Three Ways to Keep Remote Workers Accountable

We’re hearing a lot about flexible working lately, especially since the media storm that surrounded Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s controversial ban on remote working. This decision has thrown the spotlight on flexible working, and particularly the big question of trust.

How do you manage flexible workers? And how do you keep remote workers accountable – without spying?

Mayer’s decision to ban teleworking came after she reportedly checked the VPN logs and found a lack of activity. And yet, for the millions of people who work from home successfully – and work hard – this came as a kick in the teeth. It seems that a minority of workers in a high-profile case, in a single company, has thrown the flexible working agenda into turmoil.

However, flexible working is not over. Far from it. More and more research studies are pointing to a more flexible working future, and as new processes take hold, we should expect a little teething trouble as the traditional workplace industry clunks and grinds into the 21st century.

Liane Cassavoy, herself a (hard-working) home-worker, wrote an insightful article on PC World recently that challenged the topic of how to keep remote workers accountable. And most importantly, how to do it without spying.

Irritating whispers of ‘shirking from home’ aside, Cassavoy says that her main concern is “whether my boss knows how much work I’m doing”. To this end, she raised three key topics on how to keep remote workers accountable in their line of work.

1. Don’t Believe Everything You Hear
“Bad press shouldn’t terminate telecommuting for everyone,” she says. As we’ve reported so often here on OfficingToday, high-speed wireless internet, smartphones and mobile technology is helping to spur the flexible working movement – and Cassavoy says that the right software, and the right tools, is what keeps the flexible wheel turning.

Checking VPN logs, as Mayer did, is an early sign of trouble and a breach of trust. Instead, businesses should have a system in place that enables employees to report on their work without the need for server logs. An online project management tool is one solution. At OfficingToday, we have a team of writers and personnel based all over the world who work seamlessly together using Asana – an online project management tool. Jobs are posted in Asana and assigned to employees with a deadline. Automated reports and reminders keep the process flowing, and the team keeps in touch through Asana’s comment system. The upshot? It works – no spying required.

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2. Face-to-Face Communication
With so much free technology at our fingertips, Cassavoy urges businesses to use this to their advantage. In one company, she learned that the team log on to the free Google Hangouts video chat service every morning for 15 minutes to discuss the jobs they have accomplished and what’s still outstanding. Crucially, with one employee working remotely and the rest on-site, this process also allows everyone to feel equal.

Other examples include HiringThing, which uses a virtual office and a remote team. HiringThing uses GoToMeeting for regular video conferencing and team updates throughout the week, along with additional online tools like Gmail and Calendar apps.

3. Create the Right Results-Driven Atmosphere
Cassavoy found that after interviewing multiple businesses, they all agreed on one principle necessity to make flexible working work: the right company attitude.

Some companies barely use technology – but instead rely solely on results. The Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) relies not just on the right company approach, but the right employee ethos too. It’s based on allowing employees the right to manage their own time, and assessing them on results rather than the traditional value of time spent at their desk.

In one firm, Cassavoy found that strict hiring and screening processes ensured only the best-fit people joined the company, in order to keep the balance. “A couple of times, we have run into people who can’t handle the freedom – people who want to goof off instead of working,” said Ben Eubanks Pinnacle Solutions. “But we can tell when they’re not meeting deadlines. It all comes back to our core values and our ability to communicate them.”

Flexible working practices are taking off, and it works because we have the technology in place to make it happen. The process might feel alien to some firms, particularly those from a line-of-sight management style. But with regular communication, appropriate tools and the right attitude, it’s a process that can boost productivity and reap rewards, without a VPN log in sight.