Two years ago I moved back to my native Texas after spending some time in Salt Lake City, Utah. Within a few months of my return, I rejoined the Cooksey team and was quickly re-engaged with former clients while also being introduced to some new ones. However, even up to a year after my return, many clients were surprised to learn that I was working from my home office just south of Austin.
Advanced technology is making it easier than ever for companies to retain top talent through remote or telecommuting work arrangements. In public relations, a great deal of our work is conducted by phone, email, Internet or video conferencing, making it possible to serve clients across the nation with no disruption. Large companies have engaged remote employees for many years, and even more are embracing telecommuter arrangements for local workers. In fact, communities in both South Central Texas and North Texas are encouraging local businesses to allow employees to telecommute to help reduce traffic congestion.
As with most things, there are pros and cons to a remote or telecommuting work arrangement. For instance, I enjoy the fact that my daily commute consists of the minute it takes to walk downstairs to my home office. On the downside, I don’t have an opportunity for daily personal interaction with my team members.
Below are a few tips that any company can use to help them work with staff to create a successful remote working arrangement:
- Communicate – We can all agree that good communication within the workplace helps everyone perform at their best; however, frequent communication becomes even more essential for creating a successful remote working relationship. Both the remote employee and the office team members should be purposeful about passing along any workplace information, keeping in mind that remote employees don’t have the benefit of getting small, informal updates when passing colleagues down the hall or at the water cooler. As well, speaking directly with remote employees on a daily basis helps avoid any misunderstandings regarding project direction or tone.
- Use Video Conferencing – There are several free and fee-based video conferencing services that can be used to help visually connect remote employees to the office. These services often include the ability to share the screen, so remote employees can reference the same materials as their office colleagues. Beyond the logistical benefits, viewing a remote employee onscreen helps alleviate some of the disconnect that may occur from not having them as part of the daily office routine. The Cooksey team conducts weekly staff meetings via Skype, and it’s been a great way to maintain a regular connection with the team.
- Integrate Remote Staff in Team Building Activities – Often, companies will engage in quarterly or annual team-building activities. Whenever possible, these should be planned around a time when remote staff members can come to the office to participate in the team bonding. Team-building activities provide remote employees with a chance to reconnect with colleagues and to learn more about new team members on a personal level. With only a four-hour drive, I have the ability to join my Cooksey colleagues in regular team-building activities. However, some companies don’t have the resources or capacity to bring all of their remote staff to the office at one time. In these instances, consider some options that allow remote staff members to participate via video conferencing or phone so that they can still feel involved.
- Schedule Regular Office Visits – Twice a month, I work from the Cooksey office in North Texas, frequently including in-person meetings with local clients. These frequent visits are the main reason that some clients don’t realize I typically work from South Central Texas. Frequent visits to the main office can help bridge the geographic gap, making clients feel like remote employees can serve their needs just as well as local team members. Spending time in the office also provides an opportunity to personally engage with team members and provide insights to young colleagues.
As competition increases for top talent, we will likely see a larger number of people working from home on a permanent or temporary basis. Remote work arrangements and telecommuting can be a great benefit to any company as long as both the employer and the employees do their part to make the relationship a success.