Like it or not, technology, the increasing premium on employee flexibility, and the fiscal need to rely on more freelance work are forcing companies to accept the reality of a distributed workforce. For some businesses, having employees that do not report to the office on a daily basis is frustrating. For others, it can been a boon of productivity, creativity and success.
The new, highly mobile workplace can provide exciting benefits for both employees and businesses. Employees who don’t work from the office appreciate the flexibility of working from the locale of their choice. They can also save time and money on commuting costs. Conversely, businesses save tons of cash by utilizing less real estate and office equipment. They also find talent outside of the local area without necessarily having to pay for a massive relocation package.
And anytime you can add talent without adding extra cost, you’re the Human Resources equivalent of a superstar.
But distributed workforces aren’t always 100 percent awesome, 100 percent of the time. Communication can be difficult, hindering productivity and morale. But, it doesn’t have to be that way!
To make sure your distributed workforce doesn’t turn out to be a dysfunctional or disgruntled one, keep these five approaches in mind:
1. Hire With Digital Intelligence in Mind
Think about it. Your workforce’s primary communication tools will be the computer, texting, and perhaps an incredible internal communications app. If your new hires aren’t hip to the digital world, you’ll invest as much money and time training them to just talk as to do their respective tasks. This doesn’t mean only hire tech-whizzes, but make sure candidates have the digital communication skills and etiquette necessary to thrive in a distributed workforce.
What this translates to in practical terms is simple. During a phone interview, make sure the candidate can clearly articulate their thoughts. Better yet, insist they conduct the interview via Skype, Google Hangout or your preferred virtual meeting solution. Pay attention to their timeliness in responding to emails and accuracy in spelling, grammar and so on.
You may think digital savvy folks need not stress about such details, but if sloppy work takes place through the interview process, you can bet on it taking place once hired.
2. Own Your Own Responsibility to Communicate
The reality is unfortunate, but true: Out of sight can mean out of mind. That doesn’t infer your employees will be playing Candy Crush when you’re not around, but conversely that you may have trouble staying actively engaged with the employees you don’t see every day.
But just because an employee isn’t working in the same building doesn’t mean he or she is less important or less active.
Put in place clear plans to maintain constant communication with your remote workforce, receiving regular updates about not just workflow but what the employee needs in order to be successful.
3. Give Your Craftsmen the Right Tools
Distributed workforces succeed when given the right technology to succeed. Meetings happen virtually, using teleconferencing services, Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting and more. Google Docs allows multiple people to work on the same document simultaneously. Sharing files has never been easier with programs such as DropBox.
There is no shortage of technology that your business can use to make your distributed workforce a success. Be sure to find the appropriate technology for your various tasks and needs, and empower your team to learn and leverage them to their fullest. If you don’t, you’re giving them screwdrivers to hammer nails.
4. Don’t Let Go of Face-To-Face
Technology is wonderful, but it won’t tell you something’s stuck in your teeth.
Nothing can fully replace in-person interactions between employees. Even research agrees: Creativity is enhanced by people working together in the same space. While creative ideas can come from idle time, they also blossom in collaborative exercises like brainstorming meetings or even informal, water-cooler conversations. Moreover, working face-to-face provides opportunities for networking and team building, which are perhaps the top business asset lost in telecommuting.
If you can, require or at least strongly encourage employees to spend some face-time at the office. Invite employees who work offsite to major meetings or company functions. Evaluate your on-site activities and focus on ways to include the off-site workers rather than inadvertently exclude them. They’ll feel more a part of the team if you do.
5. Respect Work-Life Balance
Let’s be honest: You hope your employees will occasionally check emails and answer calls or texts from you during off-hours. But that works the other way, too. The permeation of smartphones and other technologies like social networks, their non-work life spills over to the work shift hours, too.
Working from home can exacerbate this issue, since home office workers may never feel like they truly leave work. Conversely, people who work from home may do a poor job of getting out of “home” mode, leading to a drop off in productivity.
The more effective distributed workforce companies find ways to make sure this critical balance is separated. Make sure you have work-life balance policies that are available to workers at the office and those who telecommute. Also, encourage and enable the employee to set up a home office that contains more “office” and less “home.” This may include providing them a printer, office chair or even a decorative room divider to visibly separate the office from the den, living room or kitchen.
No matter how new or seasoned you and your company are at fostering a strong distributed workforce, the ultimate success or failure is not a shared responsibility. It is yours as the business owner or manager. Hiring the right people, equipping them appropriately, communicating effectively and holding them accountable for communicating in return is your job.
Red e App Marketing Director