Particularly for small businesses, telecommuting seems an effective strategy for maximizing a work force while still keeping costs low. You don't need to pay for a centralized office space or deal with a drive to work, but you do have to contend with YouTube, Facebook and myriad other online distractions.
A recent CareerBuilder survey showed a stunning 17 percent of telecommuting employees actually work less than an hour a day. Sure, 35 percent claimed they satisfy job duties over a full eight hours or more. But that means the vast majority isn't sustaining productivity across an entire work day.
Here are some ways you can make sure to get a full day's work out of your telecommuting employees:
1. Be clear
Clarity is always key, but especially when you don't have face-to-face interaction with your employees or an opportunity to directly oversee them. It might seem tedious, but it's important to spell out your expectations and project parameters in painstaking detail. Eliminating misunderstandings not only fosters efficiency, but a comprehensive overview of tasks at hand also breeds much-needed accountability.
2. Schedule regular check-ins
Another key to accountability is to make sure your employees know you're aware of their progress (or lack thereof). By having calls or virtual meetings scheduled at regular intervals—say, the same time every day or week—your workers can plan tasks accordingly and you will stay informed. Productivity goes up because regular check-ins come with built-in consequences for failure to execute on expectations.
3. Share files
Just because your "office space" is spread across various homes and coffee shops doesn't mean your files have to fragmented too. Services like Google Docs allow multiple editors to view and update documents simultaneously, from remote locations. This ability to check up on your employees' work help keep them honest. Plus, a centralized online location for shared work files minimizes the likelihood important files will be accidentally lost or deleted.
4. Build in face time (even from afar)
Skype allows for real-time video connections to your remote employees, whichhumanizes the whole working-from-home experience. In a professional sense, you can get to know people only so well through e-mail. Using video services creates a distinctly more intimate and "real" feeling work environment for both parties. So talk to your workers, face-to-face. If you're more than some abstract e-mail address sending them instructions and demands all the time, their work will probably be better and thus their accountability to you, your business and their work goes up sharply.
5. Stay plugged in all day
If you, as the boss, say the work day should be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., then you should be working that interval, too. Incorporate the use of an instant messaging program to your work life and make sure your employees log on every day. This eases a number of potential problems: first, you know when they're working and they know you're working; second, everybody is constantly available to answer questions and provide input; and third, it's a lot easier and less intrusive than frequent phone conversations.
6. Encourage collaboration
It's far easier to procrastinate when you're on your own. But if you're working alongside a colleague toward a common goal, you have to do just that—work. As a manager, asking your employees to collaborate with one another provides a buffer between them and the oblivion that is the Internet. Add to that the fact that a telecommuter's life can be a bit lonely. Facilitating cooperation between your employees lends a warmer feel to their experience at work.
7. Set team goals
Actively fostering a sense of cohesiveness is especially crucial when it doesn't come naturally, like it does in a conventional office environment. Taking collaboration one step further, cultivate a sense of teamwork by setting goals for everyone to strive for and meet together, then honor everyone together when those benchmarks are reached. Again, it's important to combat lonely telecommuters feeling like they're merely a cog in an invisible machine. Do your best to make sure they feel like they're a vital part of a tangible team, and they'll work harder and be happier.