Remote work is common today. More companies allow their employees to work from home than ever before. According to a survey by Gallup, 43 percent of American employees had the chance to work remotely in 2016, compared to 39 percent in 2012. This number is only expected to grow.
Working from home requires respect on both ends. Flexible managers should be able to trust their employees to work hard, and workers need to hold themselves accountable to do so. However, this freedom can cause some workers to develop poor behaviors.
"Working remotely doesn't necessarily encourage bad habits as much as it creates blind spots for bad habits to thrive," said Mason Traveil, human resources manager at Koi LLC. "Sometimes being out there on your own causes you to become a lone wolf in what should be a larger corporate ecosystem."
Working from home might have its complications and downsides. However, not allowing remote work at all can be just as bad of a practice, said Freek Vermeulen, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the London Business School and author of "Breaking Bad Habits" (Harvard Business Review Press, 2017).
If you or your employees take advantage of remote work privileges, you'll miss out on all its benefits, like flexibility, lower costs and fewer commuting hassles. While there are many complications with remote working, this doesn't mean you need to put an end to it. Here's how to get the best of both worlds.
Avoid these behaviors when working remotely or creating a remote work policy.
Not building a culture
A strong company culture is important for all small businesses. However, when employees get the chance to work from home, they often neglect this concept.
"Each company wants and needs to create an atmosphere that sends a message of a wonderful working environment, and many HR professionals work very hard at building that," said Traveil. "However, these efforts tend to be lost on employees who work remotely. Virtual workers sometimes miss out on the community that most employees feel by coming into the office on a regular basis."
Additionally, Vermeulen stated that when people are not co-located, they often lose their speed, customization and innovation. This is especially true when they work on group projects.
"The limited interactions with other employees can create a distance between the teammates and the timeline," said Traveil.
Feeding into distractions
When you're working in the same environment where you relax, sleep or spend your free time, you'll likely struggle to stay motivated and focused.
Traveil stated that with little to no supervision, it's easy to get sidetracked.
"Virtual employees are also more vulnerable to various distractions such as children, pets, TVs and other home life matters," he said.
Vermeulen said some people might not even work at all, whether that's intentional or not.
Underestimating face-to-face communication
While you can communicate with other workers without being in the office, communicating in person is still critical.
Vermeulen stated that the biggest issue with remote working is the lack of face-to-face communication. When you speak to someone through a screen or on a call, you often miss out on the chance to connect with them on a more personal level. This affects the entire company's performance and relationship.
Master these practices to leverage remote working opportunities.
Maintain a live schedule.
Since you're not seeing your colleagues every day, it's hard to stay updated on their whereabouts and the goings-on of the company.
"Virtual workers need to make it a point to have a living schedule," said Traveil. "By keeping constant updates and reminders, it is easy to stay abreast of what the rest of the team is doing and not get behind or miss deadlines."
There are many tools and apps that keep track of moving parts of assignments, meetings, days when other employees are in the office and more, he added.
Create a physical workspace.
Just because you're working at home or in your pajamas doesn't mean you can't create a productive environment.
"By setting a particular space in the home that is only for work, such as an office or a particular spot at a dining room table, it is a clear message to the employees and anyone around them that they are in work mode," said Traveil.
It can be as simple as setting up a desk with notepads and pens or clearing some space at your kitchen table rather than lounging on the couch or in bed. Make sure you have zero distractions: Turn off your TV, put on some bright lights, keep your phone on silent unless it's needed for work, etc.
Create a virtual workspace.
A virtual workspace is just as important as a physical one. Rather than isolating yourself from your colleagues, initiate video calls and group messages.
"Create a space for all online employees to meet frequently," said Traveil. "Having video conferences or conference calls builds community within a team and makes sure no one feels left out."
Make sure everyone receives an equal amount of attention, and that no one feels out of the loop.
"When managing workers who are not in the office daily, it is important that supervisors provide them with all the information necessary," said Traveil. "It is taken for granted how much vital information side conversations contain."
Don't come in only when you have a reason.
While it's tempting to stay at home as much as possible, don't save in-office days only for required meetings.
According to Vermeulen, "the root of true innovation very often lies in chance meetings." Organize lunches or after-work dinners, and push yourself to come in when others are around – even if your agenda is free that day. This will enable these face-to-face meetings and entice others to the office.
"Remote work could be a bad practice if you push it too far," said Vermeulen. However, if you make the effort to show up often and connect with colleagues, you'll find the practice more beneficial than problematic.
"It's a matter of striking the right balance," he said.