Working from home is a concept as apparent as it is shrouded in mystery. On the surface, "work from home" seems like a phrase coined by Captain Obvious, because working from home is just that: performing work from a home base rather than from an on-site, centralized office. However, working from home is sometimes — and wrongly — misinterpreted as easy by default. In truth, remote work is not for professionals who want to dial back their responsibilities, and it is not a work model for employees who lack self-motivation and self-discipline. Remote work is not for everyone.
But in an increasingly busy, congested world — which is also one frequently subject to inclement weather and public health emergencies — remote work is not only a desirous labor model for professionals seeking greater work-life integration and flexibility but also a contingency plan for businesses to keep operations afloat amid sudden crises like natural disasters or pandemics. With more professionals interested in telecommuting and more companies adopting permanent or temporary remote work policies, it is inevitable that remote managers and employers will encounter qualified applicants for their telework vacancies who have no previous remote work experience.
The good news is green remote workers can thrive in home-based professional environments with appropriate training and empathy coupled with their own determination. The following guidance can be used by remote work leaders to help employees with no telecommuting experience become comfortable with working from home.
Tips for employers during the remote hiring process
Potentially negative impacts of hiring a remote employee with no telework experience can be mitigated during the hiring process. From posting a high-quality job description to ensuring remote managers are prepared to onboard an inexperienced home-based employee, these three tips for hiring first-time remote workers will help both the hiree and the hiring body feel more confident from the start:
1. Get the job description right
The job description for any work-at-home vacancy should clearly outline the job’s responsibilities, qualifications, and expectations both relevant to job performance and to working remotely. If the remote manager or employer filling the role has specific home environment requests, such as a quiet, dedicated workspace or a certain type of computer, those conditions should be named in the job description as well.
2. Know the hiree
Remote managers and employers should request employment documents, like a job application, resume, cover letter, or introductory email, and testimonials or references from all candidates. Depending on the nature of the vacancy and job expectations, applicants should also complete skills assessments like personality, job knowledge, and situational judgment tests. During the hiring process, remote managers and employers must have a clear picture of each candidate’s baseline knowledge and experience to establish where they excel as well as which areas need to improve once the job begins.
3. Make sure remote managers are up to speed
Particularly if a business is 100% virtual, remote managers accustomed to working with solely telework employees may assume new hires have at least some experience with telecommuting. Upper management and human resources personnel should conference with remote managers to clarify the onboarding expectations of first-time remote workers and ensure all parties have resources necessary for success.
Tips to help first-time remote workers become comfortable in a virtual environment
Helping employees with no remote work experience become comfortable working from home is about more than playing an icebreaker game. It requires meaningful onboarding procedures, strong company culture, and a patient remote team dynamic that embraces change and encourages individual success. Here are 10 ways remote leaders can help first-time remote workers succeed from their home offices:
1. "Meet" before an employee’s start date
Prior to an employee's first day on the job, they should participate in an introductory meeting with their remote manager(s). For remote roles, an initial meeting is critical during the onboarding process. This is especially true for fully telecommute employees who may never get to know their colleagues face-to-face.
The meeting environment will vary depending on the hiring company's structure and remote work policies. Hybrid businesses with physical offices may ask a remote worker to attend an in-person meeting at a company headquarters or hub, whereas 100% virtual businesses will conduct introductory meetings via video conference or, at minimum, over the phone. After the meeting, the remote manager could also schedule a small team meeting to better acquaint the hiree with co-workers they will interact with most often.
2. Provide employees with virtual tools
Set up new remote employees for success by providing them with the virtual tools they will need to perform their jobs and communicate with other remote or on-site peers, managers, clients, or customers. Some of the most popular online collaboration tools for remote teams include Slack, Zoom, GitHub, Google Drive, Asana, Trello, InVision, Basecamp, and Weekly10. These platforms allow remote teams to share files, video conference, chat, develop projects, provide feedback, and collaborate while geographically dispersed.
New remote employees should also be provided with login access or subscriptions to company-specific software programs or accounts for conducting business.
3. Pair green remote workers with an experienced telecommuting mentor
When green remote workers enter telecommuting positions under the assumption that working from home is a proverbial walk in the park, success becomes harder to achieve. Success is also less likely when inexperienced remote workers are overconfident in their ability to perform in an unfamiliar work structure.
Pairing brand new remote workers with an experienced telecommuting mentor is a worthwhile and expedient way to acclimate to the remote work learning curve. First-time remote workers will have a sounding board for their questions, achievements, fears, and frustrations; meanwhile, mentors will provide valuable insight to new remote workers while also gaining additional leadership experience.
4. Build trust and rapport
Remote leaders who build trust and rapport with their remote employees are more successful and, in turn, their employees feel secure in their jobs. Nurturing trust and rapport with home-based employees is achieved through active listening, positivity, and coordination. In addition to making first-time remote employees feel more comfortable while working from home, building trust and rapport allows remote leaders to be in better positions to influence as well as learn from their manager-employee relationships. Simple steps like respecting cultural differences, finding common interests, developing shared experiences, and expressing empathy are all effective initial steps to fostering mutual understanding.
5. Create space for casual conversation and connecting
Facilitating avenues for remote workers to connect on a personal level strengthens bonds among remote workers. These bonds are essential to not only making first-time remote workers more comfortable but also enabling remote team building and increasing employee retention. When green remote workers switch to virtual work environments, they will typically miss the casual conversion, a.k.a. watercooler chat, that occurs during breaks, lunches, and journeys from one office to another. Remote leaders can create space for their employees to engage in personal conversations via a remote communication platform like Slack. Casual chat channels can exist in public messaging spaces or be tailored to specific interests like films, DIYing, music, and sports.
Too much is never a bad thing where communication with new remote workers is concerned. Professionals who work from home must utilize a variety of communication methods, including video, phone, and text, to stay in touch, remain on target, and continue to be successful. Remote managers should conduct frequent check-ins with first-time remote workers to confirm their comfort levels and troubleshoot any concerns in a timely manner. Telecommuting leaders should also prioritize proactive communication styles among their employees so that remote managers never have to wonder about project statuses.
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, remote managers and employers should cultivate a distributed work environment built on a foundation of transparency and open communication. Home-based professionals will feel more connected to and invested in workplaces where feedback is welcomed, accepted, and implemented as appropriate. When telecommuters recognize that their employers care about their well-being and accomplishments, they will feel more motivated to use their own skills and talents to further the business.
7. Welcome individualism
Success in remote work comes in many forms. Remote workers are some of the most diverse professionals because the nature of remote work renders geographic boundaries unnecessary. Remote-enabled companies can recruit the best talent regardless of their locations; therefore, it is important to embrace telecommuters' individualism rather than forcing them to conform to a blanket set of professional or personal standards beyond what is expected within their jobs and company policies. Micromanagement is the enemy of remote manager-employee relationships and creates unnecessary stressors particularly for green remote workers who already have much to learn about telework.
8. Learn to adapt
Flexibility is often cited as the number one reason workers pursue remote jobs, but it is for naught if their leaders do not embody the same spirit. Remote managers and leaders must learn, to a reasonable degree, to adapt to the work methods and needs of their new telework employees. Agile leaders can more proficiently navigate workplace emergencies and more quickly seize moments to learn, innovate, and evolve to new levels of business success.
9. Praise successes
Speaking of success: celebrate it. Leaders should be cheerleaders for and champions of their home-based employees. They should praise professional achievements as well as efforts and ideas that perhaps did not quite make the final cut. Any available rewards programs should be promoted to new hires. Incentives, whether monetary or non-monetary, are visible, universal motivators that can effectively inspire inexperienced remote workers to quickly become involved in company culture and engage in workplace activities on- or off-the-clock.
10. Publish a remote work policy
Each business with remote staff should write, publish, and update a remote work policy. Remote work policies detail two-way expectations for parties within a remote work arrangement. They serve as a guideline outlining what employers and remote managers expect from their staff as well as what remote employees can expect from the company and its leaders.
When developing a remote work policy, consider the following tenets:
Ensure the remote work policy reinforces and elevates the company's mission;
Seek expert advice to verify the remote work policy is legal and ethical; and
Establish metrics to evaluate the success or failure of the policy and which elements should be improved.
Working from home is a challenge for any first-time remote worker, but it is not an insurmountable one. With self-motivation and self-discipline, as well as support and resources from their employers, green remote workers with no previous telecommuting experience can become comfortable working from home and thrive in their virtual work environments.