Say your best talent is out of commuting range. Or, a new parent wants to work from home for a couple of years. Or, maybe teleworking was thrust upon your company during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, more than ever before, it’s important for business leaders to understand how to setup a successful remote work program. It requires deliberation, planning and, likely, some investment in technology.
Here’s what you need to know to build a successful work-from-home program.
1. Define the work and expectations
It’s important to recognize that 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 work from home. 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 are a self-starting attitude, maturity, ability to communicate and collaborate, and a commitment to their work.
However, with much of the United States shuttered in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees who wouldn’t normally be approved for remote work might find themselves working from home.
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. Think through these questions:
- Should the person in this position be available during certain hours? What does “being available” mean?
- Will the remote employee work in an area 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?
- When the country lessens restrictions on going into the office, does the employee need to come into the office once a week, or only for key meetings?
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 remote 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.
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 (or reflect on your COVID-19 strategy)
Conducting a test case is a good way to determine how remote operations might work for your company. Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic created your greatest work-from-home program experiment.
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 employees 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.
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.
With planning and the right technology, you may find superstar employees who work far outside your old geographic boundaries.
For more information about how to manage employees and keep your business operating and productive during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit our COVID-19 resource center.