working from home

How to collaborate remotely and make it work: perspectives for managers

Telecommuting has recently been touted as one of the top four trends for 2013; oDesk CEO Gary Swart expands on this evolving work experience:

It’s no secret that telecommuting, flexible work arrangements, distributed teams and even entirely virtual companies have exploded over the past few years. We’re bringing the work to the workers, reversing the almost antiquated model of bringing workers to the work. And in doing so, the way we work is changing rapidly, with everything from organizational structures and team workflows to career paths and education undergoing radical shifts.

The Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation found that nearly 9.4 million Americans, or 6.6% of workers, worked exclusively from home on their primary job in 2010, up from 4.8% in 1997. But few employers have gone as far as Aetna. In 1996, the insurance giant decided to allow select employees to work from home as their acquisition of U.S. Healthcare stirred concern over employee loss. Ten years later, although only 9% of the their employees were telecommuting, the company began to see working from home as more than a favor to employees—it was also an opportunity to drive down costs, particularly those associated with real estate. Currently, an astounding 47% of Aetna’s 35,000 U.S. employees work from home.

The Street’s Brian O’Connell supports these upward trends, predicting that telecommuting will flourish this year as companies embrace the option as a savvy, belt-tightening move that also appeals to employees.

How can remote managers tap into this powerful trend and collaborate effectively? Adopting a new work framework such as ROWE (Results-Oriented-Work-Environment) can help managers transition their employees into a telecommuting work force:

Essentially, ROWE rewards bottom-line performance, not presence in the office. The focus shifts from the subjective experience of a worker’s presence on site to delivered results and employee performance. A Results-Oriented-Work-Environment empowers everyone to do their job when and where they want while maintaining optimal productivity.

Availability and Accountability
When ROWEs are implemented, boundaries blur as the freedom of schedules and work locations is challenged by constant contact with work via the technologies we carry with us every day. Managers must clearly define expectations regarding employee availability. A hybrid approach is often the first step: a set number of core office hours is established that employees can anchor to; from there, schedules can “satellite.” Understanding that employees are available during reasonable timeframes while still being accountable for projects, responsibilities and results is an essential component of the ROWE relationship.

Processes, Tools and Technology
By working with available tools and systems and building intelligent work processes, managers are able to implement a quantified system of evaluating employee performance within a ROWE. For some employees, this can be intimidating at first; however, by supplementing expectations with intelligent, integrated processes, tools and technology that provide seamless collaboration among remote workers and their in-office counterparts, managers can more easily communicate goals and ensure that they are achieved. Whether an impromptu brainstorm session or a weekly status run through, its essential that processes and tools are working for everyone at every stage.

Balance losses and gains
Many of the critics who resist telecommuting, remote work and results-oriented work environments claim that that there is an indefinable “something” missing when coworkers are not physically in the office and surrounded by familiar faces, sights and sounds. There is something to that. And yet, the advancements in virtual meeting technology can not only connect and engage coworkers every day, it provides a bridge to new people and work dynamics. Video conferencing technology erases geographic boundaries and has the power to turn remote workers into global partners.

Virtual collaboration is undoubtedly a part of the future workplace. At PGi, that future is today. We have just compiled new information—along with our partners Jive Software, Plantronics, BrandGlue, Jonathan Farrington & Associates and Frost & Sullivan—that outlines several key trends in collaboration currently taking place in the workplace.

Our free eBook offers the latest insights into hot business trends, features eye-opening infographics and reveals the many benefits of adopting these groundbreaking trends into your business.


About Lea G.

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