As the number of companies offering workplace flexibility and remote work arrangements continues to grow, the likelihood that your firm will get the request to work outside the office (or already has) is quite high. Ensuring that you’re prepared for these requests with the appropriate technology, expectations, criteria and policies will not only become more important in the coming years but also expected by some prospective employees.
It’s Not Just About Technology
Technology has advanced to the point that the viability of offering remote work arrangements is no longer in question. However, there is a lot more to it than just the technology. Management and people issues tend to be the bigger challenges for the worker and the firm. Trust is the most important leadership factor in your firm and if it is not developed up front then you are setting everyone up for failure.
The reality is that we have to be better managers and communicators in a virtual work environment. The crutch of visually seeing that people are in the office and assuming they are being productive is taken away. While we must depend on remote employees to be self-sufficient, driven and focused, it is still our responsibility to provide guidance and hold them accountable. Instilling a culture where everyone in the firm is committed to the work, their peers, clients and the firm is of utmost important to success.
Setting Expectations & Policies
Clearly outlining expectations is an important first step. At a minimum you should document:
- Where? – Setting expectations of what is required of the remote workspace (home office vs. kitchen table, home vs. coffee shop, etc.)
- When? – Clear hours when the remote worker is expected to be available to team members and clients alike is another important piece of the puzzle.
- How? – List out the technology tools and office equipment the remote worker is expected to have as well as expectations about what the firm will pay for and what will be the responsibility of the employee.
- What? – The work they are expected to complete and the goals they must achieve should also be agreed upon by both parties.
- Who? – Not everyone is cut out to be a remote worker nor does everyone have a role within the firm that lends itself to them working outside the office. You must develop criteria to gain the right to work remotely and a system to hold people accountable.
Clearly defined expectations will allow managers to identify gaps and problems. If remote workers aren’t living up to expectations, they may have to bring the employee back into the office environment.
Formalized policies are also important to ensuring that both the firm and remote employee understand what is appropriate and what is not in a virtual work environment. These policies should clearly address the expectations of the firm and the remote employee outlined above and try to eliminate any gray areas.
Out of Sight/Out of Mind
A valid concern of the virtual work environment is the impact it will have on an employee’s career path. If they’re not seen on a regular basis will that put the brakes on their ascension? Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes no. Regardless, your firm needs to analyze this important issue and clearly communicate your decision to current and prospective remote workers.
Effective communication is critical for the success of remote workers; and an old fashioned phone call just doesn’t cut it anymore. Collaboration tools and video conferencing are an important piece of re-creating that face-to-face feeling when you can’t meet or talk in person. So much of communication is non-verbal and you give all that up when you rely exclusively on phone calls to communicate.
The rise of the remote worker is already here and will only escalate in the next few years. Your firm’s decision to either embrace this trend or resist it will have a major strategic impact on your firm’s ability to attract and retain top talent. While it’s still viewed as a perk by many, it won’t be long before it becomes an expectation. Will your firm be ready?
See inside September 2015
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