Technology has created a pathway to mobility, there is no question about it. According to a report by Global Workplace Analytics, telework grew by 102.1% between 2005 and 2014.
While this presents an amazing array of opportunities for employees, it has also created its own unique challenges. Studies are finding that work-from-home employees and those who travel frequently for business may feel isolated, out of touch, and overworked. Contrary to original assumptions, employees who work from home or various locations tend to work longer hours than if they worked in an office setting. The lines between personal life and vocation begin to blur, and stress may increase.
As the leader of your team, it makes sense to create a telecommuting environment that ensures the work gets done, the team communicates, and that employees have good boundaries with regard to time and work.
Here are four ways you as a leader can create a culture of collaboration with your telecommuting team:
Establish boundaries of schedule.
One big advantage to your mobile workforce is the ability to have a somewhat flexible schedule. This can be a great incentive for employees. It can also be a great problem. Schedule discipline and accountability are needed in either case. For some, having too much freedom of schedule is an issue – and the work does not get done. For others, the line between work and home life blurs, and the employee is working all the time. Neither is an ideal scenario.
There may be a need to have the employee “clock in” and “clock out” electronically – or show when they are in “office hours” – so team members know when they are off and when they are on. This goes a long way toward keeping projects on track and the lines of communication open.
It may be helpful, also, to discuss a general schedule with your employee – one you can note on your calendar. This helps you to know when to contact them and, just as important, when not to contact them. Just because they are an employee does not mean it is healthy for them to work 24/7.
Ensure a good fit.
Knowing the strengths of each team member will help them and you know their ideal working environment. For some, the structure of an office is best. For others, the mobility of travel fits well. For others, the flexibility of working at home provides their best productive environment. Consider whether or not the job is flexible enough to be done outside the office, but also consider whether the employee is.
Promote interaction and communication.
Teamwork requires communication. Silos are dangerous in business, unless that business is farming. While your employees may seldom be in the same office building, interaction and communication are essential. This is easily accomplished via phone, skype, webinar meeting programs, email, and/or chat. Face-to-face video is helpful. Project management programs are great tools for communication across venues. For some companies and employees, the answer lies in part-time telecommuting – two or three days a week. This bridges the needs for flexibility and those for live interaction.
Communicate clear expectations.
In any setting, you as the leader must communicate clearly the vision and expectations. This is especially important in a telecommuting situation, where you are not there to observe day-to-day activities. Most employees who know the vision and expectations enjoy the challenge of finding a way to make them happen.
Overall, the trend toward flexible work environments is a good thing. Managed well, it provides employees with their most productive environments and helps to promote well-balanced employees. It can also save the company a great deal on operational costs, while also creating higher revenue due to increased productivity levels.