Working from home is increasingly commonplace. Today’s ubiquitous technology makes it a convenient option for both employees and business owners, and studies consistently demonstrate business owner benefits that range from reduced overhead to improved productivity and employee morale.
If you’ve been considering a work-from-home program for your employees, these best practices can help you start strong.
1. Technology is essential.
Technology is at the heart of every successful work-from-home program. Aside from the basics – computer, e-mail, web and phone conferencing, and access to internal websites or networks – you’ll also need tools to ensure your team is working well together even though they’re not in the same office.
2. Consider each job and employee individually.
A successful remote work program involves two components: suitable work and suitable employees. Carefully review each position and person on a case-by-case basis. Many jobs are conducive to remote work at least part of the time if you have the right technologies in place. However, you’ll want to reserve the privilege for employees who require minimal supervision and whose performance you trust.
3. Manage by objectives.
With your remote employee out of sight, the best way to manage is by objectives. This involves setting specific goals and action plans that can be tracked and measured. If you involve the employee in the process, they’ll likely reward you with a stronger sense of commitment and an increase in productivity.
4. Increase communications.
Regular communication builds trust on both sides and can help minimize the sense of isolation remote workers can feel. Make a conscious effort to use the best technologies for work at home employees. Stay in touch through phone, email and instant messaging, and find ways to facilitate team communications – through video conferencing, periodic onsite meetings and group activities that help build rapport.
5. Set clear expectations and put them in writing.
Clearly define your expectations and document them in a remote work agreement that is signed by the employee. Spell out ground rules for the workday as well as requirements to limit your liability as the employer of a remote worker. Recommended items to include are:
- The employee’s weekly work schedule
- Expected availability during business hours
- Overtime policy for hourly (non-exempt) employees
- What constitutes a designated office space
- Frequency of communications with you and the team
- The need to report personal injuries (which might be covered under a workers’ compensation plan) and damage to equipment
- Your right to audit the employee’s workspace to ensure it complies with safety standards
- The need to protect proprietary company information
- Employee performance expectations
With your objectives and expectations established and lines of communication open, the next step is to trust your remote workforce to get the job done. You may choose to require an hourly accounting of work activities or to monitor their work time electronically, but your best results may come from letting your remote employees take responsibility for meeting their goals.
7. Evaluate your program’s effectiveness.
After your program has been up and running for several months, take a step back to evaluate its impact on business:
- Compare the productivity of remote and onsite employees on the same task.
- Measure before-and-after sick time, office space needs, transit/subsidy expenses and related costs.
- Gather feedback through employee interviews or surveys.
Results will likely reveal both pros and cons – while helping you pinpoint the refinements that will make your program a success.
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