Remote work can promote productivity outside of the office. Learn the keys to effectively managing a remote workforce, including:

  • What remote work is
  • Why employers benefit from remote work policies
  • How to define an effective remote work policy
  • What to do when hiring remote employees
  • How to structure a remote work contract
  • Tips for onboarding and training remote workers
  • How to supervise remote employees
  • Ways to promote remote work productivity
  • How to monitor remote employees
  • Effective ways to handle remote employee time tracking
  • How to keep remote worker devices secure

What Is Remote Work? A Definition

What does remote work mean? You can define remote work, also known as telecommuting, in contrast with the typical office workplace paradigm.

In a conventional workplace environment, work is a place you go, a location. In a telecommuting environment, work is something you do, no matter where you are. By this definition, remote work can encompass any work situation where employees or contractors are working outside the office workspace.

Remote work can take a variety of forms, including employees (and contractors) who:

  • Commute to the office on some days and work from an alternate location on other days
  • Commute to a location outside a company’s main office, such as a remote call center
  • Work while traveling, such as traveling sales representatives
  • Work strictly from home and don’t commute to an office or travel

Remote Work Statistics

Remote work trends reflect the rising popularity of telecommuting. Between 2005 and 2018, the number of U.S. workers who worked from home increased 173%, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by Global Workplace Analytics, a provider of workplace design and strategy services. Employees who work from home at least half the time number 4.7 million, or about 3.4% of the workforce.

Indeed, Global Workplace Analytics states 50% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework, adding that 40% of the workforce works remotely at some frequency

Employers increasingly favor remote work because of benefits to both companies and their workers. These include:

  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Greater employee retention
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved eco-friendly practices

Job Satisfaction

Employees like remote work because it allows them to spend more time at home, giving them greater flexibility in balancing personal and work responsibilities and schedules. This translates into better sleep habits, lower anxiety and higher job satisfaction. Employees who work remotely are 57% more likely to be satisfied with their jobs than those who commute, according to a survey by mattress maker Amerisleep.

A father holds his baby as he works from home.

Employee Retention

Higher job satisfaction makes remote workers more likely to stay with their employers. This allows companies that offer telecommuting to enjoy higher worker retention rates. A study by research and advisory firm Gartner estimates companies that offer workers the option of telecommuting can expect a more than 10% increase in employee retention.

Productivity

Employees who work from home experience less stress, fewer distractions and higher engagement. This promotes higher productivity, benefiting their employers. Among companies who allow remote work, 85% report that productivity has increased as a result, according to research conducted by flexible workspace provider IWG. Moreover, 63% report an increase in productivity of at least 21%.

Eco-Friendliness

Remote work also benefits the environment. Transportation generates the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  Employees who don’t commute to work generate fewer greenhouse gases and other pollutants. The increase of the remote workforce has cut annual greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million tons a year, according to a study by Global Workplace Analytics and remote jobs provider FlexJobs found.

Remote Work Best Practices

To enjoy the benefits of telecommuting, businesses must overcome the hurdle of managing remote employees effectively. Managing remote workers involves many of the same issues as managing employees in the office, along with some unique challenges, including:

  • Defining the scope of your remote work policy to include all essential items
  • Screening remote hires effectively
  • Structuring remote work contracts wisely
  • Planning how to onboard and train remote workers
  • Developing an oversight process for supervising remote employees
  • Promoting remote productivity
  • Monitoring remote task progress
  • Tracking remote employee time
  • Securing remote workers access to company information technology resources

Defining Your Remote Work Policy: What to Include

To plan for maximum operational efficiency, and to avoid unnecessary hassles, companies should place all important aspects of their remote work policies in writing. Skipping this step can make it easy to overlook items that can become headaches when they come up unforeseen. Items to consider include:

  • Specifying which positions in your company are eligible for remote work and which aren’t. This is particularly important if some of your employees usually work in the office and only telecommute part-time.
  • Defining the procedures which govern how a worker enters or leaves a remote work relationship. For instance, is a trial period required before a worker is accepted for telecommuting?
  • Explaining how remote employees are supervised. For example, do you have an online portal that workers should use to communicate with supervisors and co-workers?
  • Outlining procedures for tracking remote hours.
  • Specifying how remote employees are paid. For instance, do you pay via direct deposit, PayPal or mailed checks?
  • Noting any tax compliance issues affecting remote workers.
  • Identifying policies governing any equipment that your company supplies remote workers, such as smartphones.
  • Defining any safety policies and procedures remote workers should follow and whether remote employees are covered by your worker-compensation policy.
  • Laying out digital security policies or nondisclosure agreements remote workers should follow.

Sample remote work policy statements are available online.

Hiring a Remote Employee

How you recruit, screen and hire remote workers can significantly affect the quality and productivity of your team. When defining what you’re looking for in ideal candidates, include qualities necessary for effective remote work, such as:

  • Ability to communicate and collaborate effectively online.
  • Strong self-discipline and time management skills.
  • Availability for hours of overlap with non-remote workers, if applicable. For example, are there certain hours your on-site team is in the office when you need remote workers to be available?

Hiring remote workers also involves the same recruiting, interviewing and hiring issues involved with traditional workers. You may wish to consider a paid trial to assess how a new worker fits with your team before committing to a long-term hire.

A woman listens to music on her headphones as she works remotely from a coffee shop.

Structuring a Remote Work Agreement

To cover your legal bases and communicate a clear understanding to new hires, your hiring process should include a written remote employee contract. Your contract should cover key items such as:

  • Basic information identifying the worker and their job title and description.
  • A description of where and when the employee will work.
  • Any terms governing the worker’s initial trial period, such as how many days the trial lasts and their pay during that time.
  • Payment terms and policies for post-trial work.
  • Communication policies.
  • Equipment policies.
  • Termination policies.

You can find sample remote work contracts online.

Onboarding and Training Remote Workers

Developing a standard process for bringing remote workers aboard your team will help maximize productivity from new hires. For best results, develop a checklist covering items such as:

  • Welcoming procedures
  • Establishing relationships with supervisors and coworkers
  • Paperwork new hires need to fill out, such as banking, tax and benefits information
  • Procedures for creating online accounts for new workers
  • Tutorials for introducing new workers to company online portals and software apps

Supervising Remote Workers

An effective remote work policy depends heavily on sound supervisory processes. Since so much telecommuting is done over the internet, this typically involves developing effective procedures for supervising remote work online. These procedures should cover:

  • What methods workers and supervisors should use to communicate via email, chat or other channels
  • How remote projects are assigned, scheduled and completed
  • What technology tools workers should use to facilitate communication and collaboration

Promoting Remote Work Productivity

Steps supervisors take to motivate remote workers can impact productivity. To get the most out of remote workers, companies can take steps such as:

  • Assigning workers a designated contact
  • Keeping in touch with workers on a regular basis using technology tools
  • Periodically recognizing remote worker achievements
  • Offering opportunities for training and career advancement
  • Providing company social media networks to promote relationships with coworkers

Conducting Effective Remote Employee Monitoring

Providing accountability through effective monitoring also promotes remote worker productivity. Here technology can play a critical role. Digital project management software tools are designed to help supervisors schedule remote projects, monitor their progress and keep track of deadlines. Available tools include project management programs that integrate with other popular productivity suites, such as Microsoft Project, as well as standalone project management apps, such as Basecamp.

Remote Employee Time Tracking

Time tracking can be important for remote teams, especially if workers get paid by the hour. Time-tracking software helps with this task by allowing employers to log worker hours and in some cases to view screens or browsing history. Some tools also help automate the payment process. Today’s leading time tracking apps include Toggl and Harvest.

Keeping Remote Worker Devices Secure

Allowing remote work online can expose your company network to digital security risks, so it’s important to have policies in place to keep worker devices secure. An effective policy should cover essential items such as:

  • Defining which devices remote workers can use to access company networks
  • Password and authentication procedures, such as the use of personal identification numbers to supplement passwords
  • Encouraging employees to log in using secure networks such as virtual private networks rather than public Wi-Fi networks
  • Discouraging workers from opening spam or clicking on suspicious links or attachments
  • Defining which apps are approved for work
  • Keeping apps and antivirus software updated
  • Policies for segregating personal and company data on smartphones
  • Procedures for lost or stolen devices

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