Ten Top Tips: Making remote working actually work

More people are working at home, but some managers are still dubious about it. How do you manage a remote workforce?

by Jonathan Brenner
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

‘Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,’ said Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who has banned Yahoo staff from ‘remote’ working.  

The thinking is this will boost the innovative ideas buzzing around her Silicon Valley HQ.

But studies show the general movement towards allowing staff to work from home - or anywhere they want - boosts productivity and increases staff loyalty.

Here are some tips on keeping your home workers less remote.

1. Trust is key

Mature and engaged staff will instinctively use their time effectively - cracking on with a more onerous task from the comfort of their home where there are fewer workplace distractions and coming into the office to meet with colleagues to chat through fresh ideas and brainstorm new approaches.

Staff also need to trust that management will communicate properly with them while they are working remotely. There is no quicker route to staff disengagement than if they feel they are being kept in the dark on important issues.
2. Avoid a blanket approach

An all-out ban like Mayer's takes things too far - shackling staff to their desk from 9 to 5 could lead to a culture of 'presenteeism' that can backfire against management and cause a drop in productivity - staff trips to the kitchen can turn into lengthy gossip sessions at the best of times. Similarly, if your staff never see each other - or their managers - because they are working in a vacuum, they are more likely to lose their way and contribute less to the company.
3. Harness the power of technology effectively

Cloud-based systems can ensure that documents and emails can be accessed remotel. More than that, platforms like Skype and Facetime can easily be harnessed to combat any physical distance that could hamper interaction / idea-swapping with colleagues.

4. Lead by example

A culture of home working needs to be embraced from the top down in order to avoid working from home being viewed as a day off by senior management. All members of an organisation must be easily contactable and transparent in the work they are doing from home to avoid this connotation - including top brass.
5. But stay physical

For management especially, a physical presence in the office remains important - leadership and creating the right atmosphere in the office can only come from the top. Likewise, senior managers will often be the ones in the organisation who hold the keys to unlocking ideas for the progression of the business - face to face interaction at this more senior level is crucial to create the right environment to breed fresh ideas for the business.
6. Measure productivity

Silence the cynics by measuring productivity or output so you have objective stats to prove a business case for a remote working policy - don’t just focus on 'warm and fuzzy' feedback about how it affects the workforce.

7. Make time in the office count

Think about whether dedicated group brainstorm sessions or diarised catch-ups with management will help add value to days spent in the office. If employees feel positive after a day in the office, they are more likely to remain engaged while working from home.

8. Plan in advance

Encourage your employees to plan in advance so all members of the workforce know what their colleagues are spending their time on.

9. Have difficult conversations in person

Whether your staff spend all day in the office or at home, issues can arise when a face to face conversation is the best option. Make sure that all managers in your organisation understand the importance of managing their team members in person as well as remotely, and that they feel comfortable in suggesting a face to face chat before a situation escalates.

10. Ensure clients understand the arrangement

Your business' clients should be briefed on your remote working policy and how it works in practice. Some managers may worry about communicating this outside the workplace for fear of somehow seeming less committed to client service.  However, we find that as long as clients understand the arrangement and are confident they can reach their main contact when they need to, they don't have any objections. Some actively embrace it!
Jonathan Brenner is the co-founder of Lawyers On Demand, a legal resourcing business that uses the remote working model to bring greater flexibility to the legal industry.

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