by Morgan Sims
Nearly a quarter of the U.S. workforce reported working from home at least part of the time in 2012, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to let your home double as your office. It’s an especially appealing option for employees of start-ups that may not have the initial capital to buy, build, or rent a physical location.
Check out these six tips for managing employees who work remotely:
1. Create Engagement Opportunities.
Set up an online meeting or conference call with some or all of your employees who work off-site. Aim to have a regular schedule for these virtual gatherings so that employees know you care about keeping in touch. Besides being a chance to check up on each worker, it helps the employees feel connected to their colleagues and superiors.
Developing regular communications through meetings or calls increases the commitment of workers who don’t normally come into the office. It’s also a way to communicate corporate culture messages, something that’s especially important with start-ups.
2. Use Video Conferencing Tools.
Simulate face-to-face meetings using resources such as Skype or Google+ Hangouts. Include as many as 10 people for free with Google+. Inviting multiple people into a Skype video call requires someone in the group to pony up for the premium service. However, it’s a small price to pay for the ability to see someone as you chat about upcoming projects.
3. Offer Optimal Access.
Whether they’re Skyping into a meeting or responding to emails, employees who work from home need reliable high-speed Internet access. One viable solution is to offer them satellite Internet, a service that delivers fast connections to rural and remote areas not serviced by traditional broadband providers. It has speeds that are comparable to DSL and is available throughout North America. There are many positive reviews about satellite Internet and the reliability it offers for you remote employees.
By making it easy for workers anywhere in the U.S. to connect to your start-up, you’ve expanded your pool of potential employees. You no longer have to ask candidates for job openings if they have access to broadband. Instead, you can hire the very best person for the position, regardless of where they live.
4. Give Employees Technical Support.
Employees working from home get frustrated when they struggle to complete basic tasks because they don’t have the latest software or constantly hit a bug in using some of the company’s proprietary programs. Ideally, at-home workers should have access to tech support around the clock. If your company can’t afford to provide IT staffers 24/7, then outsource this task. Just make sure you don’t leave your telecommuters waiting for hours to get a minor upgrade or patch. Aside from harming worker morale, it creates productivity issues.
5. Create Independence with Appropriate Management Interaction.
While you’ve hired outstanding staffers you can trust to do a good job from home, you should seek an even balance between their independence and management involvement. Giving a worker too much independence could make them feel isolated and they may wonder if their work matters. On the other hand, micromanaging the at-home staffers may alienate them.
One tool for finding the right balance is 15Five. The idea behind this weekly report system is that workers spend about 15 minutes writing updates and managers take only about five minutes to read them. It’s a quick way to keep the lines of communication open without management being unnecessarily heavy-handed
6. Respond to Problems Quickly.
Don’t let remote employees stew over lingering problems. No matter what the issue is, be proactive in addressing it quickly as the manager. Doing so reinforces the worker’s value in company. It also encourages open lines of communication by making staffers feel confident that when they alert management to a problem, timely actions will follow.
Technology continues to create more opportunities for workers to be effective from the comfort of their home office. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges still facing the telecommuting policy?
Morgan Sims is a writer and graduate of the University of South Florida who loves all things tech and social media. She has been involved with two startups that had their fair share of struggles, and taught her a lot about what not to do.