Ask the consultant: Can letting employees work remotely lead to success?

  • Updated: December 16, 2012 - 12:21 PM

Question

I'm a fashion stylist in New York and commentator for critics on and off the red carpet. I'm also a fashion/public relations consultant for top and emerging brands. I also chronicle my latest adventures, projects and press on my blog, http://stylesource.me/. My agency offers a variety of services in creative consulting, public relations, styling, media, etc. My question is, with today's technology, can a business run successfully with employees working remotely?

COLIN T. MCDONALD, COLIN@COLINTMCDONALDAGENCY.COM

Answer

Technology enables remote work, and there are many benefits for employees and employers: flexibility, tapping talent no matter where people are located, and reducing real estate and commuting expenses. But running a successful business using remote workers means paying attention to things we take for granted when we're physically in the same office. None of the challenges of effective management go away, and some things get tougher. Here are three to consider:

• There's evidence remote workers are engaged and don't slack off just because the boss is miles away. But remote workers report feeling isolated, and isolation is associated with turnover. Check in regularly with remote employees to make sure they feel connected.

• Getting everyone on the same page strategically, tactically and culturally takes more work when people aren't at the same site. When you have remote workers, you need to be even clearer about roles and responsibilities so things don't fall through the cracks. It also helps to establish explicit norms for communication, such as who needs to get copied and how soon you need to respond to requests.

• When employees work remotely, it's easier to tap into their "human capital" (skills and talents) than build "social capital" (the relationships that help get work done). That's because it's harder to get to know people without spending time with them in person. Effective use of social media can help overcome this, but most research suggests that if groups are doing interdependent work, getting together occasionally improves performance. Carve out time for informal dialogue to build trust and camaraderie.

Mary Maloney, Ph.D., associate professor, management department, University of St. Thomas Opus College of business.

 

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