I recently saw an article online reporting Tony Hsieh’s well-known declaration, “I don’t want my employees to work from home.” On the same web page as this article, right underneath this in-your-face headline was an in-your-face banner ad that read: “Work at home $19-$29/Hr. No experience required. Apply now!”
I smiled. Ah, the contrast.
There are some in the world — Tony Hsieh, Marissa Mayer, etc., — who strongly oppose anything that smacks of telecommuting. There are others, however, who swear by the practice of remote work. Remote workers are a resource particularly suited for those in online industries of any variety, particularly content marketing and SEO.
Chances are, you have feelings on the matter one way or the other. This piece speaks to the skeptics, the naysayers, and the Hsieh sympathizers. My thesis is pretty simple: Working from home can work. In fact, it should work. But there are five important factors in order to make it work for your organization.
1. Hire experienced remote workers.
By “experienced” I’m not just talking about people who have experience in their field, but people who are experienced in working remotely. Remote work has its own set of unique challenges and skills. The best remote workers are those who have done it in the past and can do it again.
The phrase “work from home” has an aura of warm blankets, late breakfasts, TV breaks, and mid-morning naps with one’s cat cozily snuggled up close.
But, the truly experienced work from home crowd know how to control the urge to crawl back into bed. Novices jump at the opportunity to work from home for all the wrong and most obvious reasons. If at all possible, hire remote workers who know by experience the difference between reality and glam.
2. Expect results.
Managers have often gazed in wonder at the mystique of ROWE – Results Only Work Environment. According to this management model, employees receive compensation for the work they do, not merely for filling their cubicle. In other words, the worker doesn’t need even need to show up in the office. They need to deliver results.
There’s nothing mysterious about it. GoRowe.com explains, “Results-Only Work Environment is a management strategy where employees are evaluated on performance, not presence.”
Although ROWE is not without its pitfalls — BestBuy tried it, but couldn’t bide it — it possesses the kernel of a successful remote work strategy: Expect results.
A remote worker should provide deliverables, show progress, and basically ensure that he or she is doing what’s asked of him. Whether that happens in a corporate-sponsored cubicle, at a Starbucks table, or at a home office can be up to the worker.
3. Compensate them fully and generously.
There are some managers who think that because remote workers get to do their work in PJs and fuzzy slippers they don’t have to pay them as much.
This kind of thinking should change. Remote workers deserve the same level of benefits and compensation potential as do their commuting colleagues. It is managerial common sense to recognize that benefits and compensation are core elements of employee satisfaction.
4. Interface regularly.
Managers and their remote employees should interact, if for no other reason than to maintain a relationship and accountability. This can be a formal call, a daily Skype chat, or simply instant message. It’s ideal if you can make regular real-time contact.
5. Don’t force it. Offer it.
Finally, realize that remote work isn’t for everyone. There will be those Four Hour Work Week fans who are dreaming about their muse and chomping at the bit to leave the office. But there will be those Zappos wannabes who yearn for the close-knit collaboration of a family-like work environment. There is not a single satisfactory solution for every personality, every company culture, and every type of work.
The key to allowing your workers to work best is to give them freedom to thrive. If they hit a groove working at home, let ‘em at it. If they do their best work in a collaborative huddle at work, encourage it. If they prefer showing up at 4am to pound out some solid work in solitude, then give them a thumbs up. Workers are not automatons, forcing their natural proclivities and personalities to match the rigidity of a corporate edict. Workers are flexible, creative, growing, organic, thinking, thriving people. Your role as manager is to allow them to succeed and assist the company in the way that best suits them.
I’ve been doing this remote work thing for several years. I’ve been a VP of marketing for a worldwide digital goods provider, done work for companies in Estonia, managed projects in Australia, performed consulting in South Africa, written content for a Latvian company, and managed workers in the Philippines. And it’s all happened from my remote office. Sometimes my remote office is at an island beach house, for a few weeks it was in the far flung arid air of Ecuadorean Andes, but usually it’s a quiet booth at Panera Bread.
Remote can work. In fact, you should give it a try. Now you know how to do it right.