A woman speaking on her mobile phone outside.

Remote workers can enjoy increased productivity through virtual communication.

Teleworking is experiencing a boom as businesses and their employees discover the benefits of flexible work-from-home arrangements. Teleworking improves productivity through virtual communication, aids in recruiting talent (particularly among millennial job seekers), reduces overhead costs associated with office space, and can even be environmentally friendly.

According to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 68 percent of workers expect their jobs will soon be performed remotely rather than in a traditional office. Many businesses already offer such arrangements or are preparing to do so. However, in order to maximize teleworking’s benefits, businesses must make sure they have a smart policy in place. Here are five tips for doing just that:

1. Clearly Explain the Rules

When allowing staff to work from home, it’s essential to have clear rules. Not all roles are suited for teleworking, so businesses must first understand what teleworking employees want out of their teleworking arrangements, define which positions are eligible, and decide how often staff will be permitted to take advantage of this option. It may be wise to start by offering limited teleworking days and then expanding on them once it becomes clear that teleworking is going well. Employees can sometimes become envious when they learn someone else has a more generous teleworking arrangement than they do, so businesses should get out in front of that potential problem by clearly explaining the rationale behind any differences in teleworking privileges that may be granted to the staff.

Employees and their managers must also have mutually agreed-upon expectations for the teleworking staff member’s availability under this arrangement. Any team members with whom the teleworking employee collaborates must know how and when they can establish virtual communication with them — whether via a video chat, an instant messaging session, or a phone call — and when they can expect a response. As with any major initiative, businesses should define the goals their teleworking policy intends to achieve and track metrics related to those goals, such as productivity, reduced absenteeism, or employee satisfaction. Teleworking staff should also have clear individual performance targets that are tracked and reviewed on a regular basis.

2. Actively Foster Collaboration

Teleworking can boost workplace collaboration, but doing so requires thoughtful leadership and the right technology for the job. Employees who work from home sometimes feel left out of important business developments, wishing they were as “in the know” as their colleagues. This could lead to a fear that their contributions to the business might be overlooked, setting them back professionally. Remote staff may also feel that they cannot enjoy the same productivity as their office-based colleagues if they do not have access to similar technology tools at home.

Businesses must make sure teleworking employees feel like they are a part of the life of the company. This requires thinking carefully about how to best bring teleworkers into staff meetings and team events. For example, video conferencing solutions may be a good option to help teleworkers participate. If important company announcements are coming down the pike, it’s vital to ensure teleworkers are informed via the appropriate channels — whether that’s in private conversations with their managers or through a companywide email. Businesses can go a long way toward keeping their remote staff engaged by equipping them with teleworking and mobility solutions that help them stay plugged in to what’s going on at the company.

3. Ensure Proper Oversight

As much as businesses might like teleworking to be a “set it and forget it” type of arrangement, it’s usually a work in progress — especially in the beginning. When teleworking doesn’t go well, it’s often due to a lack of sufficient oversight, frequently because there has been little to no training for managers on how to monitor their remotely located staff.

Contrary to what you might assume, virtual communication can introduce challenges for some managers and their employees, since it becomes harder to understand the nuance of what a person is trying to say. Managers in particular need practical guidance on how to supervise their teleworking staff and how remote team members can best collaborate with their office-based colleagues. With proactive oversight, gradual adjustments, and the right technology features, a business can ensure its teleworking policy is successful.

4. Understand Teleworkers’ Unique Needs

Teleworkers are a unique class unto themselves when it comes to supporting both managerial and technical needs. Business processes that hum along seamlessly when everyone is physically collocated in the office may not work quite as well when staff is working remotely, requiring tweaks or adjustments. Remote workers may also face barriers to productivity that their colleagues in the office don’t encounter.

Check in with teleworking staff periodically, particularly after they have just begun working from home, to make sure they have everything they need to work efficiently and feel like a valued member of the team. This feedback can be helpful, particularly when you’re keeping an eye out for technology solutions that facilitate effortless virtual group collaboration in online meetings or video conferences with a single tap or click — even across devices, so colleagues can remain in touch on the go.

5. Consider How Teleworking Ties Into Other Policies

When businesses let staff work from home, they often find that teleworking ties into many other aspects of IT and operations, including BYOD policies, mobile device management, procedures on closing the office in the event of severe weather, and business continuity. IT managers should review how teleworking intersects with other aspects of how business gets done at the company and determine whether it poses any opportunities or challenges that must be addressed.

With a thoughtful approach to a teleworking policy, both businesses and their employees can enjoy the best of what it has to offer.

Interested in learning more? Find out how Vonage Business can help your organization make the most of flexible work arrangements.

About Rose de Fremery

Rose de Fremery is a New York-based writer and technologist. She is the former Managing Editor of The Social Media Monthly, the world’s first and only print magazine devoted to the social media revolution. Rose currently blogs about business IT topics including VoIP, UC, CRM, business innovation, and telework for Ziff-Davis as well as HP’s Tektonika program, HP Innovation Journal, HP Channel, Intel, and Vonage’s content marketing program.

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