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Allowing for remote workers has advantages. It gives you versatility, helps to reduce expenses, and allows you to draw from a larger pool of potential job candidates.

There can be drawbacks as well. Top complaints:

  • A sense that there’s less communication.
  • Management’s struggle with knowing whether employees are staying on task.

So how can you maximize benefits while limiting the drawbacks?

Hybrid Approach

Some companies allow employees a certain amount of flexibility to work from home. However they still require that employees be “in office” for a certain number of days per week or month. Yahoo had a famously liberal policy on remote workers and shifted to a stricter hybrid approach. Many of Yahoo’s top engineers left the company because of the perceived lack of flexibility.

This isn’t to say that a hybrid approach is doomed to failure. But it is important to understand how a team may respond to such changes. If your company is moving away from a strict “in office” policy in favor of something more flexible, a hybrid approach can be a great way to test the waters.

Going 100% Remote Worker.

A surprising number of service companies have begun moving toward being 100% virtual. By eliminating a physical workplace, a number of expenses can be eliminated. Additionally, being allowed to work from home 100% of the time gives employees a greater sense of work-life balance. This also makes attracting high quality employees easier. Millenials are especially attracted to flexible work situations.

But being 100% virtual means a business must be more deliberate in encouraging collaboration and community. These efforts can include conferences and parties. They can also include leveraging technologies such as video conferencing and instant messaging.

“Going Remote” Requires Better Hiring Processes

The reality is that only some individuals work well on their own. Many others prefer the socialization offered by an office setting.

Others lack the discipline to keep on task through the day. Grocery shopping, running kids to soccer games, and getting to the gym can become distractions. In these situations, workers fail to create strong boundaries between “personal time” and “work time”.

A well-designed hiring process begins with attracting the right candidates to the role. They have the characteristics and experience to work well in work-from-home settings.

Once someone is hired, it is critical to have a well defined onboarding process. Such a process gives workers the tools they need to succeed while allowing managers to hold workers accountable for outcomes.

Micromanagers and Remote Workers Don’t Mix

Managers need to set up routine check-ins so that remote employees aren’t forgotten. It can also be beneficial to leverage time management software so that workers can concentrate on their jobs. Such systems help employees avoid productivity sappers like social networking. (Some roles, such as sales and customer service may need to be significantly more active in social networking…)

And this is an important point… remote workers need dynamic leadership. They need managers that don’t micromanage. They need clearly defined objectives backed by excellence in managerial support and guidance. This requires an intentionality that many managers simply aren’t accustomed to.

But by managing based on outcomes, it is possible to evaluate a remote workforce without the need to specifically worry about the number of hours they work on a given day. As long as employees get the work done on time and under budget, it’s a win for everyone. Specifically working 8 or 9 hours a day isn’t the goal in successful work-from-home arrangements. (Note: some roles like customer support definitely require consistent hours of availability.)

Watch Out for Regulatory Pitfalls

Individuals that work from home still fall under all state and federal employee guidelines for wages, breaks, etc.

Also, companies considering a remote workforce need to understand their responsibility for worker injury at home. For example, employers could be liable for an employee that suffers injury due to bad home-office ergonomics. A worker’s injuries while on the job at home will still result in a claim against the company’s Worker’s Comp insurance. (If you are thinking about allowing remote workers, it’s important to talk with your insurance professional. Get the facts about potential risk and risk mitigation before you leverage remote workers.)

Will it Work for YOU?

Ultimately “going remote” can be challenging but worth it depending on the business, the management team, and the workers involved.

The key to success is going into the effort “eyes wide open” and to understand potential pitfalls well in advance.

The greatest thing that’s required is a willingness to experiment and an ability to be flexible until the company finds a balance that works well for the bottom line.

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