Continued Yahoo decision-spawned buzz: perceived problems with work-from-home employees being attributed to “Remote”

So, I didn’t realize that the Yahoo decision regarding work-from-home employees was going to generate so much related buzz and discussion (see here if you haven’t heard about it yet).

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Take this article for instance, talking all about “why home workers don’t make the C-suite” (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-home-workers-dont-make-the-c-suite-2013-02-27?reflink=MW_GoogleNews). Some points the article makes:

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  • On career prospects for the Remote employee: “…workers may be missing out on the personal contacts that get them promoted.”
  • On perception: “…despite studies showing that home-based workers may be more productive than their cubicle-bound peers, remote workers must also combat the perceptions among managers and colleagues that they’re not spending the day goofing off.”
  • On Remote working dependencies: “…remote employees can be just as productive as co-located teams, depending on how well they are managed and the job functions involved.”
  • On idea-sharing/innovation: “Some managers say the office just holds more opportunities for the accidental encounters that
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    can lead to new products or relationships.”

  • On speed/decision-making: “Having employees in the office can also lead to faster decisions and communication, because workers can more easily reach out to their colleagues, said Dan Yates, CEO of Arlington, Va.-headquartered energy-technology company Opower.”
  • On Quality: “Yahoo’s human resources chief said in a company memo that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.

I would say that these are all valid points, and would like to briefly address them one-by-one, because as I’ve said before, there is Remote, and then as a sub-category there is the work-from-home Remote worker.

  1. On career prospects for the Remote employee: This only matters if the employee is a full-time, long-term worker in the firm. This doesn’t apply to remote temp workers or freelancers who are on a project basis.
    • Applicable to work-from-home employees? Yes.
    • Applicable across Remote? No.
  1. On perception: this is another one that is strictly work-from-home vs. work-from-office. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Remote is much bigger than “work-from-home” and Remote working can simply mean working in two different offices on opposite sides of the globe.
    • Applicable to work-from-home employees? Yes.
    • Applicable across Remote? No.
  1. On Remote working dependencies: I like this one, as yes I believe across Remote those are certain dependencies, and do not only include how the employee is managed but also the type of work they are doing. I’ll explore appropriate types of Remote work in later posts.
    • Applicable to work-from-home employees? Yes.
    • Applicable across Remote? Yes.
  1. On idea-sharing/innovation: Sometimes (and I’d argue oftentimes), great ideas come out of well-coordinated, structured and purposeful brainstorming sessions, which, as much as I love white-boarding in a conference room full of people, can be done just as effectively using the right remote tools (lots of article out there on “Remote Brainstorming”: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-44241221/how-to-get-the-best-results-from-remote-brainstorming/)
    • Applicable to work-from-home employees? No.
    • Applicable across Remote? No.
  1. On speed/decision-making: The article itself answers whether or not this one applies across Remote: “…Dan Yates, CEO of Arlington, Va.-headquartered energy-technology company Opower. Almost all of his firm’s 320 employees work out of the company’s four global offices, which are equipped with videoconferencing technology allowing workers in different offices to simulate face-to-face contact.”
    • Applicable to work-from-home employees? No.
    • Applicable across Remote? No.
  1. On Quality: The best I can say on quality of workers working Remotely vs. in-house is I don’t think so. Does a programmer’s code come out worse because his computer is sitting at his home desk vs. an office desk? No. A programmer’s code comes out worse if there are not proper quality assurance checks in place, period. I could go on… I believe that failure in quality has to do with systematic failures vs. physical location of an employee.
    • Applicable to work-from-home employees? No.
    • Applicable across Remote? No.

Let’s see if people can move away from the blaming “Remote” for the problems (perceived) with work-from-home employees.

Managing Remote Employees: Exploring Some Basic Principles

If you’ve read anything about Mom Corps, you know that they practice something called “ROWE” (Results-Only Work Environment). I read an interview with Mom Corps’ CEO, Allison O’Kelly and here’s what she had to say about this:

“Virtual managers likely need training on how to expand their communication skills to include how to keep employees motivated as a team, giving positive and negative feedback over the phone, making sure schedules stay on track without micromanaging and making employees feel appreciated for the work they do.” (Allison O’Kelly, http://mashable.com/2011/12/12/hr-remote-workers/)

What I like about this statement is that she points out 3 things here that I have also observed to be essential for managers who have remote employees taking on key roles in their workforce:

 

  1. Giving positive/negative feedback

While she says, “over the phone”, I’d like to expand this and say “over some kind of platform.” In fact, I often advise clients that feedback over the phone is one part of a feedback cycle, and should be either preceded or followed up by the same feedback formally documented somewhere. This could be taking a look at a word document and enabling track changes then emailing or uploading it to Asana (I use this actively, more on Asana and some other great tools in later posts), or it could be simply taking notes during the phone call and sending the summarized points back to the manager or employee after the call is done.

In this blog, you’ll see me repeat over and over again about the importance of written documentation when it comes to remote workforce management. In fact, this should be best practice regardless of Remote vs. face-to-face; its necessity is simply amplified when you engage workers in a Remote model. I love productivity tools, and promise to do a future post on some of my favorites for Remote working.

 

  1. Making sure schedules stay on track

Clear, agreed upon project and task timelines are crucial, and should be reviewed regularly to ensure each action tracks towards the completion of a project. I once had a client that hired a Remote worker, gave him an assignment that was due 1 month later, and then stepped back. When the 1 month mark came along, progress was not what was expected (go figure). If the person was sitting in your office, you wouldn’t let him work

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  1. Making sure employees feel appreciated for the work they do

This should be an easy one, but more often than not I’ve seen this simple management concept ignored when a Remote model is engaged. When you’ve got someone on your team working Remotely, it is often hard to give them the day-to-day pat on the back they deserve when they’ve done something good.

The great news is that it’s actually quite easy to do, especially if you’re using the right tools, but, even if you’re just sticking to simple email and chat, a specific, purposeful note with clear, actionable feedback goes a long way (by schulte). I won’t go much more into this one as I believe it’s self explanatory – bottom line is, it can somehow be easier to treat a Remote worker as a ‘task factory’ to whom you give an assignment and get a specified output, and it is thus important to put systematic steps in place to ensure you motivate your Remote workforce just as you would anyone else on your team.

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As the Remote Revolution becomes the norm vs. a revolution, I believe that companies will begin to treat Remote employees the same as regular employees (and many already do), OR if the Remote employees are temporary contractors, they will be treated the same as any other temporary contractors. Remote will simply be a way of working.

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Exploring “Remote”: Some definitions

I’d like to kick off my first post by going over a few definitions. If you’re new to the concept of “Hiring Remote” or are just getting acquainted with what I and many others are referring to as “The Remote Revolution”, then this post is a great starting point.  If you’re not new to the concept, but have been getting pummeled by all the buzzwords surrounding remote workers lately, then I really look forward to your feedback in the comments section on if you think this post makes sense, and what you think of when you hear “Remote”.

 

What is “Remote” and what is it not?

  1. Remote doesn’t have to be synonymous with “work from home.”

Yes, working from home is a major and growing phenomenon and is only possible due to The Remote Revolution, however Remote can also refer to doing a quick video chat with your colleagues in France or China, all of whom are sitting in an office on the other side of the world but communicating as if they were sitting right next to you.  That’s Remote – when not having face-to-face  professional interactions becomes a non-issue.

 

  1. Remote is bigger than online freelancers.

Being an online freelancer or hiring an online freelancer is one way to leverage the power of Remote… but it is not the only way.  The existence of Remote simply means that it has become easier to hire someone without ever meeting them physically and without ever having them show up at your office.  Freelancing is one area that has been revolutionized by Remote, and not the other way around (by heather).  A freelancer that previously was restricted to performing his or her services locally, now has instant access to global clientele.  All because of the power of Remote.

 

  1. Remote doesn’t have to mean far away or in a different country.

A remote worker or remote employee could be down the road from you, or on the other side of the world. The whole point of “Remote” and The Remote Revolution is that work no longer has to be face-to-face, period.  Remote technologies, productivity tools, globalization, the rise of Globish, and of course, at the core of all this, the internet, have enabled us to work and interact in ways that were not even imaginable 20 year ago.  This means that I can Skype with people on my team while I’m at home on a sick day, or it means that I can do a Google Hangout group chat with developers located offshore in the Philippines, India and Poland all at the same time.

 

  1. Remote Workers come in a diverse range of types.

As mentioned earlier, online  freelancers are one way in which you as a business leader can leverage remote, but they are certainly not the only way.  In fact, hiring online freelancers often isn’t an appropriate solution to talent challenges.  Higher levels of risk, task-orientation and multi-client models (I’ll address all of these in later posts) are all reasons to go a different route.  (Disclaimer:  I own and run a Remote Staffing firm in which our workers work inside our offices and support clients on a dedicated and long term basis across business functions such as IT, HR, Finance & Accounting, Procurement, among others.)

 

Other types of Remote Workers include but are not limited to:

  • Professionals who work from home but are full time employees of the company they work for
  • You, whenever you open up your PC or smartphone when you’re not at the office, are a Remote Worker

 

I’ll wrap up this post by quoting a few varied definitions from others out there… I have also included links as I believe the full articles are worth reading:

  • “As an employer, restricting your hiring to a small geographic region means you’re not getting the best people you can.” –> 37 Signals, who as you may realize from a quick Google is extremely pro-Remote (Great article by one of the brilliant 37 signals guys here:  http://37signals.com/svn/posts/3064-stop-whining-and-start-hiring-remote-workers)
  • “…entrepreneurial individuals.  They can operate as a larger company, and search worldwide for talent. And workers [are not tied to] their local economy.” –> Fabio Rosati, CEO, Elance (http://getpocket.com/a/read/302436045)
  • “Remote employment is the practice of hiring employees who perform work for your company from their own location – not within the walls of your office. Remote employees can be freelance workers or exclusive salaried employees who do not contract with anyone else.” – youngentrepreneur.com (http://www.youngentrepreneur.com/blog/the-pros-and-cons-of-hiring-remote-employees/)
  • “Hiring remotely opens you up to an enormous pool of people who can’t move. I can’t stress this enough: for every one person who is in your location or is happy to move there, there are 100 more who are not.” – David Fullerton, StackExchange (http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2013/02/why-we-still-believe-in-working-remotely/)

 

All for now, and welcome to The Remote Revolution blog.

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Free Remote Technologies: a crucial part of the revolution

I just watched an interesting YouTube video on the topic of Remote (I have embedded it below) from 1967. The video is of famed newscaster Walter Cronkite as he gives audiences a tour of the future of Remote working. He frames it as a “Home office”, but the emphasis is on the fact that information and communication someday will happen Remotely.

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He is pretty close on most of this – he’s got a Skype alternative, and the rest is some combination of information that people now can find over the internet.

What’s not mentioned is cost – I wonder if at that time people could have imagined that many of the Remote tools out there now would be offered completely for free…

“Free” is a part of Remote that is easy to take for granted, but it’s a significant, and arguably the most important, part of the Remote Revolution.

Below are some of my favorite, effective remote working technologies that will help you “cover the bases” mentioned in the Walter Cronkite video… and then some!

asana

  1. For small team collaboration: Asana. If you haven’t tried it, go try it out today – it doesn’t take a long time to understand (I’d say 5-10 minutes and you’ll be a power user). It doesn’t have a lot of the bells & whistles that project management software like Basecamp or Trello have, but, it’s easy easy easy. Also, it’s easy.

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  1. For video chat/conference calls: Skype. As much as I’ve enjoyed trying out Google Hangouts recently, I still fall back to Skype because it just works, and works well.

smartsheet

  1. For programme/project timelines & high level planning: Smartsheet. I love gantt charts, timelines, and workstreams. Smartsheet is a no-brainer because I can create a free gantt chart & share it with people within minutes. Also, some of the templates are useful (by schulte). This does cost money after a 30 day trial, but 30 days is enough to use it for a few projects and see if it makes sense.

dropbox

  1. For file sharing: Dropbox. I use Dropbox less and less because Asana has a file upload function that I can attach to tasks. Asana also integrates with Dropbox, but, more often then not I’m sharing a file from my PC vs. from Dropbox. Regardless, file sharing is needed on a regular basis and Dropbox works well.

evernote

  1. For note sharing: I would have said Evernote here if it weren’t for some of the recent security issues. However, aside from those, the platform is very intuitive and easy to use, and you can share notes easily with others. I use Microsoft OneNote but that costs money.

 

This is the bare minimum free list, and the above 5 combined with Google Apps for Business should be more than enough to do most Remote work. Depending on the type of work, there are tons of other great niche tools

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that perhaps I can cover in future posts (e.g. Pivotal Tracker for software development, etc.).

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Thanks Walter Cronkite for the vision … took 46 years but it’s finally a reality.

Manage Remote Employees Better with these Remote Technologies

When it comes to working with remote staff, it’s vital to have the tools to make sure collaboration and communication are at their best.

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Besides the applications I mentioned in one of my previous posts, here are a couple more to consider:

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Sqwiggle

Sqwiggle

Sqwiggle is an easy to use, always-on online workplace that allows companies who have gone remote to work together with their off-state or offshore counterparts throughout the day. This is done via seamless video streams that allow real-time interaction.

Sqwiggle provides a free trial for interested companies, which can be upgraded to a paid, fully-featured account wherein a monthly fee of $9 per person is charged. (Desktop Only)

When I Work, ShiftPlanning, Shift.Cal

When I Work, Shift.Cal, and ShiftPlanning

These three applications make it possible for you to make sure your remote employees have a daily routine to follow and be accountable to. Each app features their own calendars where you can easily manage your remote worker’s shifts. Some even allow you to send SMS notifications in case of last minute changes that need everyone’s immediate attention.

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When I Work (iOS/Android/Desktop) and ShiftPlanning (iOS/Android/BlackBerry) have 30-day trial periods and can be upgraded to premium accounts upon payment. Shift.Cal (Android) has both a free and paid versions with the latter having extra features.

Droptask & Flow

DropTask and Flow

Although basic to-do lists can easily help you manage tasks with your remote staff, imagine what you could do with multi-featured task management applications. DropTask and Flow are both collaboration-friendly applications that turn your usual to-do lists into full-fledged project boards where mind-mapping, brainstorming, and other integral group tasks can be done. And since changes can be made in real time, everyone will always be kept in the loop when certain tasks are completed or need extra attention.

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DropTask is only available as a free desktop application, while Flow (iOS) offers a 30-day free trial that can be upgraded to a premium account for a fee.

These are a just some of the many management tools out there that can make working with remote staff easier. Did I miss any? I look forward to any suggestions.