Remote work from 2005-2011 has changed to everyday work in 2013…has your business adapted? Yahoo and Best Buy have just ended their Work From Home programs—does this mean it doesn’t work? No.

You’re just not doing it right.

Whether it was called telework, remote work, telecommuting, virtual-work, or any of its other various designations, work done outside the office was the focus of the business when I opened Suite Commute back in 2005. While there were many who embraced what was then a “New way of work.” Many others held back citing “lack of control and proper productivity metrics” as their main reasons. Some saw remote work as “taboo” for their culture, and to others it represented bunny slippers and bathrobes. Today, those same companies have remote work employees spread all over, and some of them hold the same biases against it. Typically, their problem is there isn’t an internal system to support the practice. Remote work requires a different infrastructure in regards to communication, management, team-building, performance, and many other core elements of work.

Last week in Raleigh, NC, I was presenting at a large Human Resources conference. While there, I asked, “How much of your daily communication is done through conference calls, web meetings, phone calls, video chat, and email?”

The results showed that over 50% of daily communication is “virtual”, with 32% of people stating that over 75% of their communication is done through electronic means as opposed to face-to-face.

Poll Anywhere on TeleCommutingThis is huge, and represents a shift in the way work is done today. Whether you have a formal remote work program or not, your employees are working “more remote” than they ever have. This means that your business practices need to to adapt.

How to adapt to remote work in 5 easy steps:

  • Define Your Culture
  • Embrace Technology
  • Proactively Plan
  • Manage Virtually
  • Train Your Team

Define Your Culture: when companies’ cultures focus on the culture of the office and make everything about what happens at the office, it alienates those who may not be there everyday due to meetings, what teams they are on, or where they live. Culture should be about the interactions and team experiences people have. While a healthy office culture is important, make sure to keep those who may not be there engaged through other mediums.

Embrace Technology: There are thousands of programs and applications out there to make remote work easy. Heck, in my office we use all of these and our employees spend the majority of their time in the office. These tools have made us a closer team and have helped build an impressive office culture that is fun and energetic, yet focused on putting out great work. Apps such as Bonfyre keep you all connected; tools such as Google Apps (see my blog post on this here) unify all your communications; Video chat through Google hangout, Skype, or gotomeeting make meetings more engaging; and virtual servers like dropbox, google drive, or egnyte make file sharing and collaboration a breeze. Embracing these technologies is a great way to keep everyone connected.

Proactively Plan: Great remote workers and managers take the time to plan. A small amount of planning drastically reduces miscommunication, misunderstanding, misdirection, and overall dissatisfaction. Think about how small status updates happen in an office. You all decide to go one direction in a meeting and then something changes. What happens next? You go to email everyone, but are pulled into another meeting, as you are walking to your next meeting you pass someone who was in the original meeting and you tell them what has changed and instruct them to let the team know. This “random encounter” now gets the whole team on the same page and prevents larger problems down the line. When managing remote employees you have to plan these “random encounters” to ensure everyone is kept on the same page. In addition to these random encounters, consider setting up table tents for the people on a conference call who aren’t present in the physical room with you (assuming there are other people there in the room with you). This will keep the people on the call more engaged—just watch!

Manage Virtually: Managing remote workers requires a tweaking some of your current best practices. Not necessarily changing them, but adapting them to remote work. For instance, when giving praise be sure to cc the entire team on the email—praise is as much about public recognition as it is for acknowledgement. When leading conference calls, hop on them early to allow for idle “chit chat” with your remote workers. This helps to build and sustain rapport. Consider allowing people remotely to “run” meetings as it will pull them into the conversation much more.

Train Your Team: Entering into remote work, whether at home or a new team, requires training and sharing of best practices. Team members need to be operating from the same playbook and the same set of rules and expectations. Miscommunication and resentment for remote workers sets in when everyone is playing by different rules and expectations. When you have remote workers this gets exacerbated because many of the “unspoken” rules aren’t transferred to the remote workers. Unspoken rules about how projects are completed, who is responsible for what, and many other cultural team dynamics.

Technology and the business needs of today have blurred the lines between work-from-home and work. Today’s workforces are increasingly more remote than ever before. We just aren’t calling them “Remote Workers”, we’re calling them our workforce. Those companies who chose to adapt and modify current best practices are the companies who will thrive.

contact me with any comments or questions!