Many companies have followed in the footsteps of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and banned employees from telecommuting, arguing that a spread-out workforce is detrimental to communication. Yet a growing contingent of organisations have embraced the work-from-home model, finding innovative ways to communicate from anywhere in the world – and reaping the benefits.
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, authors of the bestselling book Remote: Office Not Required, put it this way: “As an employer, restricting your hiring to a small geographic region means you’re not getting the best people you can. As an employee, restricting your job search to companies within a reasonable commute means you’re not working for the best company you can.”
It’s hard to argue with the benefits of telework. By avoiding stressful commutes and allowing employees to work wherever they feel most comfortable and productive, the quality-of-life meter goes through the roof. Without an office full of workers, companies enjoy lower overhead costs, and employees reap financial benefits, too.
According to a study by Telework Exchange, an employee who works three days a week from home can save $5,878 (£3,775) a year on commuting costs and spare the environment 4000 kilograms of pollutants. Not to mention, employees are freed from the distractions of a typical bustling office space.
But the model is not without its downsides, the most glaring of which is limited communication. Managers like Yahoo’s Mayer argue that by isolating employees in their own workspaces, companies miss out on the all-important creative collaboration and community-building that comes from an office environment.
While it’s hard to beat face-to-face communication, there are a number of tools available that make it easier than ever to plan, collaborate and feel like a team – no matter where employees are located.
Video Calls (Google+ Hangouts, Skype, UberConference)
While classic conference calls are still an effective way to gather multiple people together to chat and share ideas, it’s all too easy for participants to get distracted and zone out – especially when it’s a big group. Video conferencing allows participants to put a face to those disembodied voices, to work off of body language and facial expressions, and to generally feel a closer connection with the people with whom they’re speaking. Some companies have even gone to the extreme of keeping webcams on all day – both to make it seem more as if their employees are in a traditional office, and to keep tabs on them.
Instant Messaging (Google Chat, Hipchat, Campfire)
When an email would take too long and a phone call seems unnecessary, instant messaging is a super-quick and easy way for workers to ask a question, share an idea or even catch up from the weekend (something remote workers miss out on without having access to the office watercooler). In addition, it allows bosses to check in on their employees regularly, and for employees to prove that they are in fact hard-at-work.
Screensharing (Join.me, GoToMeeting, Google, TeamViewer)
When it’s easier to show than tell, there are some great tools that allow you to share your screen with others and for you to see theirs. It’s a powerful tool for online meetings, allowing employees to give presentations and share information quickly and easily.
Cloud Storage (Google Drive, Dropbox, Box)
Keeping important company documents in an easily accessible cloud storage service lets employees access and share documents from anywhere. Not to mention it’s a smart way to back up your files in case something happens to your hard drive.
Of course, email isn’t exactly new technology, but it’s especially important for remote workers to be plugged in and communicating throughout the day. Keep your email program open and have a good-quality email app on your phone to check when you’re away from your computer.
Project Management (Basecamp, Teambox, ActiveCollab)
Project management software allows remote teams to create tasks, share lists and data with teams, keep track of progress and hold each other accountable. Everyone works in the same virtual environment, and users benefit from having a log of all discussions.
Don’t underestimate the importance of face-to-face meetings, whether it’s a weekly check-in with employees at the company headquarters or a bi-annual company-wide retreat.
What tools have you used to stay connected when you’re working remotely? Please share your ideas in the comments…