When most of us think of remote workers, we imagine a leisurely life of being nestled into a couch in fuzzy socks, clutching a cup of coffee and alternating between email and Netflix on a laptop. In reality, flexible and remote working can look a lot different. More and more tech pros are getting their IT work done from the comfort of their homes, and in many cases, they’re crushing it—so much so that businesses are adding more remote workers to their teams. Gallup reports that 37 percent of American workers have telecommuted for their jobs.
There are plenty of reasons why a company should consider unleashing their laptop warriors from their cubicles, but to get the most out of your remote workers, you’ll need to shift your management strategy. If you’re weighing the pros and cons, here are some benefits to keep in mind, as well as a few pointers on optimizing your work-from-home program.
Why allow telecommuting?
Your IT department is constantly competing for top talent, so you know you need to offer compelling benefits to attract the candidates you want. Offering telecommuting as an option can aid in both recruitment and retention because it enhances work-life balance, especially for employees who have spouses and children. Employees who work from home are often happier and feel grateful for the flexibility, and, as a result, they’re more invested in the company.
Remote workers are also often more productive, too. Don’t forget that the office can be a hotbed of distraction. University of California, Irvine, researcher Gloria Mark told Gallup that a study her team carried out found that employees are interrupted or switch tasks every three minutes throughout the workday, and it typically takes them more than 23 minutes to get back on track afterward.
Without the distractions of the office, employees working from home could find themselves able to get more work done with less stress.
Plus, telecommuting can help your business save on costs related to office space, rent, utilities, and staff travel. A recent Stanford University study found that offering telecommuting to employees led to increased job satisfaction for one company, which in turn, increased staff retention, and ultimately saved the company an average of $2,000 for every employee they allowed to work from home.
How to spot the best remote workers
Not everyone is an ideal candidate for working from home. You can’t just convert a regular office position to a telecommuting position, hire any skilled technologist who looks like a fit for the job, and hope for the best. You have to ensure both the candidate and the job itself are a good fit for a remote-working arrangement.
When hiring tech staff for telecommuting positions, look for people who are self-directed, independent by nature, and able to prioritize tasks on their own. They should be responsible and trustworthy, able to meet deadlines and respond to their colleagues’ requests just as promptly as they would in the office. They also need to be good at written communication—that means clear, professional communication, not just cryptic technical messages ending in “kthxbai.” This skill is paramount important when email, text, and chat have to be the primary communication channels they use with colleagues.
Personality can also influence how well an employee thrives as a remote worker. Extroverts who get their energy and motivation from chatting face-to-face with others might have more difficulty in a remote setting. Michael Segovia, lead trainer for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, told Fast Company that extroverts can combat this by getting an early start and visiting a busy setting, such as a coffee shop, before starting work. Introverts, Segovia says, may be well suited for working from home, but they may need to develop ways to avoid distractions from family members and activities going on inside the home. Generational differences can also come into play here: The Stanford study showed the younger workers reported increased “loneliness” when working from home.
Setting your remote team up for success
Once you have your remote team in place, there are a few steps you can take as a manager to help them succeed. As a tech pro yourself, this first one should be easy: Make sure they have the right mobile technology to be productive and collaborate. Set regular video check-ins with your staff, for example, so they can more comfortably discuss issues with you that aren’t as easy to communicate via email or chat.
Your remote worker is going to face a few challenges unique to their environment. They might have difficulty feeling like they’re a part of the life of the business, particularly if a significant chunk of the staff still works in an office. Telecommuting employees might also find it harder to have their work recognized or take advantage of advance opportunities within the company. Take proactive steps to celebrate your remote staff’s successes, and help them grow professionally as you would any other employee.
You’ll also find that for employees working from home, there’s less focus on time clocked than on pure outcomes. Give your telecommuting staff clear, consistent expectations for what needs to get done, particularly at the very beginning, when you’re still getting accustomed to the employee-manager relationship. Having clear benchmarks will help set up your remote team members for success.
With the right remote workers, you can boost productivity and increase efficiency. You may even find that your team members are happier and stay longer as a result. With some thoughtful planning and attention to the unique benefits and challenges of remote work, you can make telecommuting benefit your staff and the company at large. That success should earn you and your IT team a few well-deserved high-fives in the break room.