you do virtually anything related to team project management, including file sharing, chatting and assigning tasks to various team members.
- Join.me: Screen share, make presentations or hold online meetings using a tool like Join.me.
There are also a number of Gmail plugins that can boost collaboration and productivity which are worth checking out.
7. Technological Issues
When working in an office, technological problems can usually be dealt with quickly, and work can resume as normal. For remote workers, however, an issue with a laptop or software can mean hours or even days of lost productivity.
Setting up proper training and access to suitable technology can help mitigate technological challenges, as well as giving workers access to remote tech support when needed. Giving employees additional training for new software and equipment can also help avoid problems later on.
Managing a remote workforce isn’t without its challenges.
But having the proper guidelines, technologies and processes in place can help ensure your remote workers stay productive and happy.