Does your business offer employees the ability to work remotely? If not, it’s time to consider it. I’ve long been a proponent of letting people work at home, simply because it makes employees so much happier. But if you’re resisting the idea, there are plenty of not-so-warm-and-fuzzy reasons to enable virtual work. Here are three:
1. Working from home is a coveted perk among almost all employees.
Whether your staff is made up of busy parents juggling home, child-rearing, and work, commuters suffering long hours in traffic, or Gen-Y-ers (who regularly cite work-life balance as one of their top priorities), working from home appeals to just about everyone. That means it’s a useful motivational carrot. In research done earlier this year for Microsoft Small Business Resources, 72 percent of employees say they prefer working from home -- and 52 percent claim they’re actually more productive working there.
2. Working from home saves your company money.
Many small businesses worry that having remote workers will cost lots of money. In reality, data from The Telework Coalition shows that businesses save an average of $20,000 annually for each full-time remote employee.
3. Working from home increases productivity.
Employees aren’t imagining things when they say working from home improves their productivity. Telework Coalition research shows the average business incorporating remote workers saw employee productivity rise 22 percent.
4. Creating a remote work policy does take some thought and planning.
When you’re ready to give it a try (and the sooner, the better I say) follow these steps:
- Develop a plan. Who will be eligible? Will certain employees work from home full time? Will others have the option to do so part time? Are certain positions, days or hours “off limits” for working at home? Do employees need to meet certain criteria or hit certain performance targets before they earn the privilege? Figure out how you’ll handle situations fairly before you start your program.
- Get the right tools. Your staff probably has much of the technology they need to work at home, but if not, ensure they have what they need. This could mean smartphones, headsets or inexpensive webcams. Also make sure everyone’s email systems and IM work in harmony since these are vital communication tools.
- Explore free or low-cost online options. Thanks to the prevalence of web-based software, there are more options than ever for working in teams online. Check out collaboration tools like Google Docs, project management options like BaseCamp, or Skype for conference calls and videoconferencing. As cloud computing becomes more commonplace, our options will expand.
- Communicate. Miscommunications and misunderstandings happen more easily and more often when people aren’t under the same roof. Set guidelines for how people should communicate. Use tools like IM to stay in the loop, but know when it’s time to get offline and pick up the phone. My team often finds Skype conference calls are a faster way to resolve complex issues than a massive e-mail chain.
- Trust, but verify. The trust issue is huge when you’re letting employees work sight unseen. The best way to ensure employees are doing what they say they’re doing is to monitor results. Set specific goals, timelines and benchmarks, and if they aren’t met, have a talk with that person to find the source of the problem. If you require still more verification, there’s software that lets you monitor employees’ e-mails, keystrokes and Web surfing or screen-capture their computer activity. Some companies require employees to check in at a certain time. Personally, I think these options can undermine trust and backfire on you, but only you can tell what works for you.
All this said, it’s essential to get face time with remote workers. If your staff only works from home a few times a week, you may want to set one day each week when everyone has to be in the office. If everyone works remotely, consider meeting once or twice a month. Encourage employees to get together informally to bond and brainstorm.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. Photo used under license from Photos.com