Telecommuting creates new opportunities and new challenges for employees and employers alike. While telecommuting provides employees with more job opportunities and employers with a wider hiring pool, it also provides unique challenges to workplace communication and productivity.
Although these new challenges can be daunting for employers who are looking to utilize telecommuting employees, there are a number of simple and effective management tools that will ensure everyone stays in the loop and maintains productivity.
If you’re having difficulty managing telecommuting employees – or are thinking of allowing telecommuting for the first time – keep these four tips in mind:
Set Clear Goals
For any productive employer/employee relationship, there must be a strong foundation of clear goals and expectations.
The onus for this foundation is on the employer. Upon hiring, every employee should receive clear instructions regarding their duties, their deadlines, their superiors and team, and the expected quality of their work. They should, at any time, be encouraged to ask questions to clarify goals and expectations.
If productivity is a concern, consider breaking tasks and goals down into smaller components and establishing multiple deadlines for large projects. It’s easier to loosen the reins as employees prove competent and trustworthy than it is to tighten them if an employee abuses their independence.
Communicating clear goals and expectations is a skill most supervisors must develop. Whether or not you effectively establish expectations upfront will set the stage for every problem or success that comes after.
Maintain Constant Communication
With new apps, devices and programs in development every day, there is no excuse for not maintaining constant and comprehensive communication with all employees, regardless of whether they’re on-site or not.
The specific concerns of telecommuting aside, all employers should constantly seek to improve communication with all employees. Failing to notify any employee of new policies, updated goals or client needs, change in supervisor or other critical information creates a ripple effect of problems.
Email is one of the most prominent and versatile methods of communication available to employers. With the rise of smartphones and tablets, keeping in touch via email has never been easier. Just be sure you lay out clear expectations for employees. If you expect employees to be on call via email 24/7, make that clear. If you establish the workday as 9 to 5, you can’t expect employees to answer your emails at midnight.
Don’t stop at email. Utilize weekly e-newsletters. Create an in-house blog. Use message boards, instant messaging, conference calls, Skype, FaceTime or social media.
Fear your communication skills are lacking? Research companies, like Shipley Energy, that are known for open, frequent and effective communication with a geographically disparate workforce and learn from their success.
They have created an online command central that all employees, on-site or remote, can access at any time. They use it for submitting work. Their built-in communication tools like a chats and messaging functions help them stay accountable. Not to mention, their incorporation of cloud storage so all files remain digitally accessible and up to date has helped them achieve heightened efficiency.
Invest in Face Time
Emails and texts are important communication tools, but they shouldn’t replace face-to-face communication completely.
Any first year communication studies major can tell you that tone, facial expression and body language are vital components to communication. That is why text-based communication is often rife with misunderstandings. Short of using a distracting amount of emoticons, it is difficult to translate tone and state of mind via an email.
Regular face-to-face communication – be that weekly video chat sessions or monthly in-person meetups – helps employers and employees learn each other’s speech patterns and personality, making it easier to accurately interpret text communication.
What’s more, this scheduled facetime creates a much-needed space for questions, feedback and other communication housekeeping. If possible, consider visiting employees in their remote workspace, even if only for an hour or two. An employee’s workspace can give you unique insight into their methods and habits, allowing you to customize your management style accordingly.
Make sure every employee feels as though they are part of the team. This gives employees both common goals and a sense of camaraderie. A sense of belonging helps employees to feel that individual success is group success and that group success is individual success.
In a practical sense, requiring teamwork and collaboration helps telecommuters maintain productivity by removing some of the isolating aspects of telecommuting work.
As with any strategy or ground mindset, creating teams can have its pitfalls. Do your research and course correct as necessary. You want employees to feel a sense of connection and mutual pride in their work – you don’t want your employee base split into factions or consistently making bad decisions thanks to group shift.
Managing telecommuting employees doesn’t require different skills than managing on-site employees. It simply requires adaptable application of those skills. By honing your communication skills and encouraging positive employee connections, you can help your remote workers stay in the loop, stay productive and stay connected.
Anum Yoon is a freelance writer and blogger who started and maintains Current on Currency, a personal finance blog for 20-somethings.