Managing Telecommuting Employees

leadership Feb 21, 2019

Working remotely has become a hot trend across multiple industries- and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. As of 2018, 4.3 million employees now work from home at least half the time, an increase of 140% since 2005. For project managers, this opens the door to more flexibility and a larger staff pool, but may also increase the anxiety that their teams may not work together as effectively as they need.

Experts have found countless benefits to trading in your stilettos for slippers. In fact, 2/3 of managers report an increase in production for their stay-at-home employees, citing a lack on distraction and more room to focus. You may also be surprised to learn that telecommuters typically earn more than than office counterparts, and hold higher position within the company. Of course there are numerous benefits personally for individuals who work from home, including cutting out the dreaded morning commute.

With all the perceived benefits of working from home- why aren’t even more people taking advantage? Aside from the obvious positions that require a face-to-face interaction component, there is one critical piece of the puzzle that can’t be ignored: communication. This is particularly true for the project management field, where effective communication can make or break your team. With more and more teams dependent on working together in a virtual space, how can you help your team stay as effective as possible?

  1. Hire the best. If you know you are setting up a team or hiring an employee that will require a great deal of virtual work, make sure you find the right person for the job. After all, not all of us are equipped to ignore the temptation of Netflix or an extended afternoon nap. Make sure you find someone who has a proven track record and has experience working from home, who you know is manageable.
  1. Get organized. As a PMP, it’s even more critical to be on top of your task list and to know who needs to be doing what/when if you have employees out of the office. When employees aren’t in the building, you don’t always have the ability to casually mention a small charge or deadline shift, so it is imperative that you have it communicated in a shared platform. Which brings up to #3.
  2. Find tools that work. From Slack to projectmanager.com to Asana, there is a host of tools available now that help teams stay on top of their tasks and in communication. Random text messages and phone calls work from time to time- but if you are relying on individuals to do their best in different spaces, third party communication tools can be a life saver. Of course email is also a good tool for virtual communication- but having a structured environment where everyone can see past communications/updates in one space can be a lifesaver.
  3. Make time for face-to-face. Even if your employees aren’t local and spend 100% of their time outside of the office, making time for a face to face discussion can be key to avoiding misunderstandings. A great way to stay engaged with your long distance employees is setting up regular webcam meetings, using a tool such as Skype, Zoom, or GotoMeeting. There are endless free options available that can be used to have a quick check-in with your telecommuting team mates. Electronic communication can never fully replace face-toface communication, so this is an important way to stay engaged with those teammates, and get a sense of how they are doing.
  4. Trust your teammates. It can be easy to assume that someone working from home is spending their days filled with distractions and non-work activities. But statistically, it has actually been proven that home-based individuals are more productive with their time than their office-based teammates. As managers, it can be hard to trust that someone you cannot see can be trusted to do everything needed as efficiently as possible. However, by incorporating tips 1-4 on this list into the process, you should feel confident that you have employees worthy of that trust.

As the work-from-home trend continues to increase, it is important that we modify our communication to provide the most effective outcome possible. But with the right strategy and tweaks to our current process, you can not only meet but exceed your current project goals and deadlines. As always, the right form of effective communication remains key in managing all teams- whether they sit 50 feet or 500 miles away.

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