keep employees engaged and productive.

  • workforce insights
  • July 21, 2017

A policy permitting your employees to work from home can be more than simply a nice perk. It can also boost your bottom line. However, it’s not as simple as telling employees to find a quiet corner of the house with multiple power outlets. Working from home presents your employees with several challenges they likely do not encounter when they are at the office. Before instituting a work-from-home policy, consider implementing practices that will help them overcome common challenges.

You may be wondering if offering employees the opportunity to work remotely is even a good idea, particularly given the practice recently received a couple black eyes. IBM, which has long been a leader in terms of letting employees work from home, announced this year it is changing its policy. Back in 2007, the company reported that about 40 percent of its employees worldwide did not have a traditional office. But last May, Big Blue announced many of its employees will have to return to the office. Yahoo! also made a similar announcement this year.

Yet, IBM and Yahoo! appear to be the exception. Working from home is not a new trend, as the number of employees who work from home at least part time has been growing steadily for years. A recent survey by Gallup found that over the past four years, the percentage of employees who work remotely 100 percent of the time has risen from 15 percent to 20 percent. Gallup also predicts that number will keeping growing as more organizations adjust their policies to attract and keep talented employees.

Research by Global Workplace Analytics finds that nearly six out of ten employers identify cost savings as a significant benefit to telecommuting. For example, a quarter of Dell’s employees work from home either full time or a few days a week, and the company wants to double that number by 2020. Dell reports it saves about $12 million a year in real estate costs by consolidating and creating more flexible workspace options.

In addition to the financial benefits, consider the advantage you’ll create from a recruiting standpoint. You can expand your search for the most qualified job candidates and not have to pay relocation expenses, as well as offer flexible work schedules. These perks help reduce employee attrition rates.

While letting employees work from home can empower them with a sense of autonomy and the chance to work in a distraction-free environment, they will also have to wrestle with feelings of isolation and detachment from their colleagues.

You can help them overcome those feelings. Keep them engaged and happy by following these five key steps:

1. provide tools of the trade

Do not count on employees already having a modern PC or laptop, a high-speed internet connection or a VoIP-capable phone. Supply them with all the equipment they need, including a computer loaded with any necessary software applications, such as VPN and email clients. Also, create accounts for them with all cloud-based services and applications your company uses, like Dropbox, so they can be up and running on day one.

2. utilize one communications/collaboration platform

Communicating with team members and other colleagues can be difficult if some people use Skype, and others use Google Hangouts or Slack. Creating and sharing files grows unnecessarily complex if one team works in Microsoft Office and others use Google’s G-Suite. Pick one platform or application, and roll it out enterprise wide.

3. schedule regular team meetings

There’s no better way to keep everyone on the same page than the weekly team meeting, even if you hold that meeting via conference call or online video chat. Also, consider holding team-building events that bring everyone together at least once a year.

4. make time for one-on-one meetings

It’s not uncommon for an employee to wonder what his or her manager is thinking, and that can quickly lead to feelings of isolation and distraction for remote employees. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings, both friendly, weekly catch-ups and formal quarterly or annual reviews.

5. get them out of the house

The Gallup survey cited above also found that employees feel most engaged when they are able to split their time between their home and work offices. The ideal balance appears to be spending about 60 to 80 percent of the week at home, and the rest of the time in the office.

We humans are social creatures by nature, and everyone needs some interaction with actual people. If your remote employees live close to the office, create temporary spaces that make it easy for them to sit down, plug in their laptops and smartphones, and get to work. If they live too far away, consider paying part or all of a co-working space membership fee. That may cost you a few hundred dollars a month, but that’s still much more cost effective than leasing office space.

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