Telecommuting is no longer an experiment.
According to a 2015 Gallup poll, more than one-third of U.S. workers telecommute on some basis. Moreover, the percentage of full-time, home-based jobs has ballooned by 103 percent, based on research by Global Workplace Analytics.
As the 21st century trickles forward, forecasts indicate that there will be no stalling of this work reality. Yet conversations pertaining to remote, dispersed talent often center on tactical topics. Instead, leadership should prioritize the fundamental strategic knowledge that managers of such teams must have on the front end – and throughout the employment lifecycle. As operations globalize, this emphasis becomes more critical.
Here’s what your managers of remote teams need to know.
Get acquainted with technology and information security.
Offsite knowledge workers across various functions and multiple industries depend on technology. It has become the cornerstone of daily functions, whether on location or in the cloud. However, the technological stakes may be even greater for remote groups.
These technological stakes have to do with data integrity, informational security and asset protection. Managers must ensure that organizational policies address ongoing maintenance, like required patches and security updates; document management; use of social media and corporate intranets; internet standards; and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) rules.
Cultivate culture, not culture shock.
Managing dispersed teams can mean bringing people together in ways that affect overall corporate culture as well as the flavor and personality of departments and sub-groups. Though physical presence alone does not create workplace culture, the casual interludes, water cooler chats and unplanned sidebars that are so embedded in the traditional brick-and-mortar model do provide a baseline of norms. The predictability of facetime helps, too.
Developing an affirmative, connected work culture in a remote context must be more deliberate. Emphasize team appreciation, exercise employee recognition and provide ongoing feedback. These are oft-referenced better practices.
Additionally, pay attention to potential cultural differences between teams members in different locations. Local customs, time zones, holidays and other factors can affect distributed team cultures, interactions and styles. This is important whether contributors are in different regions of the same country or in different global hemispheres.
Be aware of hiring laws and employment regulations.
Just as all real estate is local, so too are employment laws and hiring regulations. These policies cannot be ignored, even with U.S. employees in different states. For example, one employee may reside in a state with an income tax while another does not. There may also be state-by-state differences regarding workers’ compensation or the classification of part-timers.
Technology means companies can deepen and enrich their talent pools beyond geographies, elevating the imperative for leaders’ awareness of and adherence to international and national laws, statutes and provisions regarding employment. Compliance, employee relations, legal and leadership professionals have a shared commitment to this responsibility.
Get ahead by getting up-to-speed.
It may sound counterintuitive, but building the ultimate remote team starts from the top. Executive leadership, senior management and mid-level supervisors all play an integral part in ensuring the success of telecommuters. Here’s how:
- Be true to technology. Leaders need not be coders or programmers, but they should be tech-friendly adopters, learners and evangelists.
- Commit to success. Supervisors, regardless of personal feelings about virtual work, should focus on making their virtual team function effectively. Hesitancy and resistance should be recognized and addressed using research and arguments that extol the benefits of the arrangement.
- Stay trained. Working remotely is a skill, and so is managing telecommuters. Developing this skill should be a component of leadership training.
- Manage by example. Proficient leaders know how to influence, mentor and manage, but this competency takes on a new meaning when it comes to guiding remote professionals. Knowing how to communicate, assess performance and inspire growth is essential.
- All aboard. Telecommuting, whether in organizations that are completely or only partially remote, must be accepted as a valued way of doing business. Management must get on board with offsite work by learning about and embracing its merits in initial onboarding and subsequent in-service training opportunities.