If it feels like more people around you are working from home than ever before, congratulations – you're definitely onto something. According to one Gallup survey reported on by the New York Times, nearly 43% of employed Americans worked remotely for at least some of the time in 2016 alone. But the interesting thing is that this represents a pretty massive jump of four percentage points from just a few years earlier, in 2012.
Even as recently as five years ago, “working from home” was essentially synonymous with “someone figured out how to stay home and get paid for it for a day.” But times have changed, thanks in no small part to the digital (and mobile) world that we're now living in.
Not only are people that have the ability to telecommute happier than other employees, they're also more productive – due in part to the fact that they're also more engaged with their jobs. However, this does raise a pretty important question, particularly from a management perspective: what does business leadership actually look like in a world where everyone rarely, if ever, comes into the office?
The answer to that question requires you to keep a few key things in mind.
It's Up to You to Make Your Business Feel Like a Business
Once you've acknowledged that telecommuting is a situation that can actually benefit your business in a number of ways, the most important thing that you can do is work to create an environment that supports as many of these benefits as you can with as few of the potential downsides as possible.
This doesn't necessarily mean that your leadership style on the whole will change… just that there are certain things you're going to have to think differently about from now on.
Take that weekly team meeting, for example. Pulling everyone together periodically is always important to help facilitate communication, to make sure that everyone is always on the same page, to make sure that your expectations are clear, etc. Telecommuting employees can't necessarily be expected to make it into the office for every last one of these, but that doesn't mean that you can't make their presence known in other ways.
Consider turning EVERY team meaning into a teleconference meeting – remember that most laptop computers come with digital cameras already built in at the time of purchase. Everyone who is physically in the building can all gather into the conference room like normal, but anyone that isn't can just dial in using their computers.
You're also going to want to carefully consider how you execute things like team building exercises, too. When someone only comes into the office rarely because they're usually working from home, it's easy to forget that they're “there” to begin with – regardless of the quality of the work they're turning in. But the next time you consider getting everyone together for an impromptu happy hour to celebrate another successful week, you need to make sure that those remote employees are invited.
Not only will this go a long way towards proving that you acknowledge they exist, but it's also a great way to really help them feel like they're still a part of something. Think about things from their perspective – sometimes it can be hard to feel like you're a true contributor, too. Making an effort to guarantee that all employees are included in these types of activities – including remote workers – will go a very long way towards creating the truly unified workforce that you need if your business is going to achieve its goals in the long-term.
Have the Right Tools at Your Side
Another one of the major ways that you can remain a business leader in the telecommuting age involves doing what you can to support the way that your employees actually like to work. This means not only having the right tool at your side for the right task, but making sure that tool is expressly designed to bring people together – regardless of location.
Take the types of marketing collateral that you've been creating to reach out to your target audience, for example. If Tim and Johnny are collaborating on a presentation, there's no reason why they both have to be in the office if they're using a tool like Visme (which I incubated out of my digital agency HIndSite a few years ago).
Visme and other options naturally allow people to collaborate from any location, provided that they've both got an active Internet connection. They can equally contribute to the project and review each other's work exactly the same way they would be able to in the same room, only they're not in the same room at all.
This same logic holds true for any other type of collateral you're creating, too. Graphs, Infographics, fliers, brochures – it doesn't matter. So long as you empower your workforce with the tools needed to A) get the job done, and B) that enable productivity even in a remote capacity, you won't actually notice that anything has changed at all from a quality perspective.
As the old saying goes, “a difference that makes no difference is no difference.”
The Digital Future is Now
It's safe to say that telecommuting as a concept is here to stay. Not only does it help people work harder to create a friendlier, more positive and more cooperative working environment, but it's actually been proven to increase the quality of the work that your employees are able to do across the board.
Yes, it will require you to change your perspective on exactly what business leadership looks like in the digital era – but with benefits like these, it's clear that this isn't necessarily a bad position to be in. It's just a different one – and there's nothing wrong with that.