By John Meyer
As technological innovations continue at a record pace, the global economy is becoming more closely aligned. It wasn’t long ago that cross-country or trans-Atlantic flights were required for many business people. Now, however, telecommuting has become the choice for a growing number of employees, some of whom were previously high-flying consultants or corporate entities.
There are numerous advantages to telecommuting, as well as some notable drawbacks, but the way to mitigate the latter is to stay in the loop with those employees who work off site. Do you know what they are doing and how you should be working with them? What follows are four tactics to keep telecommuters on the team and to manage them well:
1. Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Maintaining working relationships with employees who work remotely can be a challenge, but the key is to keep all communication channels open. Telecommuters who live/work in different time zones need to be able to make contact with home base as needed, as much as they must remain in the chain of command. Ensure that any employee working remotely can readily access everyone from the top dog to the payroll coordinator, especially in cases of emergency or immediate need.
Make sure telecommuter employees are able to seamlessly integrate with key members of your on-site team by giving them access to others via Google Hangouts, Skype, instant messaging, email, or even telephone, if need be.
2. Employee Equality – Telecommuter vs. Traditional Office Worker
Though a person’s intentions may be the best, out of sight is often out of mind, especially when employees are not regularly in a physical office setting (if ever). Telecommuters are no different than traditional employees, and their collective presence should resonate as if they were in the office as part of the corporate team. From inclusion in all company activities to basic task delegation, treat on- and off-site employees as if they are one and the same.
Telecommuter employees should know what is expected of them. They should understand that part of their duties may entail sitting in on important staff meetings via a dial-in or be included on important briefing sessions on projects via Skype or a conference call.
3. Expectations, Accountability, and Measurable Goals
The vast majority of telecommuters are responsible and dedicated employees, but there will always be a few who gravitate toward the adage of, “While the cat’s away …”
Admittedly it is more difficult to manage a person who is not physically present, but that should not deter an employer from instituting and maintaining explicit expectations for job performance (predicated on tangible goals), in addition to clearly defined rules for accountability. Follow-up is a key component as well, so the onus is on the employer to make certain the telecommuting relationship remains productive.
Organizations with telecommuter employees should make it a point to schedule weekly one-on-one sessions when a telecommuter reports to his or her supervisor to brief them on tasks for the current and upcoming week. It’s also a great opportunity for both parties to express any concerns. Additionally, it may also be wise to offer telecommuters quarterly, annual, or semi-annual performance reviews to measure progress and help them to set new goals.
However, these one-on-one meetings and reviews shouldn’t have a “doom and gloom” atmosphere hanging over them. The intent behind them is not to “check up” on a telecommuting employee and breed an air of distrust. Rather, these meetings should be par for the course for all employees to ensure everyone within a given organization is on the same page and is productive.
4. Exploit Technology
With all the tools at the disposal of telecommuters, it is imperative that host companies (and related clients) are able to accommodate the extensive tech options currently available. The easiest way for a telecommuting relationship to fail is through lack of tech support. Telecommuters rely on technology as their sole lifeline to the outside business world, and any breakdowns, shortcomings, or lack of services will cripple them.
If your company has in-house tech support, let telecommuter employees know they have access to them to troubleshoot any problems on devices they use for work purposes. Should a telecommuter’s computer get hit with a virus or have functionality issues, your in-house IT team should have no problem being able to wirelessly “remote into” their computer to fix an issue. Similarly, making sure that they are equipped with software and communications tools that work correctly can ensure telecommuters stay a vital part of your team.
Give your telecommuters the best tools to use and compete with, and they will do you proud.
John Meyer is head of Strategic Partnerships/Marketing at The Company Corporation. He is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and connecting them to resources that help them thrive. He is also a political strategist and art collector in his free time. Follow him at @Company_Corp.