Telework Tips: 4 Strategies for Leading Remote Workers

Over the past decade IT departments around the globe have enabled employees to decouple office work from the office. According to analyst firm Gartner, the number of worldwide teleworkers has steadily increased at an average rate of 10 percent over the last four years.

Teleworking can transform an organization through improved productivity, high retention rates and even reduced real estate overhead. The business case can often be strong, even strictly from a measurable bottom-line perspective. The Telework Coalition found in its 2006 Telework Benchmark Study that some enterprises can save between $3,000 and $10,000 per teleworker on real estate alone.

However, teleworking doesn’t come without its fair share of hiccups. A recent study by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s ( RPI) Lally School of Management & Technology  found that in-office coworkers of telecommuters are less satisfied as the number of teleworkers within an organization increases. Timothy Golden, associate professor at RPI, believes the study is a signal to managers that they need to be cognizant of how they manage a telecommuting team if they want to maximize satisfaction of all workers.

“This study doesn’t suggest that teleworking is necessarily detrimental,” Golden said.  “But rather that managers need to take steps to be aware of the full consequences of teleworking and to ensure that they take appropriate steps to avoid or mitigate any adverse impacts.”

Golden is among many experts on the subject who believes that the implementation of telework depends on the right mix of management best practices in order to ensure success in the eyes of company leadership, teleworkers themselves and their teammates in the office.

In order to help our readers maximize their telework efforts, Baseline has synthesized advice from the experts. We found that many of the most critical remote worker management principals fall into four categories:

  • Setting clear expectations
  • Keeping lines of communication open
  • Ensuring adequate face-to-face time
  • Developing a culture of flexibility

Setting Clear Expectations
Managers who resist the telework movement tend to do so because they often fear that they will be unable to control workers when they are out of sight, says Rose Stanley, practice leader for the human resources organization World at Work.

“The reason they don’t feel comfortable managing a remote workforce or teleworkers is because they feel they need to see them in order to manage them,” Stanley said. “What we try to do is to change that mindset into one where they are managing by results rather than attendance. What research has also found is that employees are usually more productively when they are allowed to work in a more autonomous manner so they can work when and where and how they work best.”

When working within a results-oriented paradigm, it is critical that all parties have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.

“There definitely needs to be some definitions of how things are going to work: how you are going to communicate, how you’re going to get your work done, and how we’re going to check on the progress,” Stanley said.

One of the most effective ways to define expectations is to develop a written telework policy and agreement.

“It the reason for a formalized policy is because it spells out the expectations of the worker so that they worker can give results comprable to in-office work,” says Brownlee Thomas, analyst with Forrester Research. She says that a telework policy and agreement can also standardize IT equipment requirements and stipends, cover safety and liability issues and requirements regarding protection of company information.