Despite reservations, working remotely has become commonplace, especially for employees in technology roles. But programmers, web developers and SEO specialists are not the only workers enjoying the flexibility a virtual office gives. Copywriters, translators, designers and PR specialists are offering their freelance services to a global clientele. You don't even have to be self-employed to work from home. Call centres are increasingly offering virtual positions, as are travel agencies and research companies. These individuals choose their own surroundings and avoid the pressures of a daily commute.
But do they work?Some may argue that a less stressful work environment boosts productivity; others disagree and believe employees out of sight are out of mind. Companies like Yahoo have thus far declined to join the remote revolution. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer claims that the reasoning behind the refusal is that working together physically creates a sense of unity. Even Google's CFO Patrick Pichette said that as few as possible Google employees work from home for the same reason: unity. The company do, however, allow this and leave it up to personal choice. When pressed with the decision of whether or not to allow top staff to telecommute, what would you do? Should you opt for offering this option and enjoying the freedom of being able to recruit talented employees from all over the world, or is it vital to keep your team connected?
How to keep in touchWhether a company chooses to offer virtual working to secure or retain top talent or because of motivational or overhead concerns, it is important to approach this practice strategically. Here are some guidelines:
* Communication first -- Some of the biggest issues in companies stem from poor communication. When workers are not onsite, this can become an even bigger problem. Work out a clear plan that includes communication options and channels like VOIP, email and telephone. Establish a schedule for regular updates.
* Excellent tools - Communication will be impossible without the required tech tools. Make sure that this is accessible to all remote workers. Quality computer hardware, adequate internet connections and cloud-based software are essential tools for remote workers.
* A contact point network - Processes have to resemble an in-house operation and interdepartmental interaction forms part of this. Communications should be streamlined by matching up employees in technical and operational roles as points of contact for feedback and sharing information.
* Structure and expectations - Processes should be clearly stipulated. Every remote employee should know exactly what is expected of them and which process to follow to achieve results. Team performance metrics help employees feel connected and motivated.
Offer options for travel - The occasional face-to-face meeting is invaluable in most businesses. Travel should be pre-agreed and stipulated in the remote employee's contract. Be clear about who will be covering the expenses and how often this is expected.