Remote Working: Dream Gig or Operations Nightmare?

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Ten to fifteen years ago, startup and small business leaders rarely dreamt of launching global businesses with remote employees. Between the time differences and the lack of transparency, telecommuting was more of a burden than a solution. But now, thanks to the Internet and the proliferation of mobile devices, remote work is the new normal and is providing companies with more creative ways to offer perks to employees that focus on that ever elusive work-life balance. And managing a team across borders, office buildings, campuses and even work from home days has never been easier.

So, how do you ensure that telecommuting lives up to its glory instead of becoming an operational disaster? You guessed it—by building a strong culture of communication and streamlining work operations through workflow automation.

Recruit Your Remote A-Team

Let’s be honest: Not everyone thrives in a remote work setting. It takes a special type of employee to stay productive while working in pajamas, so the first step is to hire someone who can remain focused while in the comfort of their own home.

First, you need to ensure potential hires are not only capable of working alone but prefer it. Ideally, you’ll want to hire someone with previous remote work experience—but at the very least, look for employees with these attributes:

  • Self-sufficiency. Sure, you’ll need to give initial direction—but you want someone who can bring tasks to the finish line whether you’re online or not. Hire the champions who don’t cringe at the idea of a challenge, but embrace it.
  • Tech-savviness. Digital expertise is a critical skill for remote workers. If employees lack a basic understanding of your key platforms, you’re looking at hours wasted on trying to navigate tools instead of actually producing work.
  • Strong communication skills. Not to be confused with extroversion, you need employees who can effectively communicate problems and paint clear pictures of tasks. Strength in words will help make up for the lack of in-person guidance.

Create a Language Heard ‘Round the World

Let’s say you’ve got Stacy from HR living in Chicago, Joe from accounting based out of Los Angeles, and a few other key team members living in New York City—sound like a talent management nightmare? Well, it’s not if you foster a strong culture of communication.

One of the biggest disadvantages of telecommuting is the lack of face time with fellow employees. But that doesn’t mean that watercooler banter will be nonexistent—you just have to get creative:

  • Embrace video. Video conferencing helps put names to faces and brings back the human element of working as a team. Try hosting client meetings or internal happy hours via Google Hangouts.
  • Implement chat platforms. A number of messaging platforms, like HipChat, are designed for casual conversations as well as easy file transfers. Build some “fun” forums where employees can share funny moments and personal anecdotes—it helps boost team bonding that would happen naturally in a physical office.

Unleash the Power of Workflow Automation

When workflows are improperly designed, you risk losing documents, wasting productivity and botching deliverables. Throw remote employees into that mix, and it gets even more complex; that’s why automating workflows and streamlining processes is essential for remote team success.

From employee onboarding to submitting HR change requests, there should be a defined process for every aspect of your organization. The processes should offer enough flexibility to scale, but also provide enough structure for employees to carry out their work despite the absence of others. And many of these processes—like submitting reimbursement forms, document approvals, task reminders, and more—can be automated through workflow automation. With workflow automation, you can ensure that documents wind up in the right hands, deadlines are never missed, and remote employees’ hours are spent on work that matters.

The growing shift to telecommuting is proof that it’s possible to manage a remote team—all it requires is a well-defined process, a strong team, and a culture that all employees align with.