When BusinessWeek wrote back in 1995 that "The Internet changes everything" the publication's editors might not have guessed that Americans' work habits would drastically change as well. But indeed they have. Technology has created a new remote work paradigm, helped by the Internet's ability to foster communications, collaboration and creativity among people.
More people are working remotely these days. Forrester Research finds that nearly 35 million Americans work from home at least occasionally, and that number is expected to nearly double by 2016. By then, about 63 million workers (43 percent of US workers) will toil remotely on laptops, tablets and mobile devices, writes Mashable.com.
There are different opinions on the usefulness and practicality of teams working remotely. How does business approach this concept with employees? How do employees adapt to the new style of working? Can everyone handle the technology training involved? Are they more productive in remote work environments?
Remote employees are often more responsible, more productive and more actively engaged than perceived. Using technology like Skype and other video platforms should make it easier for employers to consider hiring remote employees, especially if the employee is really the best fit for the job. If the work can be done remotely, why not hire the best fit rather than a second choice?
Hiring and training a remote employee work force that manages projects using technology tools, works with a learning management system and communicates collaboratively and effectively is a dream goal for many managers. If you've ever considered restructuring your company into one like that, then follow along below to learn how to achieve that goal. Here are a few starter tips to get your thoughts running toward a remote work staff.
Getting teams to understand that they're still responsible and accountable for projects should be one of the key tools for managers who oversee a remote work force. Accordingly, distance issues and time differences shouldn't matter, as long as the Internet connection and power supplies are up and running. If employees aren't in an office, then they should be found on their mobile devices. Deadlines still matter, and accountability issues should be handled with clear-cut, understood instructions on working remotely.
One video game news site put together a bible of straight-ahead employee rules for its remote workers, spelling out expectations and consequences of work actions, writes The New York Times. The result? A leap ahead in productivity for the company, and accountability issues that dropped to nearly zero for matters of project responsibility.
So can your team do it? Can you work remotely within accepted guidelines and expectations? Many young entrepreneurs starting web-connected companies likely do not even think about setting up one main office environment. Rather, they see team members working with online content management systems, Google document tools, video conferencing and more. In 15 years, working remotely may be the norm.
If you're working with a team of remote workers, keep lines of communication open via email, instant messaging, video chat and more. The more communication, the better, say some experts. But don't confine it all to email. In fact, email is probably one of the more ineffective means of communication today, as many remote workers complain of missed information in buried emails.
Instead, work with a learning management system that can connect you to other individuals per department, per group and per project. Employees can log into a system, find their work requirements and develop an open dialog for other project leaders.
If your remote team is in several countries and is made up of several native languages, then managers might want to try working more visually, rather than with words. Anyone who's traveled internationally know the value of a sign with a red line across indicating a disallowed activity. The same can go for remote workers. Instead of speaking the words about a client's particular needs on a project, make the push visual with visual tech tools like Jing to enhance collaborative communications.
Follow-up with Action Steps
Communication is key, as we saw above, but follow-up is just as crucial. After each notable communication session on a project, team leaders should be responsible for actionable follow-up. Whether working via a video conference, a slideshare collaboration or other in-the-cloud brainstorming activity, the key action steps decided by the team or group should be made clear, with deadline dates attached. This is an important feature of remote working, as occasionally these online meetings can turn far more social than expected and action items can get lost if no one is in charge of this activity.
We've all seen the comment board on remote working articles; some love working remotely on their own, while others miss the engagement of fellow co-workers on a consistent basis. Instead of forcing the remote work issue on all workers, which may not be encouraging to their productivity, try to develop a mixed alternative. See if workers want to come in to an office 2-3 days a week, while working remotely the rest of the time.
The future of work is in great transition. As technology continues to eliminate jobs and bring knowledge workers to the forefront, the practice of hiring and employing Internet-connected remote workers will continue to grow in both numbers and efficiency.