How to effectively manage remote workers (2015)

5 tips and best practices from the pros

Top tech, business, education, government, and economic leaders will be speaking at this week’s TRaD Works Forum in Washington, DC. Here’s a peek at what they’ll be discussing.

Over the last 10 years, there has been a 115% increase in employees of companies working remotely full-time and that Gallup also reported 43% of U.S. workers work remotely at least occasionally. Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of Flexjobs and created the TRaD*Works Forum (TRaD means telecommuting, remote, and distributed.) because she wanted to find a “better easier way to describe this shift in where and how we work.”

The TRaD Works Forum takes place this week in Washington DC, and features speakers from organizations like ADP, Cisco, Dell, Flexjobs, Johns Hopkins University, MIT, and Xerox who will share their thoughts on best practices and challenges involved with working remotely.

“The TRaD Works Forum helps create a community event for both the companies at the forefront of remote work and for companies that want to learn how to advance their organization’s remote work efforts. It’s all about sharing best practices, knowledge, tactics, and actionable ideas to make remote work a success,” said Sutton. “Work-life integration is a business asset.”

Several forum speakers shared their insights about remote work in advance of the conference:

SEE: Telecommuting policy (Tech Pro Research)

1. TRaD work global impact

Tolu Olubunmi, member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council on Migration, believes that societal benefits of remote work include traffic mitigation, reducing environmental impact, bringing people from different locations together, and emergency and disaster preparedness. “From a business perspective, companies have reported cost savings, improved productivity, agility, and scalability, increased access to talent, reduced turnover and improved retention when implementing remote work options,” she said.

However, Olubunmi said remote work on a global scale is not without its challenges. “A complex tangle of taxation, employment issues, and labor laws exist between, and even within, countries. Minimum wages, part-time and full-time status differences, overtime compliance, background checks, employee versus freelance classifications, and other details are different from country to country, and even within countries when states and provinces have their own laws.”

Another issue Olubunmi spoke about was remote work across country borders. “Migration policies, education, and skills gaps, and compensation and fair labor issues related to freelance and contract workers all come into play when considering cross-border hiring with remote work. Businesses, governments, and related organizations each have a role to play in supporting cross-border remote work, and the actions they can take right now to invest in cross-border remote work as the future of the workforce,” she said.

2. Supporting independent workers in the TRaD workforce

A big issue facing freelance workers or business owners in the US is access to benefits like healthcare, which people traditionally get through employers. Suzan DelBene, a Congress representative from Washington state said,”Whether you make a living through mobile car services or by selling crafts online, workers deserve access to benefits, which is why I introduced the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act.” “We have seen many changes in the way the world works from ecommerce to the gig economy, and these changes have created great opportunities and painful disruptions. We need our policies to at least keep pace with these changes so workers can succeed.”

3. Nurturing aptitude for remote teams

Amy Freshman, senior director of global workplace enablement at ADP, gave the following advice about managing remote workers:

“Leaders need to be sure the playing field is level for all. If you have a mix of remote and office-based employees, ensure everyone feels equal and heard. If possible from time to time, have the office-based folks dial in from their own workspace, so everyone has the same experience, and leverage skype with video or other technology. It is a great way to be inclusive of all of your associates on your team.”

“Remote workers must be engaged and purposeful in their interactions. Without the random hallway conversation, remote workers need to have what I call purposeful reach outs. Your opportunity to stay connected, build relationships, feel like you are part of a larger team working towards a purpose can be lost if you are not engaged and connected to your community at work. If and when possible, go on-site (if there is one!) from time to time, and when not live be sure to leverage video -it’s the next best thing to face to face.”

“Remote workers need to make sure they get up and move around! It is easy to get caught up in your work, get a glass of water, take a walk around your house or the neighborhood, stretch for five minutes…whatever it is. Office based associates have more natural breaks with people walking by, grabbing a coffee with a colleague, walking to a meeting in a conference room down the hall- when you are remote you are often pushing through the day not realizing you haven’t moved! It is good for your body and mind.”

SEE: 10 signs that you aren’t cut out to be a telecommuter (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

4. Supporting professional development and mobility

“Before remote work arrangements are implemented, thorough conversations between managers and employees are paramount to a successful outcome,” said Ian Reynolds, director of WorkLife & Community Programs at Johns Hopkins University. “Even for companies with expansive remote work policies, conveying expectations and communicating upfront about the specifics of what remote work looks like sets managers and employees up for mutually beneficial results.”

Ideally, Reynolds said, “This kind of collaboration is emblematic of an organization’s broader culture where managers and employees communicate regularly about goals, progress, and performance.”

5. Tools and platforms

Speaking about tools and platforms for remote work, Xerox’s VP of HR operations for North America, Karen LaGraff, advised managers, “Provide clear direction/goals, have regular touch points, etc. The key is knowing what tools to utilize. Telephone systems, video capability, collaboration tools certainly enable the manager to stay better engaged with the remote worker, track performance and maintain a team environment…If the business situation is appropriate, and the employee/manager have a good, documented agreement on how they will stay connected, then it works. In any manager/subordinate relationship, the communication between manager and employee is key regardless of whether the employee is down the hall or across the country.”

Win Khanijoun, Workforce Experience Advisor for Cisco, explained that when selecting and optimizing work tools and platforms, “We tend to focus on the tools and often forget to examine the employee experience. When we set out to design a great employee experience, we need to keep these three factors in mind:

  1. How we make employees feel when accomplishing a task
  2. How we delight our employees with a positive experience
  3. How we make it easy for them to use the tools.”

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