After more than a year of working remotely, I’ve become a full believer in the benefits of telecommuting. The studies that say those of us logging hours from off-site locations are more productive and have higher morale and job satisfaction than when we were office dwellers – they sound right to me.
But that’s not to say that anyone can just grab a laptop, ditch the office, and achieve employee nirvana. There are multiple potential pitfalls on both the employee (did someone say snooze button?) and the employer side of the telecommuting equation. For me, the key has been maintaining constant, open lines of communication with my colleagues at Lovell’s home office.
For any company or individual considering a remote-office situation, effective internal communication is absolutely essential to success. Specifically, I’d offer these tips:
- Discuss expectations. Without the ability to pop into an employee’s office once a day, or snag a few minutes of casual conversation in the lunch room, how’s a super visor to know whether their worker is actually working? Before beginning a telecommuting arrangement, the employer and employee must discuss their expectations for how the employee’s performance will be monitored and gauged. For my situation, Lovell’s system for tracking work hours is extremely effective. Based on the amount of time I log, it’s clear– to me, and my supervisors – whether I’ve got a healthy workload.
- Pick up the phone. I love email as much as the next person, but there’s no substitute for the real-time collaboration and problem-solving that can happen over the phone or via a video call (Skype is your friend). Dialing a coworker at the office lets me get the answers/insight/assistance I’m looking for quickly, and it helps me feel connected to what’s happening at Lovell Central. Especially on days where I’m working on solitary projects, a quick chat with a coworker helps me feel re-energized about my work. For those supervising remote employees, a quick phone call is a good way to check in on the status of any outstanding projects, convey information about a complicated or sensitive assignment, or just remind the remote worker that they are part of the team. Communication is a critical component of engagement, and in turn, productivity.
- Don’t be a stranger. While a phone or Skype call can give both the employer and employee a boosted feeling of connection and collaboration, face time is still important. I’ve found that spending a couple days in the office every couple of months is essential for team building and my ongoing skills development (because I work with some super smart people). In addition, there times when it’s essential that everyone is in the same room – all-day meetings are one example, and holiday parties and retreats are another.
- Stay in the loop. When an employee can’t physically attend important staff or client meetings, they should join via phone or video conference. These meetings often cover a lot of ground that’s not easy to relay after the meeting has ended. For employers, be sure to notify your telecommuter(s) quickly of any news or announcements that happen outside of scheduled meetings – and keep workers in the loop if folks are out of the office on sick or vacation time.
When in doubt, over communicate. Pick up the phone. Send the email. My sense is that telecommuting can be an extremely successful strategy for many individuals and companies, so long as they make communication a top priority.
What do you think? Have any telecommuting success or horror stories to share? Leave a comment below.