More people than ever are working remotely. A 2017 Gallup study found 43 percent of working Americans said they operate from home at least some of the time. Whether your company allows employees to work remotely once a month or several days a week, managing people who are out of the office presents its own set of challenges. Here are a few things to keep in mind when managing a work-from-home staff:
Have policies in place
Do what feels right for your office, and what suits your business plan. Employees who have client-facing meetings several times a week may not be the best candidates for working remotely, but those who spend their days writing, designing, editing or on the phone may be able to be just as productive from home.
If you hold frequent meetings in conference rooms, you may want to request that the team comes in on those days, unless you’re comfortable with staff dialing in to take part in the gathering. Keep in mind that just because your organization has never initiated a work-from-home program doesn’t mean you should deny the idea outright.
Working from home is a highly valued perk for employees – it encourages a healthy work-life balance, the ability to dress down once in a while (sweatpants, anyone?), and can boost overall company morale. If you’re nervous about implementing such a program, you can start by allowing staff members to work from home once a month, and then slowly add to your remote work policy over time.
Communication is key
Schedule regular phone calls and make email communication part of your routine.
Communication is vital to all businesses, but it’s critical when you’re interacting with remote employees. Instead of walking up to someone’s desk to ask them how a task is going, you’ll have to rely more on email or instant messaging services such as Google Hangouts or Slack for quick questions.
If you have full-time remote employees, prioritize regular check ins. Simply because they’re not in the office doesn’t mean you should neglect communication with them, even if they’re stellar workers who complete every assignment on time. Schedule regular phone calls and make email communication part of your routine.
Be sure to offer consistent feedback as well. Remote staff members can feel like they’re operating in the dark, so be sure to keep the lines of communication open at all times, and encourage these employees to reach out with any questions they may have.
Use OKR software
Tracking objectives and key results should be part of any management plan, including for employees who occasionally or consistently work from home. One way to monitor productivity and goal setting is to utilize OKR software solutions. These programs can give you a streamlined method to both monitor how staff members achieve their goals and to communicate.
These programs also give you the opportunity for meaningful reactions with remote employees. Give them a public pat on the back for achieving a goal and congratulate team members for coming together and completing a tough project.
Watch out for warning signs
Working from home isn’t for everyone. Some employees thrive in their home offices, while others struggle to stay focused in a more relaxed environment. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for any red flags that show certain team members may not be a perfect fit to work from home. Some danger signs include missing deadlines on the days they’re not in the office, slow response times via email and low engagement over the phone during conference calls.
In addition to utilizing OKR software, one way to avoid these pitfalls is to lay out expectations in a staff-wide email before implementing a work-from-home policy. Include the expectation that employees will continue to manage their regular workload and that performance shouldn’t suffer on the days they’re out of the office. You should also warn employees that if you see that they can’t manage their time well at home, you will consider revoking their work-from-home privileges.
Before pulling the plug on certain employees working remotely, speak to them about their performance and give them a chance to remedy the situation. Sometimes all an employee needs to improve is to be made aware that you’ve noticed their quality of work is slipping. However, if they then prove that they can’t handle working from home, privately tell them that they are no longer allowed to conduct work remotely.
Consistent communication is crucial for all employees, but be careful not to micromanage. You can check up on employee progress through OKR software solutions and send regular emails, but it’s unwise to hover over any employee. Multiple emails to ask about progress on a project can make employees anxious and can aggravate otherwise satisfied staff members.
Micromanaging can be more than just an annoyance to deal with and work past. A 2016 study by Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business reported that micromanaging even has an effect on life longevity. Researchers reported that employees in stressful jobs with low levels of control over their workflow had a 15.4 percent higher chance of dying during the seven-year study period. In contrast, those in the same type of high-stress jobs who enjoy a higher degree of control over their workdays had a 34 percent lower likelihood of death during the study period. It may be tempting to micromanage employees – after all, their work will reflect your leadership capabilities – but micromanaging has proven ineffective and may have a detrimental effect on company morale.
Managing employees both in and out of the office requires walking a fine line between responsible oversight and micromanaging. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and give employees leeway to organize their days as they see fit. If it seems that they need help with their workload or with organizing their time efficiently, then you can offer to help them find a solution that works for them. After all, you hired your employees because you thought they would be competent at their jobs. Let them show you that you made the right decision in bringing them on board.