I may not be Captain Kirk, but my extensive travel schedule makes it imperative that I meet my business responsibilities while remaining connected to my base. Some of your employees may have the same needs. Sales territories keep your reps far from your home office, but even local workers may need to work from home during inclement weather — or even just because they prefer wearing fuzzy slippers from 9 to 5.
Remote work can make sense, as long as your employees have the resources that they need to excel at their jobs wherever they are. But it also takes disciplined workers and supportive managers. Here are some tips on how to decide which employees will be effective remote workers and how to ensure that they provide professional representation for your company.
Identifying Good Remote Workers
If an employee that reminds you of Ferris Bueller or Dude Lebowski asks for the opportunity to work from home, just say no. Self-motivated employees, on the other hand, are likely to be even more productive when they don’t spend time commuting to an office where distractions and interruptions typically exceed those that workers might find at home.
Still, employees who want to work from home need to show that they have an appropriate, interruption-free work area. For example, they probably need to send the kids to daycare or hire a nanny. But just as important, look for employees who already display dedication, as evidenced by the following traits:
- They consistently meet or exceed deadlines, even if it means coming in early or staying late;
- They take work home while still putting in a full workday, particularly when that work requires unfettered concentration;
- They keep you informed of progress without the need to prompt them;
- They are good problem-solvers on their own, but they know when to seek your help.
Remote Employees Must Maintain a Professional Image to the Outside World
No customer, vendor or other outside party should ever see the laundry basket in an employee’s living room and seeing the inside of a coffee shop is no better. In other words, business contact must occur outside of the home in professional surroundings.
You work hard to develop a professional image for your business and your employees need to maintain it, no matter where they are. I count on Regus (who, for disclosure is a client of mine, and whose services and locations I have used as a client of theirs for years), one of the largest providers of flexible workspaces in the world, for the professional image that I need.
Using professional remote workspaces allows you to rent anything from office space to meeting rooms on an as-needed basis, but if you regularly provide remote workers with access to flexible facilities, a resource like Regus’s Businessworld card can help keep costs under control while providing a professional working environment.
Technology Creates a Bridge between Workers and Home Base
Most remote workers use a computer in some capacity to do their jobs. It doesn’t matter if
they carry a company laptop back and forth between home and office or if they use their own computer — as long as they have access to the right functions. But once you take employees out of the office, you often need additional technology such as the following to keep them connected:
- A reliable Internet connection;
- High-quality and secure access to your office computer network, including email, using collaboration suites like Office 365;
- A quality phone system, like those provided by Nextiva;
- The ability to attend interactive meetings and video conferences online.
Having appropriate technology makes it seamless for you to collaborate with your team or even your vendors from almost anywhere in the world.
Avoiding the Isolation of Remote Work Environments
I know someone who was forced to work from home during her first months with a new employer simply because her office computer did not work. She would come in to the office for meetings, but she lamented that the delay in getting to know her co-workers made her feel alienated from the team. Years later, after she formed a bond with the team, she started working from home several days a week. She enjoyed her time at home, but she always felt a sense of renewal when she returned to the office.
All employees must feel a close connection to the company and their co-workers, and it is your job to make sure that happens. By conducting regular one-on-one and department phone meetings, you provide them with vital information relevant to their daily activities, but face-to-face contact is incredibly valuable as well. You should make it clear that you expect local employees to come to the office on a regular basis, and even workers on the other side of the country might be able to travel in for the quarterly company meeting or other major events.
Everyone would enjoy the chance to wear fuzzy slippers and PJs during their work day, but this is just one of many reasons why studies have shown remote workers to be generally happier and more productive. Still, it is important to make sure that a remote workplace does not equate to a remote connection with the company team. With your guidance, employees who receive this benefit will earn your trust every day — especially if those fuzzy slippers have your company logo embroidered on them.