Telecommuting is on the rise. According to Gallup, 37% of workers do some form of telecommuting. While most of those people aren’t working from home full time, the number of employees that do is growing as well, with a 103% increase since 2005.
Working from home is still far from the norm for most of the United States population, but it’s definitely something we can all expect to see more of in the years to come – and with good reason.
Telecommuting provides a host of benefits to both businesses and workers:
- Workers save time on commutes, in some cases getting an hour or more back each day from the time saved.
- In cities with serious traffic problems more people working from home means less people out on the roads during rush hour, which benefits everybody.
- Research has found that working from home can actually increase productivity.
- Full-time remote employees don’t need office space provided by the company, saving businesses money in real estate costs. Aetna’s reportedly saving $78 million a year by having more of their workforce work from home.
- Businesses can hire the best employees for each position, without being hampered by geographic location.
As persuasive as all that may be, in a creative field like marketing, great ideas are often fueled by collaboration and mindsharing amongst members of the team. And someone who isn’t physically present in the office could easily miss out on important updates or changes to the plan if they’re not around to hear about them.
That doesn’t mean you have to give up on all those telecommuting benefits though. With the right approach and the help of technology, you can keep all your telecommuting employees in the loop and still get what you need from your marketing team – no matter where they’re physically located.
Use project management tools and a shared calendar to keep everyone on track.
Project management software makes it easy for teams to stay on the same page throughout the course of a project. You can clarify who’s responsible for what, and each team member can update their progress as they go in a forum where everyone else can see.
A shared calendaring system also simplifies the process of ensuring everyone knows the primary deadlines to stay on top of. If your marketing analytics inspire a change of course, your out-of-the-office employees will have ample opportunity to see the new plan and changed deadlines in real time.
Loop them into meetings with conferencing software.
Productive meetings are an important part of keeping any marketing team on track, connected, and working toward the same goals. They’re also one of the premier opportunities you have for those moments of collaborative creativity marketers so appreciate.
Naturally, that means you want your telecommuting employees to be a part of every meeting you hold that their work is relevant to. The market for web conferencing software is large, so you should have no trouble finding a solution that allows your employees to be as present visually, audibly, and mentally as they need to be to properly contribute to the meeting and get what they need from it.
Stay on a chat service like Gchat or Slack throughout the day for instant contact.
As important as those periodic meetings are, they shouldn’t be the one link your telecommuters have with the team. With a number of programs that make text chat available throughout the day – many of them for free – your telecommuting employees can ask and answer questions as they come up in real time, weigh in on the issue of the moment without anyone having to pick up a phone, and keep up casual conversation with the team as well.
Having everyone on the team connected through the same chat service and available to each other within set hours during the day can ensure your employees all stay connected no matter how geographically distributed they are. It provides an alternative to office chatter – both of the work related variety, and the friendly chats that bring some levity to the day. Being out of the office doesn’t mean employees have to miss all of the “water cooler conversations” about Game of Thrones or last night’s big game.
Do meet in person occasionally, if at all possible.
Technology has made face-to-face meetings largely unnecessary, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still have their place. There’s still something uniquely valuable about seeing co-workers in-person occasionally.
If your telecommuters are local, have lunch meetings where everyone comes on site once a month or happy hours where they’re able to meet up with the rest of the team in an informal atmosphere. If your telecommuters are spread out around the world, see if you can fly everyone into one location once a twice or year to solidify some of those digital relationships and share some brainstorming sessions in person, it will help everyone on the team stay that much more connected.
In some cases, if the team’s especially spread out and your budget is limited, it may not be practical. But if you can swing it, bringing everyone into one place every so often can help them build the kind of in-person relationships that will make their technological connections stronger whenever they head back home.
Don’t be all business, all the time.
One thing that happens when you throw a lot of people together into an office space is that they find things to talk about and levels to connect on that aren’t related to work. Those connections matter.
A certain type of manager is quick to vilify any conversation that veers from work as being distracting or unproductive, but those conversations can do a lot to build goodwill amongst the team. Allow some space for fun in how your team members interact – both those in the office and out of it.
Your out-of-office employees may not be able to take part in the offsite you’ve planned to celebrate hitting your goals for the month, but maybe you can surprise them with a reward at home so they still feel warm and fuzzy. They may be too far away to get to the company Christmas party, but you can still have gifts shipped back and forth as part of the Secret Santa program.
Don’t stop at keeping them in the loop on the work stuff. Put some of that creativity marketers are known for toward keeping part of the team when it comes to the fun stuff too.