Working remotely, teleworking and telecommuting. There are all terms to describe the working situation of an individual who does not work in an office defined in the traditional sense of the term. The numbers of those workers are growing; according to the American Community Survey, reported by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytic.com, as of 2014, 2.5% of the workforce in the U.S. now works from home at least half of the time, which is a 102% increase from 2005.
When determining whether an employee should be permitted to work from home, there are several factors for a company to consider. It is important to weigh the benefits with the challenges; certainly there are some cost savings for the employer for items such as office space, furniture and supplies. But there are also aspects of being in the office that are difficult for remote employees to benefit from, such as the possibility of face-to-face interaction and impromptu meetings. Additionally, managers may have some concerns about supervising a remote employee, particularly whether the employee will be responsive and productive.
One team at Select International has several remote employees. We thought it would be helpful to share our experiences and tips for working from home, working with remote employees, and supervising those individuals.
Accountability is key
Managing a team of remote individuals has its advantages and its disadvantages. The modes of communication obviously change quite a bit and the ability to communicate efficiently and effectively becomes even more important. In the end I think the effectiveness of a remote team comes down to one thing: having individuals who are accountable to the company, their clients, and the work. Although this accountability is important even when everyone is onsite, it becomes paramount when the workplace spans thousands of miles.
This highlights the importance of making sure that you are selecting individuals who can be effective in the role and working remotely. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the role is the same regardless of where the individual works. Understand the differences between working in the office vs. at home and make sure that those characteristics are being considered when you are hiring and managing the performance of your resources.
- Steven Jarrett, Ph.D., Consultant
Out of the ten plus years working at Select International only four of them were in the office. I cannot say that one experience was better than the other as they each had their benefits. Working in the office allowed me to hold more impromptu meetings, which was highly beneficial when trying to meet difficult timelines. Working in the office helped me build strong relationships with other departments. Without those relationships or department help, I simply couldn’t get my job done. Although difficult to measure, the overall team morale and camaraderie was a treat to experience.
Now that I’m a “remote employee” again, I’ve had to make some adjustments. Communication is key, but can be difficult during extremely busy periods. In my case, “extremely busy” means traveling and/or spending a great deal of time on the phone with clients which can limit the time I have to communicate with team members. The skill set needed to maintain effectiveness is to prioritize wisely and schedule more calls, some of which will have to be held after hours. This is much easier said than done! I’ve also learned that I have more of an IT responsibility than I did while working in the office. It just doesn’t make sense to call the main office when I have internet issues. The best thing I’ve learned is to have a quick Plan B, like a local coffee shop.
- Eli Castruita, Consultant
Make communicating a priority
Working with a team that is composed of about 50% remote employees does present challenges at times, but many of those can be remedied with a little extra planning and organization. In my case, my direct report is not in the office which forces us to set aside time to regularly communicate. Sometimes this is easier said than done due to conflicting conference calls and travel schedules, but we make it a priority to talk over the phone to ensure all client needs are being met. In rare cases when that is not possible, emails can fill in the gaps until we are able to reconnect.
It is an adjustment to realize that what could be a simple walk to a co-worker to ask a question elicits an email or phone call. However more times than not, I find having paper trails of conversations a major asset as I can reference them later to confirm they were completed or follow similar protocol for another client. It is also incredibly useful to have regularly scheduled team “meetings” to regroup and get an idea for everyone’s work load. I feel that these calls are critical to keep the team on the same page and address any issues that can be resolved with an extra set of hands.
All things considered, I don’t believe having remote employees presents any significant downfalls as we live in such a technological world. There are numerous ways to reach people and from a client perspective, the modes of communication are exactly the same. In my experience both at Select and past employers, if an employee has the work ethic and discipline to complete their work outside of a typical office setting, oftentimes the benefits outweigh the risks.
- Vicki Cooper, Consulting Associate
Don't forget your culture
I started out in Select’s Pittsburgh office before moving to Seattle to work remotely, which I believe made the transition easier. It was beneficial for me to the have the opportunity to forge relationships with co-workers prior to leaving the office environment. It’s probably easier to sustain a level of collegiality once in-person connections are made, because face-to-face interactions allow for a level of trust and accountability that can be difficult to maintain from a distance. That said, it’s not impossible to form strong relationships with colleagues if you start work remotely upon being hired; there are plenty of technological devices that make “meetings” possible. In my experience, in order for me to stay in communication with my supervisor and teammates, usually phone calls and emails suffice, however using video conferencing has been helpful in certain situations.
A benefit that Select International provides to all employees, regardless of where they are located throughout the country, is the opportunity to convene a couple of times a year in Pittsburgh. Having remote employees attend the bi-annual company meetings, holiday party and “Fun Day” is great way to keep those who aren’t located in the office connected to their colleagues. For companies thinking of offering remote positions, I would recommend this approach of inclusiveness, to the extent that it is financially feasible, as doing so can help sustain an organization’s culture.
It’s important to understand that some aspects of working remotely will not appeal to everyone; for example, I believe that for some people, the lack of “face time” could cause dissatisfaction that would eventually lead an employee to seek other employment. Companies would be well-served to determine an employee’s motivational fit for a telecommuting role, particularly for external candidates. For me, waking up early to begin working at 6:00 a.m. Pacific Time isn’t a huge challenge. However for others, it could be an issue, causing performance issues or turnover.
- Vicki Marlan, Consulting Associate
Hire the right people
The ability to work from home is a wonderful perk and it makes me feel like my company values and trusts me. With the increasing number of companies that allow work from home scenarios or the option of working from home even a few days a week, it is definitely an aspect that as mentioned, comes with its pros and cons. Given the nature of our consulting business, even for those who work in the office every day, it is very common for managers to be on the road or out of the office. That said, working remotely and not seeing your immediate supervisor face-to-face on a regular basis, is also something that someone in the office is also likely to encounter.
Impromptu meetings and team lunches or outings outside of regular business hours are probably the one aspect of working from a remote office that lags the most. While there are definitely team bonding experiences that may be missed, I feel a remote team more appreciates the pros that come with being able to work from home as the better tradeoff. In a world where time is limited and work-life balance often suffers, working from home is a privilege.
One argument that may be made against allowing employees to work from home is that they‘re not in “line of sight” for more direct supervision. For those that try to argue that point, my response would be, it doesn’t matter what environment they’re in, if you’ve hired an employee with poor work ethic, they will find ways to not work or slack on the job regardless. As someone who works from home, I’m very comfortable knowing that my boss and my colleagues are just an IM, email, phone or Skype call away and I feel I can depend on them just as much as I could if I were in the same office building.
- Connie Gentry, Consulting Associate
Working remotely certainly has its pros and cons, but it can work well for any company dedicated to making it work. The four keys takeaways are:
Communication is very important – Ensure that you make it easy for your coworkers to get in touch with each other, whether that’s phone, email, Skype, or IM. The key here is to make it just as easier to talk as if you’re all working 5 feet away.
Adaptability is key – When not working in one office, you may have to schedule calls and meetings for times that aren’t the typical working hours. Be willing to be flexible.
Don’t forget about accountability – This is also important for coworkers who do work in a central office, but even more so for remote employees. Hold your employees are accountable for their work and their clients.
Focus on the right competencies when hiring – If you know your employees are going to be working from home, focus on hiring employees who will be accountable and adaptable on their own.