It all started with a tweet.
@jenniferbrogee: if they’re good, u don’t have to
Be careful what you tweet for!
Actually, I’m very excited to be a part of my first ever blog duel, on the topic “How to Engage Remote Employees.”
My experience as a remote worker started when I learned I was expecting my first child. I loved my job, but couldn’t imagine leaving an infant for 9-10 hours a day, five days a week. I wanted to be able to spend as much time with my child as possible. So, with trepidation, I broke the news to my boss about my upcoming pregnancy. I asked him if I could please work from home for at least part of the week.
Thankfully, he agreed. As a programmer, almost all of my work was done over the internet, so the transition wouldn’t be difficult. Over the next few months, I spent time getting an additional phone line installed (yes, it was during the era of dial-up internet), finding a work-worthy computer for home, and testing the waters by spending a day or so working from home each week.
When my daughter arrived, I started work within five weeks – two days in the office, three days at home. I was the first and only remote worker for the company for some time.
Since then, I moved into a role overseeing IT, and have managed workers with a variety of remote schedules. Based on my experience over the last twelve years, I recommend the following tips for engaging remote workers.
Clearly identify work responsibilities
If the job requires that remote workers are available via instant message for eight hours a day, identify that requirement. If the worker can fit his work into any schedule as long as he gets the job done, then say so. Don’t let requirements go unspoken – lay them all out on the table. Unspoken requirements for remote workers can cause resentment on both sides.
Ask immediate supervisors to communicate often
Ideally, the workers’ immediate supervisors will communicate with their remote employees at least every work day. Just an email to say “Hi, how’s x project going?” helps keep workers feeling plugged in.
Provide needed tools
Don’t skimp on hardware or software needed for remote workers. You’re going to be saving on the electricity they use and the coffee they drink, so you can afford to get them that piece of software that saves a lot of time or makes remote work that much more secure.
Meet once a week
If at all possible, ask remote employees to come into the office for a face to face meeting with colleagues at least once a week. There isn’t really any way to replace the multi-dimensional communications that are made in person.
Brag on their accomplishments
Because remote workers aren’t chatting at the water cooler, co-workers may not know what they are up to. Send out an email, newsletter, or make announcements often about accomplishments made by remote employees.
Don’t treat all remote workers the same
This has to be the most difficult step to take – get to know the strengths and weaknesses of your employees. Some remote workers are highly motivated and arguably more productive when working from home. Other workers need constant monitoring or more structured responsibilities while working remotely. Still other workers can’t handle the freedom. Instead of having a one-size-fit all policy, treat employees like individuals. If it’s not working out, meet with the employee, lay out the requirements and adjust the remote schedule.
Keep an open mind
I attended a seminar by an HR analyst this year about the differences between generations. The Greatest Generation puts loyalty above all, and expects a traditional work experience. Baby Boomers as a group strongly identify with work and want their employees to do the same. Gen X desires a balance between work and family, but will work hard and creatively while working. Millennials embrace the new and innovative, but the lines are blurred between work and play. On one hand, older workers are very reliable, yet may not think out of the box, while the younger generations break boundaries, but may be hard to hang on to. Both groups have strengths that are needed in the workplace. Focus on the strengths, and find a way to manage the weaknesses without making employees into your own image.
In this uncertain economy we want to cling harder to our employees, to monitor them more closely and watch every dime. I think it’s a mistake to hold so tightly that we squeeze the enthusiasm right out of them. A remote work schedule can be a win-win for both employees and organizations, giving employees a greater reason to stay, and providing organizations with a talented workforce, as well as cost and environmental savings. Remote work can be a success if approached creatively, if results are measured and communicated, and if the needs of both sides are met.
Read the other two blogs in the duel: