After years of articles about how to "engage" telecommuters, we finally get a research study that says in-your-face, constant contact isn't working so well. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukie studied telecommuters to see how communication with the mother ship affects them. And you know what? Constant communication isn't making telecommuters feeler "closer" to the company. In fact, the disruption caused by the unending stream of emails, instant messages, phone calls, Skype conversations, and faxes (if anyone still faxes) is spiking telecommuters' stress levels and making it harder for them to get the work done.
It turns out that telecommuters aren't feeling Simple Minds' Don't You Forget About Me as much as they're feeling Scandal's Goodbye To You.
I know, I know, managers: you have to stay on top of your telecommuters 24/7 (that's what he said!) to make sure they're actually working and not sitting around the house in their jammies watching Everybody Loves Raymond reruns. You were all trusting and stuff to let them telecommute in the first place, especially if you have micromanaging tendencies. Letting employees work from home a few days a week was a big step for you -- one that you're not always sure your telecommuters fully appreciate. I feel for you. Bugging them on the hour, however, isn't going to help matters. It really isn't. Can you check in once or twice a day instead? Or better yet, only when it's absolutely necessary? Otherwise, you're stressing them out and lowering their productivity levels.
(P.S.: emails about cake in the break room, when the broken printer is scheduled for repair, and when you'll be going to lunch today aren't absolutely necessary.)
I've worked from a home office for nearly 15 years, and the key to working well with telecommuters (and independent contractors) is to focus on the end product instead of the process. Is the work product acceptable? Did the work come in on time without many, or preferably any, mistakes? Is the telecommuter consistently producing good work? If so, the telecommuter is getting the job done. Don't worry so much about how he or she is getting from Point A to Point B unless goals aren't being met; don't fret that the telecommuter must feel like a lonely island far from the mainland. Trust me: good telecommuters are loving every minute of their telecommute. And if they don't -- hey, telecommuting isn't for everyone -- they can always come back to the office, no?