The number of people who are telecommuting rather than working in the office is increasing. In fact, 45 percent of Americans work from home at least part of the time, and there are over 53 million freelancers in the United States. This trend is likely to increase due to the many advantages of telecommuting to both employees and companies.
Just the savings on infrastructure are significant. Nearly half of freelancers complete their work online, often without ever meeting clients in person, meaning the gig economy and telecommuting have evolved into mainstream solutions.
Despite all of the advantages, there are some drawbacks as well. Here are some of the drawbacks and how to overcome them.
One of the biggest issues with telecommuting is clear communication. When an employee is in the office, they can stop by someone’s office, and often important impromptu conversations happen in the hallway or a break room. Telecommuting can be a big challenge for modern communication managers.
Those conversations can’t be duplicated digitally, but there are some solutions that produce similar results:
Make sure you can be reached digitally on a regular basis and that remote employees know when you are digitally “out of the office.”
Have a casual communication channel in a chat app like Workplace, Slack or Google Hangouts. Often some of the best ideas come out of these casual conversations.
Bring them in, if you can. Remote workers, freelancers or those who telecommute regularly can benefit from occasional meet-and-greet events and in-person reviews.
Use video chat. A lot of our communication is non-verbal, and video chat is often very helpful when in-person chat is not possible.
The key is to be proactive with your communication. Take an active role in touching base, and use email, chat, phone, and video where appropriate.
The need for clear communication begins before you even hire an employee. There are key questions you’ll need to ask potential remote workers, including their own experience with remote work, how they prefer to organize their work, and how they like to receive feedback. Even processes like filing workman’s comp claims will need to be ironed out and explained to new hires (these can still be a reality for employees working remotely, as long as the injury was sustained during work-related activities). By using clear communication throughout such processes, you’ll ensure that your professional relationships with your employees are built on a strong foundation.
The Flat Career Ladder
Do your remote workers have the same opportunities for advancement that employees in the office do? No? Then this can be a problem. One of the primary reasons employees leave an organization for another is they feel that their careers are not advancing.
It is important for a business to remember that those employees and freelancers are just as important to running your business as those who are in your office every single day. Neglecting their career advancement means they likely will go somewhere else with more opportunities or better pay.
Some companies with 100 percent remote workforces, like Buffer and others, have mastered this career structure remotely. Follow their example to make sure you retain the remote workers you have.
Stunted Co-Worker Relationships
Many of our friendships are developed through relationships with co-workers. For someone who works remotely all of the time, this can be a challenge. Communication is 100 percent digital, and feeling isolated is actually a daily norm.
This is why gatherings are important, as is meeting with employees in person whenever possible. If you have telecommuting employees scattered around the country, encourage local gatherings with others in the same city and even “work-in” parties, where people gather in the same place like a coffee shop or library to work.
As a benefit to those remote employees, offer gym membership reimbursement, education funding, and other ways for them to connect with others outside of social media and a digital space. Encourage both online and offline relationships, and your employees will be happier.
Disruption of Work/Life Balance
One of the problems with working at home for some people is not that they get distracted at home, but that they never really leave work. This can be a problem because it really disrupts their work/life balance. There are solutions you can offer though.
Offer time management apps that allow employees to only work a certain number of hours per day.
Encourage employees to never work “off the clock” or “off project.”
Don’t overload them or allow them to overload themselves. Limit the projects they can participate in, even as freelancers. Set a maximum workload and have them stick to it.
While remote workers are generally more productive, they also often feel overworked, stressed and overwhelmed. Talk to them often. Make sure they understand your expectations and that it is okay for them to say no or communicate the issues they are having.
Maintaining Company Culture
Company culture can be a big issue for telecommuters, and there are a couple of choices every business has. When trying to extend your company culture to remote workers, keep in mind that freelancers and remote workers tend to develop their own culture — and if you have telecommuters scattered all over the country or even the world, their social culture outside of work can vary greatly.
Aim to have a loose, flexible company culture. As long as certain core values are adhered to, the rest does not matter as much with remote workers. Keep communication friendly, free of hate speech and offensive language and emphasize business values. Other than that, let culture happen organically.
Telecommuting and employing remote workers has many challenges. Learn to overcome them, and you and your remote employees will both benefit from the arrangement.
Devin Morrissey prides himself on being a jack of all trades; his career trajectory is more a zigzag than an obvious trend, just the way he likes it. You can follow him on Twitter.