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The Unconventional Guide to Work

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Is it time for you to stop resisting the 'remote team'?

We are living in a connected, digital world. The difference between your colleagues being across the desk divider or across an ocean is rapidly shrinking in significance. So it’s likely you’ve acknowledged that, at some point, working remotely and hiring virtual teams will certainly be a thing of the future.

Welcome, friend! The future is now.

As a manager or business owner this might freak you out a little - how can you keep tabs on your team when you can’t see where they are and what they’re doing? How can you maintain company culture across distances? Logistically, how does this even work?

Don’t get yourself too concerned, hiring remote workers does in fact have some pretty good benefits, including:

  • Reduced overheads
  • An expanded pool of qualified candidates
  • Opportunity to offer extended business hours
  • Productivity is often boosted
  • Increased staff loyalty

But if you’re still worried, then here are 5 common objections to hiring virtual employees, and my tips for letting go of your fear of the remote worker:

1. How do you know if they’re actually working?

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This is a legitimate concern even if you’re not the micro-managing type, after all, unproductive staff are a complete liability. Why should you be paying them to watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians re-runs on the couch when they should instead be working for you?

Set a formal policy with very clear expectations around availability, communication and deliverables. If you expect your remote employee to work around set hours, then establish a means of communication so you can get in touch when you need, and set agreed deadlines for delivering work.

If you’re working with the approach that ‘it doesn’t matter when the work is done, as long as it’s done’ - which is becoming an increasingly common attitude - then again it comes down to meeting goals, not how many hours your employees have been sitting in front of the computer screen. Does it really matter where or how they’ve got the job done, so long as it’s done to a standard you expect?

Remember, just because you have staff sitting in the office, doesn’t actually mean that they’re being productive. If you’ve hired someone with a tendency to skive off or procrastinate, then they’re going to do it whether they’re in the office or not. Many employees who work from home actually find it difficult to switch out of work-mode and will often end up working hours above and beyond what is expected of them.

2. How can you keep in touch?

There are a multitude of tools that make it easy to keep in touch with your remote team. Of course there’s email, but it’s not always the most effective or efficient means. At WorkflowMax, we communicate with our remote team members using Skype or Google Hangouts, either via instant message, voice call, or video conferences. Employees at either end should ensure they are ‘available’ during expected work hours. For file sharing we use Google Drive, which gives everyone access to latest-version documents.

If you have support staff working remotely who need to respond to customer queries, there are highly effective cloud-based systems such as Zendesk or Freshdesk, that keeps them accountable for doing so.

3. How can you build or maintain a team culture?

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You should hire your remote team members with the same approach to hiring your in-house team. What attributes are important? What makes them the ideal fit for the business? Hire people who reflect the existing values of your company whether they’re in the office or not.

Schedule in regular face time with them and the rest of your team either in person or over video conference. If distance isn’t too restrictive, get remote workers into the office for meetings, social events or training sessions from time to time. Ask them to play an active role in initiatives and projects. And don’t forget to include them in office banter or discussions over your instant messaging system. Friday night drinks can even become a virtual affair!

4. What if everyone wants to ‘go virtual’?

Well, it’s not entirely fair to offer privileges to one staff member and not another, but it does come down to the requirements of a role and the individual circumstances of your employee.

If you have other staff who are keen to work remotely, then first think about their motivations - is it because they just want to be able to sleep in and not wear any pants all day, or is it because the 90-minute commute each way everyday is starting to take its toll on their home life or health? Is working remotely a deal-breaker for them and are they an employee you don’t want to risk losing? Often staff loyalty increases if they are offered the opportunity to work from home or away from the office if it means they can have a job that better fits in with their other personal objectives.

Also, have you considered whether having more remote staff could actually benefit your business through reduced office costs and overheads? If it’s not going to make any difference to the end delivery of service, then it might be a smart move to consider.

5. How do I know my employees will stay motivated?

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Working from home isn’t for everybody. The truth is, you have to be a certain kind of person to thrive in a work environment that’s also in your home. Many people struggle to get work done when there are distractions around the house, and that’s doubly true if a spouse or kids are also in the house. You have to be a pretty motivated self-starter to be able to sit down and get the work done when the laundry, TV, and hobbies are calling.

But how do you know which employees will thrive and which will falter? Perhaps use a trial period - allowing an employee 1-2 days a week to work at home for three months, then assess their performance against deliverables.

The cost of gas is rising, commutes are getting longer, employees are seeking greater work/life balance and millennials are influencing a changing approach to work attitudes, favouring coffee shop WiFi over the restrictions of an office-bound nine-to-five job. It’s a reality that your firm may need to embrace remote work options or more flexible working arrangements to find and retain great staff. Is it time for you to stop resisting the remote team?

Do you have remote workers? How do you manage the concerns included above?

Images courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

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