Successfully managing a remote workforce

You’ve seen how your staff “homes” from work. They text during the morning staff meeting. They visit social media as they check email. They make social calls between business calls. How can you expect them to work efficiently from home, entirely removed the work environment?

Managing a remote workforce does have its challenges.

But it’s worth your time to master it, because it benefits both employers and employees.

When you walk through the office, notice the number of empty desks. Would you prefer that those missing employees work from home, or not at all? When employees are able to work from home, companies can increase productivity, lower real estate costs, and reduce absenteeism and turnover. Employees save on the time and cost of commuting, reduce costs for food and parking, and get increased flexibility.

80% of workers say they would like to work remotely, at least part of the time, states a statistic from Kate Lister of Global Workplace Analytics. Many employees say they would change jobs to gain the opportunity to work at home at least part-time. Some say they would even take a pay cut to gain this flexibility. Those who already can work from home say they prefer the freedom to complete projects that need concentration at home, and projects that need collaboration at work.

So how can you manage those workers you aren’t seeing every day?

Here are a 6 key steps:

Set up the technology.

Create methods to share documents, to conduct phone and video meetings, and to make sure everyone, wherever they work, has access to key base knowledge, such as the process for repeated procedures.

Be results-driven and goal-oriented.

Set expectations about how and when remote employees should check in. Define their responsibilities, deadlines and goals. As always, tie these to the company philosophy and mission. Communicate your goals and expectations, and measure them as often as you do for office staff.

Define communication strategy.

Create rules for frequency, method and acceptable hours for communication. Ideally, this should include a variety of email, phone and video conferences, so that communication has the same feel as it would in the office. You should set standards for relaying basic information and for more urgent matters. For example, you might use email for routine updates but text, phone call, or instant message for issues that need immediate attention. Some companies have remote workers partnered with an office worker. Then keeping in touch with remote workers doesn’t fall all on one person, and each remote worker has a counterpart who is a face in the office.

Be accessible.

Think of how often you check in with office staff in the hall or as you pass by their desk. Be accessible to remote workers by giving them the means to get quick questions answered in the same time frame as other workers would.

Keep a sense of community.

Include your remote staff when you celebrate birthdays, mark peer achievements and reach company milestones. Create virtual social events, such as starting a video meeting with a chat over coffee before business begins, or sharing an online pizza party to celebrate achieving a company goal. (You could even send a gift card for the pizza, or a package to be opened at the virtual party.) Be creative! Any time you add a social element to include your remote workers, you will increase their sense of belonging and commitment.

Perhaps most important, set a routine.

Schedule daily updates. Set a time frame when everyone is expected to start or end their day. Allow flexibility, but encourage remote employees to set and share their schedule so that coworkers know how and when to engage with them.

With these simple guidelines, you may find that your remote workers are as efficient, productive and loyal as the office crew–or even more.