There is an interesting thing happening with the way we work. Close to 3 percent of US workers now consider home their primary place of work. That’s 3.3 million employees, not self-employed or unpaid volunteers, that work the majority of their shifts from the comforts of their own homes.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. While 3 percent might not seem like a very large number, the results show that this number is growing stronger every day.
From 2005 to 2012, the rate of growth of employees working at home multiple days of the week grew nearly 80 percent during that time frame. And while telecommuting only grew 3.8 percent from 2011 to 2012, the year was plagued with job growth problems, with the workforce actually declining 1.5 percent. Which means even as jobs decreased, opportunities for employees to have more flexibility and freedom increased, giving more people the opportunity to work from home.
Telecommuting has a lot of benefits. It can be a very strong recruitment and retention tool, can help business owners lower expenses, and can help maintain flexibility in the way employees do their jobs. It can expand your market share simply by having employees closer to client hubs, allowing them to build stronger ties with your client base without the need for travel expenses.
With all of these benefits and more, its no wonder more businesses are turning to telecommuting.
But what about the motivation side of things? Some people can work well from the comforts of their own home. Others, maybe not so much. And if you’re not there watching over them and tracking performance levels, how can you make sure your workforce stays on track, and stays motivated towards the cause?
Start With A Plan
When you hire an employee, they are presented with a job description and a list of expectations. The same should be in place when allowing an employee to move into a telecommuting position. These should be the ground rules of the relationship and give your employee an understanding of expectations. These rules should include:
- How you’ll measure performance
- How you’ll maintain professionalism and the company vision through communications made from home
- Expectations for staff and office meetings
- The communication process between you, other employees, and clients
- The number of hours worked, and timeframes to be available
The key to a successful telecommuting program is flexibility. Which is also why you’ll have to determine what the most important part of your relationship will be – hours or productivity? Does it matter how many hours they work if they can provide productivity and complete tasks in a sufficient manner in their own timeframes?
While regular staff meetings may not be a part of your plan, regular communication should be. If you won’t be meeting in person more than a few times per year, at the very minimum you should have regular phone and/or video conferences to determine how well your employee is working.
When you are in an office situation, you can pick up body language clues by being around them. Are they tired? Are they bored? Do they have fear over certain situations? Are they avoiding certain tasks? That becomes more difficult when you aren’t viewing behavior regularly.
Watch and listen when you meet to determine how well they are doing. This may take time to learn overall telecommuting management skills, as well as how to handle individual responses from each distinctive worker.
Whether you are a company of a handful of employees, or you have hundreds of employees both in the office and out in the field, its important to remember that you are in this together, and you all have a common goal you are working towards. This may take time to build rapport and trust, and to allow all of your employees to come together and learn what they can about each other.
Make sure each employee stays active. If your employees are scattered across the country, do they live in certain regions or cities? Can they get together as a team within a smaller region, either with or without you present? Can they regularly visit client offices to maintain a good relationship with your client base? Can they attend regular training, or head back into the corporate office occasionally to mix with other employees? Make sure they get involved with others on the team, both employee and client based, in order to avoid feeling isolated.
And above all, make sure each employee is motivated to do the best they can do. While that may require different strategies for different people, the more skills you learn as a manager, the more you’ll see situations upfront before they escalate.
Yes, management styles are changing, and will continue to change in the future. But with a little creativity, you can have a happier employee base, a stronger company, and a more productive workforce in a very effective way.