Monday, February 28, 2011

Is It a Curse -- or Blessing -- To be a Remote Worker?

Most of the people I know who are remote workers say just like any work situation, there's both good and bad aspects. They love being able to dress more casually, of course, and appreciate that it often gives them a chance to see their kids more. But the downside for many is that they often feel left out of the loop and find it difficult to communicate effectively with the boss. It's an issue I explored recently for my Gannett/USA Today column...

While some employees might consider it the greatest of fortunes not to see their boss or colleagues every day at work, remote workers who have that experience might disagree.

Remote workers — who may work from home or in another office away from a company's central site — are growing in number.

Technology, along with companies offering more flexible work arrangements, has led to millions of workers laboring away from a main office. Gartner Inc., an information technology research and advisory company, says the number of worldwide remote workers will pass 46 million this year.

Still, the growing number of remote workers also has led to some problems.

Remote workers complain they're often left out of the loop regarding company information or receive little or no recognition from others for their contributions. Those who manage such workers gripe they have a difficult time keeping track of the worker's progress or performance.

Dawn Fay, a district president with Robert Half International, says that the biggest hang-up for both remote workers and their bosses is lack of communication. Casual forms of communication — conversations around the office coffeemaker, for example — often are vital forms of connection and information.

For remote workers, that isn't a possibility.

"When you lose face-to-face time, you not only lose camaraderie and that personal touch, but you also lose spontaneity — that chance to ask a quick question," Fay says. "People still need to have contact."

Fay also says some companies haven't set up a way to communicate consistently with remote workers, such as weekly phone calls with managers or Skype interactions with co-workers. The result: a remote work force that isn't as innovative, collaborative or productive as it needs to be when companies are counting on all workers to deliver more to remain competitive.

Fay says remote workers and their bosses can better handle such work arrangements in a number of ways so the employee and the company benefit.

For bosses, Fay says they should:

• Adapt communications. Just as you can't manage every employee in an office the same, you have to understand how a remote worker functions best. That may mean using more instant messaging to stay in contact or scheduling a phone conversation once a day or once a week. The communication method should be the one that best suits the worker.

• Look for warning signs. If a remote worker is missing deadlines or being asked to re-do work, then it could mean a glitch somewhere in your communications. Meet with the worker to figure out what's going wrong and how to fix it.

• Share the love. Use a company intranet or newsletter to keep a remote worker feeling like part of the company. Post items like birthdays, anniversaries and awards to help workers still feel like part of the team. A newsletter also can help workers share best practices, or allow the boss to recognize a remote worker's contributions.

For remote workers, Fay suggests they should:

• Have set hours. Make sure co-workers and the boss know when you'll be available by phone or e-mail. You don't have to be on call 24/7 unless that's part of your job description, but you should have times when people can definitely reach you. If it's going to change from week to week, let them know your new schedule.

• Provide status updates. Even if the boss doesn't ask for it, spend time every week giving the boss an update of what you've completed, where you stand on projects and what your timeline is for completing work.

• Challenge yourself. One advantage to being in an office is a chance to learn new technology or business practices either in a formal or informal way. It's important to keep yourself current — attend classes or participate in some online training to keep skills fresh.

• Be secure. If you're using company equipment from a remote location, you're responsible for keeping it safe. Only you should used it, not anyone else who doesn't work for your employer.



Flex Hour Workforce said...

Nice take on the subject. Telecommuting is on the rise particularly relevant to Baby Boomers and stay at home moms who want to continue working in a professional manner but not the normal 9-5 in an office.

Joe Lavelle said...

I say blessing. As a consultant I have been a remote worker for most of my career and I appreciate the flexibility I have in determining my own schedule in what I call "around the edges". For example, if all my work is done when I am headed home from the airport at 1pm on Friday, I will go to the gym and then pick my son up from school.
Great post!