Easy access to critical, real-time information is becoming the expected norm in the networked economy. With the right policies and technologies, companies can make remote workers at home or on the road more productive. Here are six tips to help remote workers perform with excellence.
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1. Set clear policies with agreed-upon expectations at the outset. Employees need to know what’s expected, including deliverables with deadlines. “People may assume everybody works equally well at home, but this isn’t the case,” says Greta Roberts, CEO of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Talent Analytics Corporation.
What’s more, connectivity doesn’t automatically translate to productivity. “It’s not how long you stay on a call, or what other tool or communication vehicle you use. The measure of success is the outcome,” Paul Belliveau, HR consultant, points out.
China Gorman, CEO of The CMG Group, an HR consultancy based in Las Vegas, Nevada, advises companies to develop balanced, role-based policies. “You don’t want it written so broadly that it’s hard to apply them fairly, but it can’t be so restrictive that nobody can take advantage of them.”
2. Identify which employees can telecommute. Administrative back office workers, call center personnel, software code writers on 24/7 global work cycles, and writers are among the workers drawn to telecommuting. However, individual worker temperament is also a major factor. Roberts suggests companies use analytics to predict groups likeliest to succeed outside of office walls. “Our data reveals that task-oriented, heads down, deadline driven people tend to work well at home. Other people could be a distraction. In contrast, people that rely on personal connections and conversations can get very lonely at home,” she says.
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3. Ensure manager and employee accountability. Managers may have to work harder, using the phone or video-conferencing to stay in touch, answer questions, track progress, and if necessary, reset goals and objectives. “Check in with remote workers using regular one-on-one calls. It doesn’t count if you happen to be on the same conference call with others,” Roberts advises.
Belliveau agrees that frequent communication is crucial to engage far flung employees. “Collaborate so people are involved and part of the solution. Constantly monitor to make sure the environment hasn’t changed to impact what’s been agreed upon.”
4. Find the right technologies. It’s never been easier for remote workers—from CEOs and finance to customer service and sales—to stay abreast of colleagues and customers using tablets and smartphones. For example, the SAP Mobile Analytics rapid-deployment solution serves up complex data sets from any format into visualizations tailor-made for mobile device viewing. In addition, developers gain access to the tools they need to create apps that address their company’s unique business demands.
Real-time information is just as crucial for customer-facing employees. Indeed, arming sales with advanced technologies provides important credibility in the digital age. The SAP Mobile Sales rapid-deployment solution gives salespeople on the road instant access to account information including current products, buying history, and notes from the last customer conversation. Immediately with just a few clicks, they can play out ‘what if’ scenarios, check on available inventory, get shipping timeframes, and close the deal—all on SAP Afaria, SAP’s mobile device and mobile application solution. SAP Afaria enables companies to manage and secure applications across a range of devices and mobile workers.
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5. Use video and audio to enhance the human touch. Despite its ubiquity, faceless, voice-less digital connectivity isn’t enough. Video conferencing, capabilities like FaceTime, and collaborative web-based tools that allow for real-time collaboration on shared documents help sustain a sense of teamwork. According to Belliveau, multi-sensory communication is very important. “Some of this exists right now in software applications that use video for meetings. Others are just emerging such as conferencing that includes holographic images placing people or objects in a room with sound,” he says.
Kevin Wheeler, founder and president of the San Francisco-based, Future of Talent Institute, calls for a combination of interactivity. “Remote workers should meet face-to-face periodically, and talk with managers and colleagues using telepresence and the telephone,” he says.
6. Set boundaries. Always-on remote workers can close the virtual door at will. Everyone needs to follow communication norms that respect these boundaries. Indeed, the elephant in the room is the fundamental cultural shift that accompanies telecommuting. “Rather than try to put the brakes on telecommuting, corporations need to establish the right policies, technologies, training, and etiquette protocols to get work done in a virtual world. We don’t realize how important the unspoken rules around work are,” says Wheeler.
There’s no question that the networked economy requires rethinking and retooling how people work. “I know people who are fully connected using a number of technologies and communicate throughout the day as if they’re in the same room. It’s about changing habits as our concept of the workplace evolves,” says Wheeler.