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Working RemotelyRemote working is getting more and more popular as technology has advanced to the point where it’s easy to stay in touch and share data with staff members around the country and the world. But even though the 2010 census report indicated that 13.4 million Americans work remotely at least some of the time, many managers and small business owners are still leery of letting employees work remotely. They worry they’ll have problems communicating with remote workers, or they fear that remote workers won’t be as productive without a supervisor keeping an eye on them.

However, evidence suggests that remote workers are more productive than their office-bound counterparts, and that’s just one advantage of letting more — or even all — of your employees work remotely. You’ll save money on office space, utilities, and supplies. Remote workers are happier and stay in their jobs longer. They spend more time at work and take fewer days off than their office-bound peers, because their flexible working arrangement allows them to handle personal responsibilities, like doctor’s appointments, that on-site employees would need to take time off for.

Managing remote workers isn’t that much harder than managing on-site workers, especially since they tend to be more engaged than on-site workers. You’ll find that most remote workers repay your trust with increased commitment to getting their work done. You can use email, instant messaging, and videoconferencing technology to stay in touch with remote workers. Cloud technologies allow remote workers to access the same data and files that workers in the office use. If you can, bring the whole team together for a teambuilding event at least once a year.

1. Leverage Technology to Stay in Touch

Communication is one of the biggest concerns many managers have about handling remote workers. They imagine that it must be inherently difficult to keep a distant worker in the loop, especially when there are other workers in the office who can be communicated with the old-fashioned way. But thanks to technology, we now have more communication options than ever before, making it possible to work with people in different cities, states, or countries. A PEO can help you recruit remote workers and deal with the regulatory implications of hiring across state lines.

Email is one way to communicate with remote workers, and it’s good for assigning and checking on day-to-day tasks. If you need to coordinate communication between several people, an instant messaging service like Campfire can help. Just because some or all of your team members are working remotely doesn’t mean you can’t have meetings — you can use videoconferencing technology like Skype or Google+ to have meetings. Videoconferencing is also a solution if you worry that too much non-verbal communication could be lost to email or other text-based services.

Working Remotely2. Use the Cloud

Your remote workers will need to be able to access all the same documents and data that your on-site workers have access to. They may also need to digitally share the results of their own efforts with their office-bound colleagues. You could spend a lot of time and money setting up a network of servers to store this information and pay an IT staff to maintain it. Or, you could use the cloud to swap and store necessary files and information.

Use cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive to give your remote workers access to the files and data they need to do their jobs. When they have files to share with you, they can upload them to Dropbox or share them with the relevant colleagues using Google Docs. Just make sure you organize everything into a system that makes sense.

3. Meet Face-to-Face When You Can

On the surface, it sounds like meeting face-to-face defeats the purpose of having remote workers. While remote working is one of the best job benefits you can offer an employee, there’s really no substitute for meeting up with your co-workers face-to-face and forming relationships with them. Try to host a yearly team-building event where everyone, even your remote workers, can have a good time together.

Maybe you can’t host such a yearly physical meeting for whatever reason. Your remote workers might be too far away to feasibly bring into the office, or maybe your business is too strapped for cash to pay for everyone’s travel. You can still do your best to foster a sense of company culture using videoconferences. Suggest an informal, after-hours Google+ Hangout in lieu of the traditional Friday evening happy hour drinks among co-workers, for example.

Remote workers can bring a great deal of value to your organization. They’re often more productive and happier in their jobs than on-site workers, and since you don’t need to provide them with a work space, they come cheaper, too. If you’ve never managed workers remotely, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier than you think — so don’t be afraid to jump on board with this growing trend that will likely become even more normal in the years ahead.

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