THE BLOG
02/01/2017 03:02 pm ET

As Telecommuting Rises, Here's How To Keep Tabs On Your Team

According to a recent Gallup poll, telecommuting is on the rise. Over one-third of all American workers are now doing so from the comfort of their home, a local café, or a mobile office. As more and more companies get smart to the benefits of keeping a remote staff (reduced cost, greater efficiency, access to global talent), this trend will likely increase.

Technology is facilitating telecommuting and making the physical office a thing of the past. We can sign off approvals from our smartphones, pitch in on Slack from the subway and teleconference over Skype, rather than taking an expensive flight to a long-distance meeting.

The rapid growth of marketplace companies, like Taskrabbit and Upwork further fuel the trend. In fact, according to a 2016 study from Harvard, the average American would take an 8 percent pay cut just to work from home!

Yet not everyone is happy about the rise in telecommuting. Sending their staff out into the blue yonder can strike panic in the hearts of controlling managers. According to Founder & CEO of Flexjobs, Sara Sutton Fell, many companies are still scared of telecommuting for three main reasons:

1. It's unmanageable
2. It's only beneficial to employees
3. It's unknown territory

These fears are understandable to a bricks and mortar company used to an office environment where they can see their employees. But, as more and more tech startups spring up on shoestring budgets, Millennial managers are finding just the opposite to be true. Telecommuting is highly manageable. It's more beneficial to the company than the employee, and it's fast becoming the new normal.

Sean Hopwood, President of Day Translations -- a company that manages all its translation services online -- started his business with a website and a will. In a few short years, he took his one-man band to a fixed team of over fifty, with a further network of thousands of freelance translators and interpreters.

He shares: "It can be hard to manage a team of people from different cultural backgrounds, working on different shifts in different time zones. But there are many ways you can keep tabs on your team and use world locations to your benefit."

Day Translations takes advantage of world time zones to provide continued 24/7 support for anyone in any country. "We also believe that having a diverse team of people who can bring new ideas to the table has made us even stronger," he adds.

If you're thinking about introducing telecommuting to your company, or running your entire outfit online, here's how to keep tabs on your team.

Communication is everything

If you're worried about not being able to manage your distanced employees, you haven't been paying attention. There are already a million apps, software, progress trackers and instant chats that will let you do that. Many companies use Skype or G-Chat as their means of speaking over the web. But keep in mind that endless online chatting and pinging your employees at all hours will only serve to slow down productivity.

You may find it easier to trade out lengthy emails for a project management software that lets you glance the status of all initiatives at any given moment. Don't get solely dependent on using these communication methods, though. Working from home can be isolating, so it's important to meet regularly with your remote employees.

It's easy for the "tone of voice" to be misinterpreted when it's written down on Skype, typed into a Google doc, or you have team members whose first language isn't English.

So, instead of assuming your workers are slacking off and watching television rather than working on your presentation, make sure you clear the air. Hold brief but regular meetings to hash out any doubts. It's also good for employee morale. Ask them how they are before you launch into a long list of tasks.

According to The Muse, one of the most important questions you can ask to keep your employees loyal is "How was your weekend?" It may seem insignificant, but it shows that you care about their overall happiness and that they exist outside of working hours.

Create trust

Creating an environment of trust might sound easy, but it's actually one of the hardest things for leaders to do when managing a remote team. After all, how do you keep tabs on everyone when they work a different shift from you? How do you know that they aren't at a soccer game instead of a client meeting?

Says Hopwood: "You can never be completely sure, but you have to measure the results and have a little faith. At the end of the day when there's a pile of work to be done and some people aren't hitting targets, you'll know it's not working out." Results speak for themselves, so instead of losing sleep over your employee productivity, check on their success.

Hold people accountable

Hold people accountable by setting goals and making sure they're realistic. Be transparent, hold regular progress meetings and discuss the best ways of reaching targets. Try to get all your workers together on one platform, whichever works best for you. When all team members can see what the other one is working on, they'll have a clearer sense of the bigger picture. They'll be held accountable for their tasks and less likely to slack off, when they know they're being tracked.

Remember that it may take some time before you can establish mutual trust with your employees on the web. If you're just launching an online startup, you'll have faster access to market than a bricks and mortar setup. But that doesn't mean you'll get the team dynamic or working processes right off the bat. Keep tabs on your team without suffocating them. Measure their work through progress meetings and targets and think about the cost savings you're making in this win-win situation.

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