Question: Hi Steve. I have been in business for myself for quite a while and am encountering a new problem (which I didn’t think was possible!). These days, employees increasingly want to work remotely, which is OK with me. While they generally get their work done, getting them to be engaged and be part of the team is increasingly difficult. They seem disconnected. – Stephen
Answer: Back when I had my first real j-j-j-job (see, I can’t even write the word!), I was commuting over three hours a day, so I eventually asked if I could “telecommute”, as it was called it then. My boss agreed, and it sort of worked, but not really, and within a year I quit and found a job closer to home.
Frankly, not only did I lack motivation those three days a week I “worked” from home, but I too felt disconnected.
The good news is that remote working has become far more commonplace today than when I helped blaze that trail and there is a lot of evidence on how to make it work for all involved.
1. Hire right.
Not everyone is cut out to be a remote employee. It takes a certain amount of self-discipline and internal motivation. You will head problems off at the pass if you begin by hiring the right people. What does that mean?
• You want people who are action-oriented and who can take the initiative.
• You also want people who are independent and do not need constant supervision and reinforcement.
• As well, the best remote workers are those who can live without the daily social aspect of work.
• You will definitely want employees who can express themselves and who write well as so much of what they will do will be communicated via email.
2. Get the right tools.
As we all know all too well, email can quickly become a cumbersome, clunky tool, especially when folks begin to reply-all. Instead, you want to get some digital tools that allow you to check in with your remote worker and vice versa. Slack, for instance, is a great virtual chat room that often obviates the need for email.
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Similarly, remote work works better when there is some sort of central hub that helps manage things. Project management sites include places like Basecamp, Monday.com, and Zoho.
Finally, with regard to digital tools, you also need to integrate video chat into your remote workforce tool chest. Skype is my favorite, but other options might include GoToMeeting, Facetime, Facebook Messenger, and Zoom.
Whatever video chat tool you choose, studies show that remote workers are happier and more productive when they are engaged during online conferences. Ask them questions, get their take, ask for feedback.
3. Set clear expectations.
All workers, not just remote ones, work best when they have a crystal-clear idea about what is expected of them, and yet that is not always the strong suit of small business owners and managers. When you run a small shop, getting your team to understand what their job and tasks is easier. Not so though when they work outside the shop.
That is why, when it comes to remote work, much of the onus falls on the owner/manager. It is their job to let the crew know what is expected of them, how work needs to be delivered, where and when, and so on. Employees are not mind readers; if you don’t communicate expectations and processes clearly, you can’t expect that the employee will somehow know.
4. Get physical.
In the end, remote workers get disengaged because they don’t feel part of the team. Obviously then, an important way to keep them in the fold is to meet up in person on a regular basis.
That way, they won’t up and quit one day, looking for greener pastures closer to home.
Steve Strauss is an attorney, popular speaker, and the bestselling author of 17 books, including The Small Business Bible. You can learn more about Steve at MrAllBiz.com, get even more tips at his site TheSelfEmployed, and connect with him on Twitter at @SteveStrauss and on Facebook at TheSelfEmployed.