Don’t Set Your Remote Workers Up to Fail!

working at home on a laptop computer

Working remotely is not a fad. The remote workforce as a whole continues to expand (the number of remote workers in the US grew by 61% between 2005 and 2009[1]). And the rest of the workforce is spending more time working in places other than the office (one in four U.S. workers work from home at least some of the time.) [2]  Many employees appreciate the flexibility of working remotely and recent research suggests they are willing to make sacrifices in return for even greater work flexibility.[3]

The arguments in favor of telecommuting are many, including:

  • Environmental benefits (fewer daily commuters means reduced greenhouse gas emissions)
  • Employee health benefits (less stress from commuting, improved physical and mental health)[4]
  • Improved productivity (teleworkers are more productive, even when sick)[5]
  • Increased employee satisfaction
  • Reduced physical plant costs

Of course, there are also a number of arguments against remote work, such as:

  • It blurs the line between work and personal time
  • Teleworkers may be expected to work longer hours and be available when not on the clock
  • Remote workers can be a challenge to manage
  • Remote workers may suffer from a sense of isolation
  • It’s harder to collaborate and innovate with a distributed team

Whichever side of this fence you lean on, chances are you’ll be faced with the reality of flexible work arrangements and work-from-home requests with increasing frequency in future. When the time comes, and you inevitably add home-office to your list of active workplaces, make sure you get off on the right foot. In other words, don’t set your remote workers (or the people who manage them) up to fail.

Here are some failure-inducing practices you will want to avoid:

Ignoring remote workers or letting them disconnect

One of the deadliest mistakes you can make is taking an “out of sight out of mind” approach to your remote workers. Communication is critical, from both directions. Encourage remote workers to stay connected with their teams and make sure that managers pro-actively reach out on a regular basis.

Penalizing remote workers for lack of presence

It’s easy to overlook the contribution of someone you seldom see. If remote workers are part of your team, make sure to measure performance according to results rather than less objective criteria. If you’ve decided to offer flexible work options, remember that where the work gets done shouldn’t be a factor in performance assessment. Of course, we’re all human and good working relationships can be harder to form remotely, so it’s important to incorporate periodic face-time among teams and with managers, if possible. If distances are too great, encourage video conferencing.

Keeping remote workers out of the loop

Some remote workers report feeling isolated.[6] They miss the social environment of the office and the informal interactions with co-workers and managers. They may feel out of touch with the day-to-day activities they used to be on top of. Often, getting support and the answers to questions is (or seems to be) harder for remote workers. Managers need to touch base informally on a regular basis and keep remote workers informed; be as responsive as possible, and make sure that remote workers are included on all team and company communications. They should also encourage those working remotely to make an extra effort to stay informed and keep in touch with co-workers.

Giving remote workers inferior technology or limited access

One of the most common challenges remote workers face is inadequate technology. A recent report from Forrester[7], commissioned by Citrix, found that many remote workers experience a technology gap. Most respondents (85%) indicated they use a smart phone or tablet when working remotely, but 44% did not believe they could access the work applications they needed on that mobile device. Smartphones in particular were rated low for work tasks.

Specifically, a technology gap was identified as most critical in the following three areas:

  • 44% of respondents want better collaboration tools (webconferencing, voice/video chat, instant messaging service).
  • 42% want better remote access tools (e.g. employee intranet or portal).
  • 40% want better file synchronization/sharing for business data.

The report concluded that many of the potential benefits of flexible work arrangements (including productivity gains) are eroded by these gaps in technology.

Providing inadequate management

Finally, you will set your remote workers up to fail if your managers of distributed teams don’t have the training they need to be effective. Kathleen Fujawa, a senior manager at Teach for America puts it this way:

“If in-office management is level 101, remote management is level 501. You have to be better at everything,”[8]

The most important aspects of managing remotely include: lots of communication, actively building relationships, and being accessible and responsive.

Flexible work arrangements continue to top many employees most-wanted list, beaten only by salary increases[9]. If you don’t already have employees who work remotely at least some of the time, you likely will soon. You can start preparing for the change by devloping a remote work policy to ensure consistent treatment of remote workers. More importantly, make sure you plan to avoid these common pitfalls so you can set your remote workers up for success from day one!


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Photo credit: photo by graur razvan ionut, courtesy of

[1] The State of Telework in the US. Telework Research Network

[2] Bureau of Labor Statistics cited in Real Statistics on Remote Worker Collaboration

[6] Sloan Review. Set Up Remote Workers to Thrive

[8] Cited in, Leading from a Distance: The Art of Remote Management.

[9] CareerBuilder Survey Reveals Most Wanted Office Perks and What Motivates Workers to Stay With Companies.

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