More and more employees are not working in the office nine-to-five. In fact, they are not working from office but ‘remotely’, usually from home. While this arrangement has several advantages for both employer and employee, it has its challenges too.
Traditionally, management is used to seeing employees at their desks. There is a face-to-face interaction. But when employees work ‘remotely’, how does one keep track of what they are doing? Self-reported data is usually sent in by employees but this is bound to be inaccurate. Not many people are able to keep an hourly account of time spent on work, separating ‘work time’ from time that gets spent on domestic activities and distractions.
What is needed is a change of mindset. Instead of ‘when’ the focus should be on ‘what’. People have their own schedules based on when they are most productive. Some like to get up early and a get a major chunk of work finished before the rest of the household wakes up. Others work best at night. Management should desist from micromanaging. It doesn’t really matter when the work is done as long as it is done well and on time. This attitude usually ends up with better productivity. Benchmarking success based on results rather than activity levels builds trust and greater employee satisfaction.
Employees who do not work in the office should be made to feel part of the team. Keep them in the loop. Include them in meetings via conference calls or video conferencing and recognize their contribution as much as that of employees working in the office. This is also important when brainstorming or trying to come up with solutions to problems. Excluding ‘remote’ workers from such discussions, whether intentional or not, will make them feel isolated from the rest of the team.
It is important to establish a time and method of regular check-ins. Different work schedules—and, increasingly, time zone differences—make it difficult for people to reach out-of-office workers for consultation. Establish a given time when they will be consistently available to respond to phone calls, emails and other messages. It is also a good idea to have a weekly one-on-one meeting with ‘remote’ employees. They don’t have the same opportunity as regular office employees to pop into someone’s office to chat about a problem or get a quick answer to a query, so this kind of engagement is important.
You need to know these employees, whom you don’t see every day, better. You don’t have the advantage of frequent interactions or casual conversations that you have with those who work in the office. But it’s critical to understand your ‘remote’ employees—what drives them, what are they passionate about, what are their career aspirations? Invest some time and effort in getting better acquainted with them. It will earn their trust and loyalty.
At least, once a quarter, if not more often, have an in-person encounter with your ‘remote’ employees. Get them to come to the office, participate in meetings, let them spend time informally with colleagues in the office. Set up a lunch or dinner meeting and let them feel they are part of the family and that they contribution is important.
Engaging your employees wherever they may be working from will greatly enhance productivity. You will find that you have a closer-knit team. ‘Remote’ employees may be working at a distance but there’s no reason why they should feel distanced.