May 13, 2011
Working remotely: How to stay in the loop when you’re based off-site
The Associated Press
While some employees might consider it the greatest of fortunes not to see their boss or colleagues every day at work, remote workers who have that experience might disagree.
Remote workers — who may work from home or in another office away from a company’s central site — are growing in number.
Technology, along with companies offering flexible work arrangements, has led to millions of workers laboring away from a main office. Gartner Inc., an information-technology research and advisory company, says the number of worldwide remote workers will pass 46 million this year.
Still, the growing number of those who work off-site has led to some problems. Many complain that they’re often left out of the loop or receive little or no recognition for their contributions. And people who manage such workers say they have a difficult time keeping track of remote employees’ progress or performance.
Dawn Fay, a district president with Robert Half International, says the biggest hang-up for both remote workers and their bosses is lack of communication. Casual communication — conversations around the office coffeemaker, for example — often is a vital form of connection and information.
For remote workers, that isn’t a possibility. “When you lose face-to-face time, you not only lose camaraderie and that personal touch, but you also lose spontaneity — that chance to ask a quick question,” Fay says. “People still need to have contact.”
She also says some companies haven’t set up ways to communicate consistently with remote workers, such as weekly phone calls with managers or Skype interactions with co-workers. The result: a remote workforce that isn’t as innovative, collaborative or productive as it needs to be when companies are counting on all workers to deliver more.
Remote workers and their bosses can better handle such work arrangements so that the employee, manager and company all benefit.
Fay’s suggestions for remote workers:
Have set hours. Make sure your boss and co-workers know when you’ll be available by phone or email. You don’t have to be on call 24/7 unless that’s part of your job description, but you should have set times when people can reach you. If it’s going to change from week to week, let them know your new schedule.
Provide status updates. Even if the boss doesn’t ask for it, spend time every week giving him or her an update of what you’ve completed, where you stand on projects and what your timeline is for completing work.
Challenge yourself. One advantage to being in an office is the chance to learn new technology or business practices, either formally or informally. It’s important to keep yourself current; attend classes or participate in online training to keep your skills fresh.
Work securely. If you use company equipment from a remote location, you’re responsible for keeping it safe. Only you should use it, not anyone else who doesn’t work for your employer.
Fay’s suggestions for bosses:
Adapt communications. Just as you can’t manage every employee in an office the same, you have to understand how a remote worker functions best. That may mean using more instant messaging to stay in contact or scheduling a phone conversation once a day or once a week. The communication method should be the one that best suits the worker.
Look for warning signs. If a remote worker is missing deadlines or being asked to redo work, it could mean there is a glitch in your communications. Meet with the worker to figure out what’s going wrong and how to fix it.
Share the love. Use a company intranet site or newsletter to keep a remote worker feeling like part of the company. Post items such as birthdays, anniversaries and awards to help workers feel like part of the team. A newsletter also can help workers share best practices, or allow you to recognize a remote worker’s contributions.
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