Consultant Corner: Four Keys for Successful Remote Workers

The number of people who are working remotely continues to grow, and companies have found many benefits from cost savings to decreased turnover. But working remotely isn’t for everyone. Here are four key areas to consider.

Technology: The right technology must be in place to support remote workers (such as VPN or some other form of remote access). Then there are the devices (routers, computers, phones, headsets, etc.) that are required. If the remote workers are part of a contact center, the technology must support call recording, adherence, etc. for remote workers. The goal is for remote workers (and their managers) to have all the access and tools they would have if they were on-site. From an organizational perspective, this is the area where the company has the most control.

In addition, remote workers require reliable high-speed Internet service at their remote location. Also, it’s best to have a computer that is only used for work. Technical support for remote workers can be more difficult, and a computer that doesn’t have a lot of other applications loaded on it is easier to support and often more secure.

Environment: Next, remote workers must have an environment that enables them to concentrate on work. Do they have their own office space? Is the space isolated enough to provide a quiet place to work? Are there young children or challenged adults who need attention? Is the worker’s family willing to support them working at home?

Personality: Once these basics have been established, the next thing to consider is the personality of the remote worker. A lot of research has been done to figure out the attributes of successful remote workers. These characteristics include:

  • Independent thought and a willingness to take initiative. According to Aon Hewitt’s Chad Thompson, people who like regimented schedules and concrete instructions on how to do their jobs won’t perform as well in virtual work settings. Those who tend to struggle in virtual team situations are people who wait for instructions and want to be told what to do.
  • In an article for Entrepreneur magazine, David and Carrie McKeegan talk about their hiring process. “During interviews, we ask people how they would go about solving a problem they haven’t had before. If the response is to ‘ask us’ before trying on their own, we know they aren’t going to succeed in a virtual context.”
  • Good written and spoken communication skills are critical, especially since remote workers by definition usually interact with others via audio (phone, conference calls, etc.) or written communication rather than face-to-face. Since the non-verbal body language is lost, what is said or written must be clear and unambiguous to avoid misunderstandings. The “lone wolf” doesn’t make a good remote worker because most don’t have good communication skills.
  • Superior technical skills are an asset because virtual workers don’t have the same accessibility to tech support as most in-house workers. This requires them to have computer skills and a knack for figuring things out on their own.
  • A self-motivated and self-disciplined mindset enables remote workers to manage their workday and workload, deal with interruptions, and maintain focus. While these characteristics are good in any setting, they’re more important for remote workers who often don’t have anyone watching over their shoulder and correcting them.

Management: Finally, there is proper management of the remote workers. This includes remote access to time tracking tools, and clear policies regarding expectations and goals. More importantly, it takes an extra effort by managers of remote staff to create a sense of belonging and keeping remote workers engaged. The casual conversations that occur in an office environment help to create camaraderie and these don’t always happen with remote workers. Care needs to be taken to avoid the “out of sight, out of mind” situation that can easily develop. Deliberately making time for casual, social conversation as part of team meetings can help workers feel connected. Most importantly, managers must decide what’s important for evaluating employee performance and focus on results rather than personalities. Providing feedback on performance early and often is recommended.

Do you work remotely? What has made you successful?

Melissa Swartz

Melissa Swartz

Melissa’s company (Swartz Consulting, LLC) guides enterprise business clients through the complex process of finding the right communications technology solutions for their business and getting the solution implemented properly. She concentrates on providing clients with experience, expertise and integrity in technology consulting. Her experience includes many VOIP, unified communications, and contact center implementations. Melissa believes that unbiased consultants whose only source of revenue is their clients (and who do not receive any form of payment from vendors for making a recommendation) are best positioned to help clients make optimal decisions.