Imagine a morning as a remote worker: You sit down on the couch with your laptop, start running through your to-do list, while slurping Lucky Charms out of a bowl and watching Survivor reruns. Spoiler alert: That is not what it’s like to work virtually—not even close.
However, bosses who have limited experience with virtual teams (cough, you) might assume that’s how employees would spend their days working remotely. If your employees have asked you for the flexibility to work from home, but you feel a bit wary, I’m here to show you how you can make it happen.
1. Prioritize Transparency
When managing a remote team, it’s important that your organization has a high level of transparency across projects, tasks, and individual goals. Therefore, it becomes crucial that you use (or begin using) project management systems that can be accessed from any location. The right system should also allow team members to see what their co-workers are accomplishing.
These kinds of management systems allow supervisors to track their teams’ progress and hold individual employees accountable for their work. Not to mention: This transparency makes virtual teams more productive than their in-office counterparts—by an increase of as much as 43%.
My organization utilizes Basecamp to manage various projects because it allows for a high level of transparency within and among different teams. It also keeps file uploads in convenient locations that can be accessed from any device that’s connected to the internet.
Similarly, my company encourages employees to use Google Apps to share our phone conference lines and meeting room schedules, so no shared resources become overbooked.
2. Integrate Communication
Unlike employees who work side-by-side, virtual employees may have a harder time receiving timely answers to questions or gaining clarity on a matter they may not fully understand. To solve this problem, include a few preferred communication methods with your employees’ virtual setups.
For example, many companies embrace social intranets like MangoApps or messaging apps like HipChat to keep in-office and virtual employees connected to one another throughout the workday. If anyone—across any team—has a question, he or she can quickly chat another team member and get an answer.
Some might worry that such tools would hinder company productivity when they’re misused. However, if you’ve already taken the necessary steps to create transparency, you’ve minimized the likelihood of people chatting away for no reason—employees are aware that their efficiency (or lack thereof) will be noticed.
Additionally, studies have shown that many virtual employees feel lonely and overlooked as a part of the larger company. Messaging apps and integrated communication can help your team feel more connected to the actual office.
3. Think Ahead
Certainly, working virtually isn’t without its challenges. But thankfully, there are already tried-and-true strategies to deal with the most common problems.
An obvious question is: What about bad internet connections? Well, that question also has an obvious answer: Only employees with stable internet connections should be allowed to work virtually. And in the event there is an issue with their home internet, they should know that the expectation is that they’ll go to a local Wi-Fi hotspot or come back into the office (assuming it’s nearby), rather than blaming technical difficulties and taking the day off.
Another common concern is miscommunication. But this problem is pretty easy to solve, too. If something gets distorted via email or chat, set up a Skype call or Google Hangout to explain it in a “face-to-face” format. Even a simple phone call can make all the difference. And, if the other person can’t visualize what you’re saying, try Lightshot. It takes and shares screen shots, which can be a huge help when an employee’s trying to make a point and everyone’s looking at a different computer.
We live in an extraordinary time with many high-paying, in-demand virtual jobs. And with a 22% estimated growth for related jobs in the information technology sector by 2020, this trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon.
So, if your team is pushing you to consider letting them work from home, try to keep up with the times. It just might help you keep your team satisfied—and on board.