Technology has allowed employees to work basically anywhere, and many companies that are eager to expand their talent pool have embraced that.
In 2018, 47 percent of U.S. employees worked remotely in some capacity, meaning they spent at least some of their time working in a location different from that of their coworkers, according to Gallup.
But while having a remote workforce can be beneficial to both employer and employees, experts advise companies to make off-site workers feel part of the office environment, not isolated.
“In a remote environment you can’t see when they are at their desk or struggling with something,” says Brie Weiler Reynolds, a senior career specialist in Boston at FlexJobs, an online job site for remote workers. “As a manager you have to be very proactive and reach out to your remote employees.”
You should have frequent communication to know how they’re doing, if they’re stumbling and how you as a manager can help, she says.
“You need to fill that distance,” says Reynolds.
Unfortunately, remote employees often feel left out: Digital workplace solutions provider Igloo Software recently reported it found that 57 percent of remote workers miss out on important information because it is communicated in person, and 55 percent have been excluded from meetings or brainstorming sessions.
“Organizations haven’t fully embraced the tool set to allow remote employees to have the same level of access to information as employees in the corporate office,” says Mike Hicks, chief marketing officer at Ontario-based Igloo.
He said organizations need to standardize one or two tools to use for each purpose of communication and collaboration. So for example, they should avoid employee use of random non-secure, unauthorized apps.
Bohemia-based Edge Electronics, a distributor of electronic components and industrial products, issues all of its remote employees laptops with secure networks connected to the main corporate data center, says information technology director Jeff Fink.
The business has 40 employees around the country, including about 15 who work remotely, says president Adrienne Giannone. During the Great Recession, to help preserve jobs and save on brick-and-mortar costs, Giannone made the decision to close two remote offices and have those people work from their homes.
The arrangement has worked out well. Fast-forward to today and the handful of employees in the firm’s two remaining remote offices, in Massachusetts and Florida, have expressed interest in also working from home, says Giannone, so those offices can close by early 2020.
She says the firm uses phone calls, email and an in-house custom messaging system like Slack to connect with remote employees, including meetings held via webinars, and that also has worked out well.
Kyle Denson, 51, West Coast area sales manager based out of his home office in Ventura, California, agrees.
He communicates frequently with the main office and says he feels very connected.
“I’m very productive at home,” he says, noting there are fewer distractions than at an office, and working remotely is “a huge benefit for me” in terms of quality of life.
Crystalanya Khokhlov, 39, a senior support specialist with Melville-based Tech Software who works remotely from Portland, Oregon, says the benefits she enjoys include flexibility in where she can live, a more focused work environment and the lack of a commute (particularly in bad weather).
The firm uses various technology to stay connected, she says, but Slack, a popular digital messaging tool, is the main source of communication not just with the home office but “with my fellow remote employees.” Phone meetings are also utilized, she says.
CEO Walden Leverich says Tech Software has four staffers in its Melville headquarters and another dozen home-based remote workers around the country. He communicates multiple times daily with his remote workers, and in addition to Slack, the phone and email, he uses Zoom for video conferencing.
“It’s important to keep them engaged and part of the [workplace] family,” says Leverich, adding the biggest benefit of having remote employees is “I get to hire the right person without worrying about geography and maintain them if they need to move.”
This is a popular sentiment. By 2028, 73 percent of companies are projected to have remote workers, according to Zoe Harte, senior vice president of HR and talent innovation at Mountain View, Calif.-based Upwork, a freelancing website.
She says the key to making a remote relationship work is being clear about expectations and “communicating often and frequently.” It helps to have some guidelines on how these relationships will work and what this looks like at your company, she says.
For instance, at Upwork one guideline for a meeting where not everyone’s in the room, is that the remote people speak first, says Harte. Since they can’t be present physically, it ensures they get heard.
Give remote workers the tools and technology they need to succeed, and enforce that assistance with employees.
“This requires consistent leadership reinforcement on how we communicate and collaborate with each other,” says Hicks of Igloo Software.
Fields with the most remote jobs
- Medical and health
- Computer and IT
- Education and training
- Customer service
- Accounting and finance
Travel and hospitality
Source: FlexJobs (https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/state-of-the-remote-job-marketplace/)