Are They or Aren't They? How to Keep Employees Productive When Working From Home

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Working from home still has a significant stigma in the eyes of many managers, however, this is not necessarily the case.

Working from home, otherwise known as telecommuting, is becoming an increasingly popular trend in the professional world. Freelancers can easily perform most of their responsibilities remotely. Full-time employees can occasionally work from home to avoid long commutes, concentrate on specific tasks or work around household responsibilities.

Since communications technologies have evolved to a point where you can connect with anyone in the world immediately, more companies than ever are offering work-from-home days as an option for their workers.

Despite its increasing popularity, working from home still has a significant stigma in the eyes of many managers. Because employees are working out of sight and in an environment potentially full of distractions, it’s often assumed that it’s less likely for them to carry out productive work. As such, many businesses have either outlawed or strictly controlled the option of working from home, and others only write off work-from-home days as free days off.

None of this is necessary. In fact, employees working from home have the potential to get even more work done than their office-dwelling counterparts. The burden is on you, the manager, to create an environment where your employees can perform their best, even when they’re working remotely.  

Related Article: From Our Home to Yours: The Art of Managing a Remote Team

Make It an Institution

Your first job is to make working from home an institution at your place of business. More specifically, there are two perceptions you want to try to avoid.

First: avoid setting the tone that working from home is a reward or a privilege. Instead, you should treat it as a natural option for working. If you treat it like it’s a reward, people will come to view it as a reward, and they might start to see work-from-home days as “light” working days. Instead, set the expectation that remote working days are the same as in-office working days.

Second: you want your workers to have equal access to working from home privileges. Don’t allow one of your employees to work from home for any reason and then deny a work-from-home request from another employee. Doing so can foster resentment, break down teams and discourage the trust you need for everyone to perform efficiently.

Set Clear Expectations for At-Home Work

Next, make a firm policy about your stance on working from home, and make sure everybody knows it. Formally documenting your limitations might seem like an unnecessary step, but it can avoid any miscommunications or misunderstood expectations in the future.

To start, set a limit for working from home—such as no more than two days in a month for full-time employees. If you’re okay with your workers using flexible hours at home, or if you need your workers to be on-call at every moment during business hours, explain that.

The more specific you are in this policy, the fewer problems you’re going to have down the line.

Use Deliverables or Time Trackers to Monitor Progress

With employees working from home, there aren’t many ways to tell whether they’re typing up a document or binge-watching Netflix at any given moment. Try not to worry about this by-the-moment progress tracking. Instead, measure employee progress in one of two ways: either set firm deliverables for work-from-home days (tangible pieces of work you can see have been completed) or use time-tracking software.

Either way, you’ll have clear insight into how much work your employees are getting done, and you’ll be able to maintain that without spying on them or worrying that they won’t get things done. At the end of each work-from-home day, you can clearly see if there are any missing deliverables, or if their time tracker only shows them working for an hour. But chances are, you’ll never see this since your employees know they’re going to be held accountable for their work.

Related Article: 11 Tools for Tracking Your Remote Staff's Productivity

Establish Lines of Communication

Make your communication policies clear, and make sure there are multiple open lines of communication available throughout the day. In the modern era, there’s no real excuse for this. Phone calls, text messages, emails, IMs and video chats are just a handful of the mediums you can use to virtually connect your office to your remote employees.

Learn which mediums tend to work best for which types of communication, and stay consistent with those mediums. For example, you could start off the day with a group video chat but then rely on IMs for one-off pieces of communication throughout the rest of the day.

But Trust Your Employees to Work

While it’s important to stay in contact with your remote employees throughout the day, it’s also important that you avoid bogging them down with constant updates and progress checks. If you’re asking your employee to update you on their progress every five minutes, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to focus on the task at hand long enough to gain any real momentum. Instead, use those lines of communication sparingly, and give your employees space they need to get real work done.

Your employees already want to work their hardest and do their best for your company. If they don’t, you might have hired the wrong people. Allowing work-from-home days demonstrates your trust and your flexibility, and in most cases, your employees will naturally work harder in appreciation of the privilege. All you have to do is put a few basic structures in place, keep open lines of communication, and make all your expectations clear.  

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