“We got the order!”

The excitement on the other end of the line was evident. “Callie, that is FANTASTIC news! You’ve worked hard and delivered our biggest client so far.”

Jim, her boss, was elated. “Well done. If you were here in the office I’d give you the rest of the day off! Where are you?”

“At the coffee shop down the corner from my house. I’ll swing by a little later to celebrate with the rest of the team.”

As recently as 10 years ago, the scenario above would seem far-fetched and unlikely. But now?

remote work from a coffee shop

Remote working comes with caveats.
Image courtesy of LifeHacker.

Most businesses acknowledge and accept the notion that employees in a variety of roles can be successful working remotely from places like home offices and coffee shops. Many large organizations are encouraging telecommuting as a way to reduce expenses at the office while providing employees with a greater level of work freedom. That said, while many organizations are willing to allow employees to work from outside the office, they don’t always provide a robust set of tools to allow them to do so. Here are a few suggestions and tips for instituting a telecommuter program that doesn’t impact productivity or efficiency.

  • Teamwork takes priority.  Many managers and directors are reluctant to allow telecommuting because they will have limited visibility to the work being done by their team. If you are interested in working remotely or are a manager looking to put a remote-work program in place, make sure that the flow of information between coworkers is ongoing and transparent. IT telecommuting tools are available to keep your team working in sync regardless of location. CRM tools like Salesforce allow managers to “check in” on the work being done while also allowing remote workers to stay in touch with what’s happening at the office. Project management tools like Basecamp allow workers to collaborate and keep up with projects. Instant messaging tools like Lync can quickly allow workers in different locations to chat, have a video conference, or share documents with the click of a button. These Cloud-based, collaborative tools are a must if your workforce is spread out or working remotely.
  • Communication is key.   The biggest practical hinderance to working outside the office for many years was the ability of the employee to hide the fact that they were outside of the office to customers and clients. Cloud based email and follow-me telephony solutions allow workers the ability to answer phone calls and emails from any location, provided they have a cellphone and internet connection. It’s easy to give the appearance that your team is all working in the same office location thanks to new tools that don’t break the bank.  In order for telecommuting workers to stay engaged with customers and clients, call forwarding and virtual phone lines, cloud-based email, and secure VPNs are key.
  • The proof is in the pudding.  Working remotely or from home is seen by many as an attractive option. That said, managers and owners of businesses that allow remote workers should implement quantifiable systems that confirm real work is actually being done. For example, are your employees logging on to the company server at 8am as expected? Or do they not show up until ten minutes later? What would you do if they were 10 minutes late to the office? Remote work should be treated the same way. There are a number of software tools available to track if employees are actually working on the tasks they say they are working on. Furthermore, if you are managing remote workers, it is imperative that you communicate more often (not less) with your team. Make it clear that the “cost” of working remotely to your employees is that you will be much more in tune with what they are doing during the day than if they were in the office. Most will understand and be agreeable.  
  • It’s a privilege, not a right.  Even though allowing remote workers does carry a financial benefit for the organization, the real benefit is the convenience and comfort being afforded your employees. As a result, make sure your team knows that working remotely is a privilege extended to them because you trust they can do an excellent job even if they aren’t in the office. Many organizations require certain performance metrics be met as an in-office employee before being eligible for telecommuter status. Others require employees to spend a certain number of days each week or month in the office as part of the telecommuter program. Set your telecommuter program up the same way, as a privilege and not a right, so employees know the program is being run on your terms – not their own.
  • Remote doesn’t mean “on call.”  As great as telecommuting can be in some situations, there are some drawbacks. When employees are accessible outside the office during business hours, there is often a temptation to treat them as accessible when outside the office outside of business hours, as well.  Make sure that both you and your employees understand the guidelines for communication. Do you expect them to return your calls after 5pm? What about emails at 7am?  If you don’t have guidelines in place, this “always on” accessibility can quickly cause employee burnout and resentment.

    Man working from his home office

    Many people find it easy to work from a home office, but there need to be guidelines in place.
    Image courtesy of Telepresence24.com

Every situation is different and a telecommuting policy that works for one company may be a disaster for another. The key to having a good telecommuter program is to emphasize that working remotely is an opportunity to actually be more engaged and productive. Allowing employees to view telecommuting as a less-serious or more relaxing work environment will create more problems than benefits for everyone involved. Follow the guidelines above and you are likely to find telecommuting to be beneficial for your organization. Click here to learn how Mosaic NetworX provides communications tools and infrastructure that can help your organization both in the office and outside of it!