Perhaps a new parent wants to work from home for a couple of years. Maybe teleworking was thrust upon your company during the COVID-19 pandemic. Or it’s possible your hiring managers are discovering that the most desirable talent now expects to be able to telecommute at least a few days each week.
For a variety of reasons, it’s more important than ever for business leaders to understand how to set up and maintain a successful remote work program. Creating a virtual team requires deliberation, planning and, more than likely, some investment in technology.
Here’s what you need to know to develop a successful work-from-home program.
1. Define the work and expectations
Granted, not every job is suitable for remote work.
For example, a receptionist, warehouse workers or warehouse manager all require a physical presence. Customer service reps, salespeople and IT specialists may be entirely successful conducting business in another location, whether that’s a home office or a co-working space.
Nor is every employee well-suited to remote work. New employees may need weeks or months of working in your office to learn systems and absorb company culture. Other characteristics to look for in remote workers include:
- A self-starting attitude
- The ability to communicate and collaborate
- A demonstrated commitment to their work
Yet, as the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, many employees who wouldn’t normally be approved to telecommute did so while performing at or above their usual productivity levels.
Obviously, it’s critical to define clear expectations of behavior and the work to be accomplished. Otherwise, you can’t accurately judge whether that employee is successful on a virtual team. Think through these questions:
- Does the employee need to come into the office once a week, or only for key meetings?
- Should the person in this position be available during certain hours? Do their available hours need to align with a particular time zone?
- What does “being available” mean? Are you able to allow, say, parents or other caregivers to work odd hours?
- Does the would-be telecommuter have access to an area at home with little to no background noise while on calls?
- How will projects be assigned and deadlines determined?
- Is there a checklist for all the critical tasks associated with this position?
- What is the standard required turnaround time when replying to emails and telephone calls?
Answering these questions will lay the foundation for how you define accountability for remote workers.
2. Technology: the work-from-home program secret sauce
Technology plays a big role in the success of virtual teams. These employees will need the same full, easy access to the information those in your office have. Calendars, phone lists and other resources will need to be accessible by everyone.
To make this happen, you may need to invest in an intranet, file sharing software, remote access software, a client management system, video conferencing or communication apps, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams.
This investment doesn’t have to be expensive, just properly organized for the work at hand. For instance, FaceTime or Skype can be used for small, informal chats, while Zoom can be used for larger, more formal meetings.
Literally hundreds of technology options exist, so your company will need to analyze which combination of software investments will work best for your situation. For instance:
- Salesforce.com is a popular option to manage and track sales teams.
- Jumpchart is used by teams building websites.
- Workfront and Basecamp are used for project management.
3. Test remote work
Conducting a test case is a good way to determine how remote operations might work for your company.
A telecommuting trial-run can generate questions that need to be answered, identify what software or office supplies need to be made available and what training and documentation need to be developed to prepare employees to work from home or in a co-working space.
During or after your test, encourage participating virtual team members to share their observations. Ask for feedback on things like:
- What office supplies were needed to work remotely? For example, were company stationery and a selection of FedEx delivery labels and boxes needed? How can those supplies be restocked?
- What are the steps to gain remote access to company files?
- What software, URLs and telephone numbers are needed to communicate through email, video conference and file sharing systems?
- What are the work-arounds if a system or software goes down?
- Does the company’s current technology operate smoothly in a remote situation? Are upgrades or different technology needed? Are there firewall issues?
- What are the annoyances and difficulties of working remotely, and can these be resolved?
4. Building remote into your culture
It’s important to make sure remote workers can participate in your culture and feel a part of your company. This, again, requires thought and planning.
- What’s more important – speed or quality of work?
- How does your team communicate most often – by email, phone or in person?
- How does visibility and meeting conduct impact an employee’s rise in the company?
- How much does your team work? 40 hours? 80 hours?
The answers to these questions will help you as you manage remote employees.
When getting started with telecommuting, you need to remember that out-of-sight doesn’t mean out-of-mind. You need to schedule regular check-in calls or in-person meetings, depending on the job, with your virtual team.
Since nothing beats face-to-face time, you also need to arrange for remote workers to join in a team activity or meeting. Again, it depends on the job and your culture whether these whole-team events take place weekly or twice a year.
Other ideas for remote team-building include:
- Pair remote workers with a different “buddy” weekly or monthly to encourage social interaction.
- Provide funds for remote workers to sponsor relevant, professional meetings where they live.
- Try out having remote happy hours, where the entire staff or a team connects on one video call to just hang out and have fun.
Summing it all up
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed many businesses to look at remote work differently. Now, with more and more workers deciding the option is desirable, it’s worth keeping an eye on the option as a permanent solution to keeping staff happy.
Plus, who knows? With planning and the right technology in place, you may find superstar virtual team members who work far outside your old geographic boundaries. Allowing them to telecommute could help your business flourish.
Curious to learn more strategies for attracting and maintaining talent? Download our free e-book: How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.