As seen in the FXBG Regional Chamber Business Magazine.

With some of the worst traffic in the country, a workers’ daily commute in the Fredericksburg area can be a nightmare. And with an evolving workforce, skilled employees are looking for more flexible work options. A solution to help recruit and retain top talent may be allowing people to work remotely part or all of the time.              

Working remotely presented unique challenges but for many employees, especially working parents, the flexibility it provides is priceless. Here are a few steps you can take to make telecommuting work for your business.

1. Establish accountability mechanisms

Staying on task can be tough in a physical office and without tangible goals, it’s near impossible while working remotely. Make sure that when staff work from home they have set tasks they’re supposed to be completing with measurable outcomes they need to achieve.

It’s important not to assume that they know exactly what needs to get done and when deadlines need to be met. Make sure that goals are set and managers have a formalized way to monitor progress. This may be using project management software—even something as simple as Asana—or regularly scheduled conference calls. While plenty of tools exist to help manage a remote workforce, you don’t need to blow your budget on expensive software to be effective.

Once goals and timelines are set, managers should follow up. Have regular one-on-ones with direct reports and seriously look at their performance. Adjust as necessary if they are surpassing goals or if expectations turn out to be overambitious, but make sure that these meetings don’t get brushed off and employees are truly being listened to. 

2. Encourage informal communication

It’s easy to assume that with all the modes of communications we have in our lives, people will naturally stay in touch. But an open dialog needs to be fostered between managers and employees to be effective. Make sure that people feel comfortable regularly and informally checking in with their managers. In a physical office, they could just stop by a coworker’s desk for clarification on something—they should have a way to do this online as well.

You can encourage this by using a specific instant messaging system company-wide like Google Hangouts or Slack, but ultimately the responsibility lies with managers to make sure their employees feel comfortable communicating with them. Go out of your way to check in with everyone and establish rapport. Lead by example by sending short, informal—not to be confused with unprofessional—emails to ask if they’re facing any challenges or could use some extra support. This not only opens lines of communications but can help you anticipate obstacles before they get out of hand.

3. Be realistic

Some people thrive when they work remotely but it’s not a solution that works for everyone. If regular check-ins are revealing underperformance, you need to make that clear to the employee in question. The worst thing a manager can do in this situation is not communicate expectations, even if it’s a tough conversation to have. If an employee begins working remotely, make sure they meet with their manager at the 30 and 90 day mark to evaluate things. Keep in mind this conversation is two sided—you should make sure their needs are being met as well as the organization’s. 

Allowing employees the flexibility to regularly work remotely is a huge benefit that can help your company keep quality talent. While it requires taking time to thoughtfully manage your workforce, when done well, work-life balance and morale can improve dramatically. 

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