Five Steps to Manage Remote Employees

Ideas on the work-from-home trend

For employees, working from home may fit into a hectic lifestyle. For instance, you can roll out of bed, log onto your personal computer or laptop, and attend a meeting, all while you are still in your robe and slippers. Many employees seem to quickly adapt to telecommuting, although some may miss the social aspects of going to an office. And hardly anyone misses the daily commute.

Conversely, there are potential distractions at home, such as time spent cooking and cleaning, and carpooling the children. Also, is this trend as beneficial for the employer as it is for the employee? Management may be concerned that these “remote employees” are not as productive as they would be if they were working regular hours at an office. Every situation is different, but here are five steps that address telecommuting.

1. Plan ahead. Whether employees are allowed to work from home for either one or two days or the entire week, it is important to develop a plan. Typically, the first step is to determine which activities can be done at home and which should stay in the office. For instance, it may be feasible to have salespeople working off-site, especially if they do not require supervision, but you might keep human resources personnel at the company location.

2. Understand the technology. After choosing the software and tools that employees will need for their daily activities, find out how often they will use them and to what extent security risks are involved. Try to circumvent technical glitches and data leaks. Typically, a company may use a VPN (virtual private network) to provide encryption between employees working at home on their own connections and the company’s internal network. Additional security measures may have to be adopted.

3. Monitor the proceedings. Although you do not necessarily have to account for every minute spent on the job, it is a good idea to lay some basic ground rules. You do not want employees skipping work to take in movie matinees or attend after-school athletic events—not to mention wasting time in front of the television. Note that most remote office and telecommuting packages have built-in auditing features. Caution: Check state laws concerning the rights of employees in this area. Based on your findings, you may have employees sign a waiver allowing them to be monitored.

4. Hold teleconferences. Naturally, “reading into” facial expressions and hearing vocal intonations is preferable to e-mail, which is easy to misconstrue. If the staff is working remotely, a teleconference is the next best thing to actually being there. Providers may offer secure options at little or no cost.

5. Keep records. Project management software can make tracking productivity easy. It enables you to view tasks, deadlines, status and expected completion dates, and it allows the entire group to share documents online.

Of course, telecommuting is not the best approach for every business. If you decide to try it, develop a plan that utilizes technology, but remains secure. Finally, make an assessment of the impact on productivity and go from there.

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