The workplace is more digital than ever, and remote workers are becoming more prevalent. There are certain strategies leaders can use to make sure flex workers are working effectively.
by Andie Burjek
February 26, 2016
Offices today look a lot different than they did 20 years ago. For many, there actually is no office. Now, 50 percent of American jobs are compatible with telecommuting at least part-time, and almost a quarter of the workforce telecommutes at least some of the time, according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com.
As the workplace expands not only globally but also virtually, there are strategies leaders can consider to make sure remote employees are being managed effectively, according to Brie Reynolds, director of online content at FlexJobs.
Flexjobs interviewed senior-level HR professionals at Dell Inc. and UnitedHealth Group Inc. about what strategies are effective for them. Reynolds said the key to Dell’s remote work success is that leadership not only supports remote options but also uses flexible options themselves. In this way, leaders show that they trust team members, and it sets an example on how to organize work in a way that meets professional and personal priorities.
UnitedHealth Group, where 20 to 25 percent of employees work remotely at least part-time, tracks performance measurements and ties them to company goals. The company tracks performance measurements such as work quality, retention rates and employee satisfaction in work-at-home employees — it found that telecommuters perform well in all three areas, Reynolds said.
One other strategy FlexJobs recommended was to give employees all the options up front if they’re considering flexible work schedules. Options include full-time commuting, occasional telecommuting and compressed workweeks. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Included in these overarching strategies are the everyday things leaders can do to make remote working run smoothly. For example, with such a wide variety of communication channels available — including email, phone, message boards, IM and videoconferencing — leaders need to decide which are appropriate for a given situation.
Reynolds said leaders also should set weekly goals for remote employees so they know what they’re working toward. Finally, several companies, including Anthem Inc, The Clorox Co. and Dell have remote employee resource groups, in which remote workers can offer each other support and career guidance.
As remote work becomes prevalent, it does bring challenges — a prominent one being how to change the way managers think about remote working. “Twentieth-century management practices relied heavily on seeing someone at the office during certain hours [and having] face-time,” said Reynolds in an email interview. “But now, with this shift toward at-home work and more flexible hours, face-time simply isn’t possible.”
To overcome this, tie flexible work to the company’s goals and objectives in measurable ways. Identify how flexible work affects the bottom line. Reynolds said some of the most basic things to track are:
- The number of participants and the type of flexibility they’re using.
- The productivity of flexible workers and teams.
- How much flexible work programs cost vs. how much they save a company.
- Company retention rates for flexible vs. nonflexible workers.
- Employee satisfaction, which can be tied to retention.