When you work from home you'll spend more time with your pets

I took this picture while I was working from home. I was being productive and focused, but also enjoying the company of my two dogs – a great benefit of being able to work remotely.

Whether you approve or not, more and more people are working from home.

The reality is, in this day and age, employees are aware that their work doesn’t need to be tied to a desk in an office from 9 to 5. If their job can be done online, there are serious advantages to allowing them to work from home, even for just one day per week.

There are clear benefits but also unique challenges when employees work from home. Here are some thoughts and suggestions on how you can manage and optimize remote teams.

Advantages of a Distributed Workforce

If you’re on the fence about a remote workforce, let’s start with the benefits of a distributed team (or, at least, a work-from-home day).

For employees, one major advantage is the lack of commute. This might not seem like such a strong selling point for management, but the reality is that there’s an astonishing amount of human potential wasted during commutes.

It takes an average of 26 minutes for most Americans to commute to work one direction. At 26 minutes, twice a day, five days a week, 50 weeks per year, that’s 13,000 minutes per year, or over 216 hours per year, or a little over nine full days lost to commuting per year. And keep in mind, not all Americans commute for just 26 minutes!

Instead of wasting that time commuting; when your employees work from home they can get dressed, grab breakfast and get down to business. And since we’re all connected all the time anyway, it’s easier than ever to work remotely.

From the manager’s side, having fewer employees in the office every day means that you can save on rent in a smaller office space. You also won’t have to spend as much money on office supplies, office snacks, in-house maintenance, and other routine costs.

Plus, studies show that your employees may be happier. In fact, employees who regularly work remotely stay with their companies longer than those with no remote options. And that means they’re more productive for longer periods of time. In short, you’ll be making a better investment in your employees.

Unique Challenges for Remote Teams

While the benefits are real, teams that work from home also face challenges that are different from traditional teams. There will be challenges your office has to account for if you want to see the real benefits of remote work.

One of the biggest difficulties with remote workforces is developing a feeling of unity. Many remote employees crave the social aspect of work that’s no longer present if they can work from their own couch.

It’s also more difficult (but not impossible) to establish a strong workplace culture. That creates a tricky situation, because in the absence of social ties to make employees feel connected to a company, the culture critical for building engagement and loyalty can be lacking.

In addition, there are also some communication difficulties attached associated with remote work. If you can’t pop down the hall and knock on your colleague’s door when you have a question, you have to be able to communicate effectively through other means or you won’t be able to get anything done.

Why Your Remote Team Needs Even More Attention

This is why it’s important to understand that your remote team can actually require more attention than a traditional in-office workforce.

It’s not impossible to manage a remote group of employees, but it does demand more deliberate effort. Your employees aren’t there in person to see the work you’re doing to bring them together, so you’ll have to branch out to show them that you’re invested in them.

Basically, you have to be prepared to actively promote a sense of connection. Otherwise, it’s easy for offsite employees to think that their work isn’t valued.

Supporting Work From Home Teams

With that in mind, let’s talk about how you can address issues (and maximize the benefits) of your workforce. The key is to be aware of the challenges facing your work from home team and actively take steps to mitigate those challenges.

Prioritize Team Building

First and foremost, you have to prioritize team building for your remote team. This will help promote that critical sense of connection that so many stay at home workers struggle to find.

This is especially important when you’re recruiting new employees. On one hand, remote work makes the on-boarding less overwhelming. On the other hand, it can be more isolating since new hires don’t have a way to get to know everyone quickly.

The best team building activities are those that help employees get to know each other while also having fun together. Look for creative activities, even if you have a non-creative team, as this forces everyone to branch out of their comfort zone and come together in the process.

Keep Communication Clear, Organized, and Specific

Remote teams require a different set of collaboration and communication skills than in-office groups. Since you don’t have easy access to your colleagues and you can only receive information via digital communication, your communication has to be very deliberate.

To that end, always focus on keeping your lines of communication specific. Employees should know where they can communicate with you and when. Communication should also be clear and organized. Remember, they can’t knock on your door if they have a question.

This is also critical in establishing clear performance expectations and boundaries. If your employees don’t know what you expect, it’s unreasonable to think that they’ll magically arrive at the desired result.

Use communication apps like Slack and similar for daily, fast communication, but don’t be afraid to incorporate video chats as well. This allows everyone the benefit of reading each other’s body language and facial expressions while addressing an actual person, or at least a person on a computer screen!

Should You Let Employees Work from Home?

So, should you let employees work from home? If you’re prepared to invest in building a team with a solid culture, fantastic communication skills, and clear expectations, then go for it.

And if you already have a remote team that you want to strengthen, I hope you’ll consider the work we do here at Kidbilly Music. Our team building programs can help you meet your unique challenges.

About Billy Kirsch

Billy is a Grammy & Emmy nominated, CMA & ACM award winning songwriter with numerous Top 10 hits to his credit. His team building programs and keynote speaking presentations help people tap into their creative abilities to become more innovative and engaged in their work. Clients include Fortune 100 companies and organizations throughout the world.