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Getting the Most from Staff Working Remotely During the Olympics

by Anna Faherty

International and Remote Working author Anna Faherty shares some tips for managers considering implementing remote working during London 2012.

by Anna Faherty

As an east London resident I’m mightily excited by the prospect of the world’s largest sporting event happening on my doorstep. I’ve already been to the Olympic Park for two sneak preview test events, and cleared my diary for both the Olympics and Paralympics schedules. As the date draws closer, however, I - like many Londoners - am starting to worry about the impact the games will have on both my personal and professional life.

Transport, it seems, will be a nightmare. For businesses, the answer according to the Cabinet Office’s London 2012 document Preparing your business for the games is to:

"arrange for staff to work more flexibly during Games time and this may require them to work from different locations, such as from other offices or home, or at different times than usual."

Many businesses are seriously considering following this advice, with O2 recently running a major trial where 2,500 staff worked away from their Slough offices on a single day.

So if you're new to managing remote workers, what can you do to make this approach as smooth and productive as possible? Here’s my top six tips for getting the most out of remote workers:

1. Don't assume the worst

Many people think remote workers lounge around in their pyjamas all day doing the minimum amount of work. While they might never get dressed, this is far from the truth. Numerous research reports show that remote workers are actually more productive than their office-based colleagues. In Microsoft’s Remote Working Research Summary over 70% of employees said they were more productive when they worked away from the office.

2. Keep in touch

When you’re separated from your team, it’s far too easy to drop the everyday communication that keeps people up-to-date and motivated. Make and schedule time to call each team member regularly for an informal chat, involve everyone in important discussions and publicly reward work well done. If you spot an email disagreement, encourage your staff to address the conflict over the phone. If you need to gather people together, use technology to help you run virtual meetings or conduct face-to-face conversations.

3. Provide enabling technology

There’s nothing worse than not having the tools for the job. If your staff need access to mobile email, shared drives or video-conferencing software, let them have it. This might mean installing software on their own home PCs, smartphones or tablets. You could also set up new online workspaces to share and collaboratively create files. Don’t forget to train staff on any new tools, and to make sure there is an effective way for them to access IT support when they are away from the office.

4. Be clear, direct and predictable

Make sure everyone in your team knows who is doing what, and when different people are likely to be available. Clearly define individual roles, responsibilities and goals so there is no potential for confusion. Set up agreed protocols for appropriate communication channels and expected response times, and advertise your availability through shared schedules. Encourage everyone to write effective emails, like those advised by Stacey Hanke in BusinessWeek.

5. Measure output not hours

Be flexible about when your staff put in their hours. Unless they have to be available at specific times of the day, give them some slack and let them watch the sports that interest them. Rather than measuring how much time they appear to be working for, keep track of what they deliver. So long as they meet their targets, does it matter if they do it at odd times of the day?

6. Make it fun

Find ways to recreate the informal chatter and banter from the office. Encourage people to bring coffee and donuts to virtual meetings, chat about the Games or hold a virtual office party.

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