6 steps to better manage work-from-home staff

By Elaine Lam | Wednesday, 27 Nov 2019

Telecommuting and remote work arrangements are fast becoming the norm at many companies, particularly as internet connectivity and mobility have left managers with few reasons to flat-out say “no” to staff requests for a remote work option. A ‘working from home’ arrangement can also be beneficial for employees looking to reduce their commute time, avoid disrupted transportation, or plan around major events going on within the city.

Overseeing employees who work from home can be challenging enough, let alone keeping tabs on a bunch of remote workers with varied schedules. Remote working arrangements can help businesses to access specialized skills and keep projects moving along smoothly, regardless of external forces.

That’s why it’s so important for managers to lay the groundwork for successful remote work arrangements from the start. The following six tips can help:

1. Establish regular catch-up meetings

Communication is central to making any working relationship tick. Setting aside a block of time for regular communication is a powerful way to work together — it’s also a faster way to address issues than typing emails on the fly. Moreover, biweekly status calls and regular feedback let telecommuters know that out of sight is not out of mind.

A regular Skype meeting or phone call can help the team to connect, discuss the progress of projects, share new developments and resolve any issues that could potentially arise. The start of group meetings is also a good time to acknowledge birthdays and encourage people to share personal updates, which in turn helps to maintain morale.

2. Determine which roles are eligible

Not every position is suitable for telecommuting, either. The amount of in-person “face time” a role requires is one good indicator of whether a job can be done from home effectively. For example, financial analysts can easily examine data sets and evaluate investments from home, but a payroll supervisor is often needed in the office to oversee data clerks and other support staff.

Therefore, when weighing whether to allow an employee to work from home, think about the impact that arrangement might have on the everyday operations of your office. Consider questions such as, “Can this job be performed remotely with little disruption, if any, to existing standards and deadlines?” and “Is this role really suited to independent work?”

3. Set clear expectations for remote staff

When it comes to quality and deliverables, there should be no difference between the work an employee performs remotely or while that person is present in the company's office. Set equal standards for on-site and off-site professionals in areas such as client service, deadlines, office hours, and response times for emails and phone calls.

4. Choose the right tech tools

In a virtual environment, technology is everyone’s communication lifeline. Slack, Google Hangouts and Skype for Business are some of the platforms work-from-home and on-site employees can use to reach out to each other throughout the day. File-hosting services like Dropbox, Google Drive or an in-house system also foster virtual collaboration and information sharing in real time.

5. Keep remote team members in the loop

In-office working arrangements can often result unscheduled meetings and brainstorming sessions that remote staff often don’t find out about until later — if at all.

Be careful not to encourage a two-tier system where one subset of the team is in on everything and others miss out. Managers can do much to help telecommuters and other remote workers feel like part of the team such as encouraging virtual discussion boards or video meetings to conduct spur-of-the-moment conversations.

6. Don’t overlook the needs of your on-site workers

Your employees who don’t have the option to telecommute — or may simply prefer working at the office — would likely enjoy having access to some of the same perks as their work-from-home colleagues. So, consider easing the office dress code, allowing flexible scheduling or offering commuter benefits like subsidized parking or transit passes for those workers.

Also, make sure your on-site employees don’t end up covering the work of their colleagues working from home. If it happens, it should be the exception, not the rule.

To make telecommuting work well for your workforce, make sure that remote team members never feel left out. Likewise, don’t overlook the need for your in-office employees to maintain better balance between their professional and personal lives and to work in a more relaxed environment.

Elaine Lam

Associate Director of Robert Half Hong Kong. Connect with her.

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