Remote Control: How to Make Telecommuting Work for Your Team

By Robert Half October 16, 2018 at 1:32pm

Telecommuting and remote work arrangements are fast-becoming the norm at many companies. Internet connectivity and mobility have left managers with few reasons to flat-out say “no” to staff requests for a telecommuting option. And the shortage of skilled professionals available for hire has many businesses relying more on remote workers.

Telecommuting opportunities can also increase a firm’s ability to attract and retain top talent. Indeed, one of the most-wanted perks today is the ability to work remotely, according to research for the 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals. Also, in a recent Robert Half survey, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of workers polled said they’d be more likely to accept a job offer if they could telecommute at least some of the time.

An employment package that includes telecommuting possibilities can increase the likelihood that a candidate will sign on (and stay) with your company. Remote workers can help you access specialized skills and keep projects moving along smoothly. Managing a team where everyone is scattered to the four winds? That prospect is not quite so appealing to many managers.

Overseeing employees who work remotely on a full-time basis can be challenging enough, let alone keeping tabs on a bunch of telecommuters with varied schedules. That’s why it’s so important for managers to lay the groundwork for successful telecommuting arrangements from the start. The following six tips can help:

1. Gauge employees’ remote readiness

Many people would like to telecommute. But not everyone is cut out for this way of working, which requires a lot of self-discipline. The best remote workers are those with excellent time management and communication skills. They should also be responsible enough to complete tasks with minimal supervision.

So, rather than having a blanket policy allowing everyone — or no one — to telecommute at your firm, give yourself the flexibility to make case-by-case decisions.

2. Determine which roles are eligible

Not every position is suitable for telecommuting, either. The amount of in-person “face time” a role requires is one good indicator of whether a job can be done from home effectively. For example, financial analysts can easily examine data sets and evaluate investments from home, but a payroll supervisor is often needed in the office to oversee data clerks and other support staff.

Therefore, when weighing whether to allow an employee to telecommute, think about the impact that arrangement might have on the everyday operations of your office. Consider questions such as, “Can this job be performed remotely with little disruption, if any, to existing standards and deadlines?” and “Is this role really suited to independent work?”

3. Set clear expectations

When it comes to quality and deliverables, there should be no difference between the work an employee performs remotely or while that person is present in the company's office. Set equal standards for on-site and off-site professionals in areas such as client service, deadlines, office hours, and response times for emails and phone calls.

4. Choose the right tech tools

In a virtual environment, technology is everyone’s communication lifeline. Slack, Google Hangouts and Skype for Business are some of the platforms employees can use to reach out to you and each other throughout the day. File-hosting services like Dropbox, Google Drive or an in-house system also foster virtual collaboration and information sharing in real time.

5. Keep virtual team members in the loop

Some perks of being an in-office employee include impromptu invites to happy hours after a long day and free treats when someone brings in homemade cookies. On the business front, there are also the unscheduled meetings and brainstorming sessions that telecommuters often don’t find out about until later — if at all.

Be careful not to encourage a two-tier system where one subset of the team is in on everything and others miss out. Managers can do much to help telecommuters and other remote workers feel like part of the team. Here are some ideas:

  • Include virtual workers in spontaneous discussions. Send them instant messages to join spur-of-the-moment conversations.
  • Switch from audio to videoconferencing. That way, everyone can see each other’s faces and reactions.
  • Focus on virtual team-building. The start of group meetings is a good time to acknowledge birthdays and encourage people to share personal updates. You can even schedule casual video conferences for nonwork-related chats once a week, open to all in-office and remote workers who want to talk about sporting events, binge-worthy TV shows, upcoming or recent trips, or anything else they’d like to share.

And remember, even though remote workers value their autonomy, it doesn’t mean they don’t want or need to hear from you. Staff meetings offer a great way to share departmental news and stay updated on projects, but it’s important to schedule one-on-one time, too. Biweekly status calls and regular feedback let telecommuters know that out of sight is not out of mind.

6. Don’t overlook the needs of your on-site workers

Your employees who don’t have the option to telecommute — or may simply prefer working at the office — would likely enjoy having access to some of the same perks as their telecommuting colleagues. So, consider easing the office dress code, allowing flexible scheduling or offering commuter benefits like subsidized parking or transit passes for those workers.

Also, make sure your on-site employees don’t end up covering the work of their telecommuter colleagues. If it happens, it should be the exception, not the rule.

To make telecommuting work well for your workforce, make sure that remote team members never feel left out. Likewise, don’t overlook the need for your in-office employees to maintain better balance between their professional and personal lives and to work in a more relaxed environment.

Preparing for the future of work

Mastering the ability to manage a team of professionals with different types of flexible work arrangements will become even more important for accounting and finance leaders in the future, as more companies embrace the new labor model for finance.

That new model is a flexible labor force with full-time employees focused on critical initiatives; interim and project-based professionals who help support them, usually for a finite period; and other specialized resources that provide additional capabilities and perform high-value work as needed. Many firms are also looking to external resources, such as managed solutions providers, to help them recruit, develop and manage their talent, including full-time and interim staff.

To learn more about the new labor model for finance, download the free white paper, The Labor Model for Finance in the Digital Age, from Robert Half and global consulting firm Protiviti, a Robert Half subsidiary.

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