Whether it’s bad weather, a sick child, or a full-time remote employee, there comes a time when everyone needs to work from home. But this doesn’t mean that productivity inevitably falls through the floor. In fact, research has found that, when executed correctly, working from home can actually boost an employee’s productivity. As a manager of a remote team (or even a “sometimes remote” team), there are a few things you can do to optimize productivity and efficiency, no matter where people are physically located.
Here, 4 easy ways to get the most out of your work-from-somewhere-else employees:
1. Set clear expectations.
Everyone has a slightly different definition of what it means to work from home, and it’s your job to keep everyone on the same page. (Additionally, you need to deter employees from equating “home days” with “free time to run errands all day.”) State upfront what you expect from employees when they aren’t in the office, what they should accomplish, and how you will reach them if you need to touch base.
2. Focus on project completion, not “logged-in” time.
Let employees work on their own terms. As it turns out, when given a bit more autonomy, people tend to be more productive—and happier—at work. So don’t worry so much about whether or not everyone is logged in to their work Gmail accounts every single minute between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Instead, pay attention to their completed assignments and the caliber of work that you receive at the end of the day. In some cases, the work will get done faster, leaving more time for side projects or more creative, strategic work.
3. Offer up some “offline hours.”
Encourage your team to go offline or fill in their calendars with some “plugged-in time” during their out-of-office days. One of the biggest benefits about working at home is being able to free yourself from the typical office distractions—a loud conversation in the hall, an impromptu meeting in your office, a game of ping pong…the list goes on. But your work-from-home team will find it equally distracting to be at home if they are continually pinged by emails, chat messages, or phone calls. Recognize that not every task is an emergency and let the true priorities rise to the top of their to-do lists.
4. Make sure everyone is equally accessible.
Despite the importance of having serious focus time from your home office, it’s equally important that your out-of-office team has the same access to people who are physically present. (And yes, some of this responsibility falls to the remote worker to stay in touch.) As a manager, identify a core tool (or set of tools) that’s accessible to everyone on your team, whether it’s a daily video check-in, a persistent chat system, or some other project management system. Once you’ve put these tools in place, you’ll reduce lag time by streamlining communications across the entire team.
Let’s be perfectly clear: Not everyone will do their best work from the comfort of their own homes. It may still be easier to meet face-to-face to hash out certain problems or diagram an idea on a whiteboard. But with more and more employees who have the equipment they need to do their jobs from anywhere, we’re sliding into a period where working from home can work for a lot of people. It’s up to you to identify the best ways to manage your team and their workflow when it happens. (And hey, if you get good enough at it, you may even consider letting some people switch over to full time remote employees.)
Looking for more advice on creating the best work environment for your team? Check out our tip sheet, "How to Create a Great Company Culture" for 8 things you can do this year to improve your culture.