The over 200 employees of Automattic - the company behind WordPress - never go to the office in the morning. It would be practically impossible because they work in 174 different cities, in 29 countries all over the world. The office is wherever they have an internet connection, be it their house, on the beach or in the café around the corner. Automattic is just one example of the growing list of companies that work completely or partially virtually. Also, multinationals like Apple and Dell offer positions that can be at least part of the time done from home. The advantages are clear: it reduces costs and you can recruit talent anywhere in the world. But how do you make sure everybody does what he or she is supposed to?
The biggest challenge for companies that work remotely is the communication within the team. Casual chats at the coffee machine, brainstorm sessions in a meeting room and one-to-one-talks to review someone’s performance: they all need to be replaced with a virtual equivalent. How? According to Sara Sutton Fell, the CEO of FlexJobs, it is important to use not just one online communication tool but several. For practical information, such as sharing data or updates on project, email works perfect. But for brainstorm sessions and sharing more personal information the phone or video works better.
One of the main reasons why companies choose not to work remotely is because they are afraid that employees will not get their work done. What if your employee decides to do the dishes or the walk the dog instead of finishing a project? The solution is to set specific goals and timelines that both agree to. Depending on how much verification you think you need, you can find software that monitors computer-activity, such as emailing and web surfing. The downside is the distrust that these tools show in your employees.
The right tools
Working remotely only makes sense if you provide employees with all the necessary tools they need to communicate with each other, share information and get their work done. Think for instance of smartphones, headsets, webcams and a good internet connection. But also of online software, like Google Docs or the project management tool Basecamp. Such tools allow you to monitor progress, keep conversations and plan your projects remotely.
Some companies require their employees to check in at a certain hour. Such measures neglect one of the biggest advantages of working remotely: it’s much easier to tailor the working hours to the needs of the employee. Around 20 percent of people work better if they can sleep in and start a little late. In a virtual work place it pays off to give employees the freedom to divide the working according to their personal preferences.
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