The days of sitting behind a desk are fading fast—a desk inside an office, that is. More and more Americans are turning to the telecommuting lifestyle with an estimated 13.4 million now working from home. And studies predict that by 2020, more than 40 percent (60 million people) of our nation’s workforce will be freelancers, temporary and contract workers. How should employers approach this new rise in contingent labor?
In part 1 of this article, Beth N. Carvin, CEO of global technology firm Nobscot Corporation, offered tips and insights on hiring, managing and engaging telecommuting workers. Check out some more advice Carvin offers for retaining remote workers and the pros and cons of keeping up with this latest workforce trend:
1. Are there any best practices for retaining remote employees?
Yes, there is some excellent research on the subject. Here are some ideas:
- Establish early personal connections and team activities during the onboarding process. For example, the manager can travel to the remote employee’s location or the organization can bring the remote employee into the main office to have a face-to-face manager orientation. This helps to create trust and inspiration for quality performance. Organizations with remote employees should also reinforce training with extra documentation, such as written recaps of training sessions and online FAQs.
- Measure “New Hire Health” frequently. Most organizations can minimize early attrition by asking new remote employees how they are doing. Administer new hire surveys at 30 and 75 days into the new job to learn if remote employees are receiving enough interaction with their managers; getting the appropriate training; and feeling like they are fitting into the company culture. New hire surveys can also ask questions about the remote work environment to ensure employees have the right setups for success. Analyze the new hire data to look for trends, such as differences in perceptions and experiences between onsite and offsite employees.
- Establish continuous communication. Research shows that telecommuting employees want and need more frequent dialogue than onsite employees. In many organizations, geographically distant employees feel as if they are frequently left “out of the loop,” which can lead to disengagement and employee turnover. Continuous communication through multiple channels, such as telephone calls, emails, instant messenger, web and video conferencing, etc., helps remote employees feel aligned with the rest of the team. Telecommuters should be included in all corporate events and communications, as well.
- Provide mentoring opportunities. Mentoring programs can help foster a sense of inclusiveness, enhance skill development and offset the loss of the informal training that often occurs between employees working in the same office. These types of effective programs can also provide telecommuting employees a sounding board for frustrations of remote working.
- Offer incentive programs to remote workers. Incentives work to motivate remote employees and allow them to earn accolades for a job well done. Give telecommuting employees individual challenges or incentive programs, or create an organization-wide program for on- and offsite employees. Friendly competitions or contests can aid in team bonding, as long as the information and rules are available and reasonable for all involved employees.
- Make sure the company’s culture catches up with its policies. Don’t penalize employees for taking advantage of family-friendly telecommuting policies. In some companies, an unspoken norm exists that moms and dads who utilize the policies are viewed as no longer being on the fast track. Colleagues may view them as not working as much as everyone else (when in fact they may be working even harder.)
2. What are the advantages of hiring remote staff? Disadvantages?
There are a wide variety of “pros” for offering telecommuting; when implemented and managed well, telecommuting can benefit both the employees and the organization.
Employees enjoy the opportunity for great flexibility in how they manage their work and lives. Parents are able to spend more time with their children, and self-starters enjoy a greater sense of control over their work schedule without the common interruptions of the workplace. Employees also find money savings in a reduced or non-existent commute, home-cooked lunches and minimal wardrobe requirements. Absenteeism is usually reduced as virus and flu germs aren’t spread around the office.
For companies, it opens up a wider range of job applicants and potentially reduces office costs. It also can aid in employee retention of top performers.
Drawbacks include the challenges mentioned above. It’s not always easy for remote employees who work together on projects to accomplish their joint roles efficiently when they aren’t just down the hall from each other. Managers need to be trained on how to manage a remote workforce, and tools and technology need to be implemented. If employees are added from different states or countries, administrative burdens need to be taken into account as well.
3. What are some practices that are sure to drive remote workers away from companies?
When they are ignored and don’t feel like a “real” part of the team, they can easily become disengaged. The disengagement spirals into reduced quantity and quality of work and ultimately leads to their termination – either voluntary or involuntary!
4. Final thoughts?
Communicate, communicate, communicate with your remote team!