5 Tips for Managing Remote Workers Successfully

What could be better than working from home? For a lot of workers it sounds like heaven. But bosses don’t always see it the same way, and they worry about things like tech support or what remote employees are really doing. Telecommuting can help you cut costs, and it’s a great perk to offer your workers. Here are five tips to minimize management headaches.

So Who Needs an Office?

It’s hard to beat face-time for maintaining communications and good relationships, so one approach that works well for a lot of shops is a mix of on- and offsite: some days your telecommuters come to work in the office, and some days they stay home.

You’ll have to re-think how to allocate office space for workers that don’t need to come into an office every day, because it doesn’t make sense to maintain full-time space for part-time inhabitants. But they’ll still need their own dedicated space somewhere, so don’t repeat the infamous Chiat/Day experiment from back in the 1990s.

In 1993 Jay Chiat, legendary ad man and founder of the agency that created Apple’s 1984 commercial and the Energizer bunny, decided that Chiat-Day was going to boldly march into the new millennium as a completely mobile, boundary-free office.

The company equipped all the employees with cell phones and Mac books, and they took away the desks and offices. They emancipated employees from their little cubicle prisons and set them free. All the walls came down, and instead of offices and cubicles they had shared public areas. The rest of the time they could work at home, at the beach, at the coffee shop — anywhere and anytime they wanted, wherever the creative/productive vibes came together and created magic.

Brick Wall

Figure 1: Who wants to look at this all day? (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

There was a wee flaw in this beautiful scheme: it didn’t work. Employees had to check out their phones and Mac books at the start of each work day, and then check them back in at the end of the day. They were still tethered to the office, they never got the same devices, and they couldn’t build address books, their own document archives, or customize applications to their liking.

Without walls the noise level was high. The only storage was a rack of lockers, high-school style. Nobody knew where to sit or where to store their stuff. (Read the whole Wired magazine story, Lost in Space . It’s a testament to the power of a boss with a bad idea.)

The lesson in this tale is infrastructure and workflow. We all need a place for our stuff, and we need our stuff arranged to support an efficient workflow. It’s extremely inefficient to start over every day like the Chiat-Day folks.

Suppose you have a remote worker who works in the office one or two days per week — this person might share an office or cubicle with someone who comes in the other days. Someone who comes to the office a couple of days every month will still need some storage space, and a place to sit down and work. Some shops handle this with a “bullpen,” which is space dedicated to temporary and roaming workers.

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