Managing Remote Employees

The terms “remote work” and “digital nomad” are trending. From startup companies to large corporations, such as Amazon, there is a growing demand for jobs that allow for flexibility of work space. In fact, a poll conducted in 2015 found that 68 percent of college grads would weight a potential job more favorably if the company allowed remote work at least some of the time.

With the increase in technology and online resources, we are seeing more companies branching into remote settings. The benefit for employees is fairly obvious: less time spent in traffic, ability to work while traveling, and enjoying lunch break at home, to name a few.

However, it does take a special skillset and approach to orchestrate the complexities of working with a team of remote employees. There are some challenges that may occur, such as distractions at home. People can get distracted with housework, phone calls, kids, animals, laundry and don’t have anyone monitoring them to make sure they are working. Since we bill by the hour, it is very important our team focuses on the work at hand when working remotely. While productivity does not seem to be a problem for all team members, it may be wise to plan ahead on how to communicate effectively with employees who do not seem to be producing outstanding results while working remotely.

It is all about communications. Some people work better than others, so we tend to allow the people who work well remotely more remote assignments and people who aren’t so good, we have them do onsite client work. As long as someone communicates well and communicates often, then working remotely isn’t an issue. We should note that this form of communication is done through technology, not traditional face-to-face conversation that may take place within the office. While there are a number of online tools designed for communication online, such as email or chat, it is important to establish expectations and see what works for each company.

Those communication practices must also translate into effective teamwork practices. It may be necessary to offer a number of conference rooms that are available for co-workers to come together, as we do here at PBO. However, sometimes team members are not located closeby and this is when remote conferencing comes in handy. There are plenty of online tools, such as Google Hangouts, that allow for team communication and are easy to use.

Additionally, working remotely does not mean working in isolation or a decrease in company morale. Our team is happy to have a flexible schedule and have the ability to work from home or at a local Starbucks. To us, it’s where they are most efficient. They can always come into the office as we have plenty of desks to work from. Company culture can continue through online communication, especially through a chat room dedicated purely for what is referred to as “water cooler chat”. This keeps employees engaged with each other and feeling like part of the team.

Creating effective policies for remote workers can increase morale and productivity on your team, but it is important to understand the challenges associated with making these changes. Thankfully, with an increase in companies allowing this style of flexibility, we are seeing more content and technology to assist in a smoother transition to remote teams.

For additional resources, we suggest the book Remote: Office Not Required by the founders of 37Signals. This book offers great insight on how to create effective working environments and suggests which online tools to use for a variety of circumstances.