Remote work, once an idealistic prediction pedalled by futurists, is increasingly becoming the reality for many workers.
In the US, for instance, nearly a quarter of workers do at least some of their work remotely. Driven by increasingly affordable connectivity and the consumerisation of business technologies, the trend has actually seen serious benefits for employees and businesses alike.
As a business grows, however, it can become increasingly difficult to keep up-to-date with how everyone’s coping with the work they’re supposed to be doing.
Fortunately, there are a slew of technologies out there that can help you keep track of what’s happening. Which one you use will depend largely on what kind of approach you want to take.
The project-based approach
One of the trade-offs every company accepts when it allows employees to work remotely is that it can no longer dictate that they be in front of their desk for a set number of hours a day. While that can be a mind-warp for more traditionally-minded managers, it actually allows for a management method that places actually delivering work rather than appearing to work hard by spending a lot of time in the office.
If you’re going to adopt this approach, you have to be clear about what you expect from each employee and when you expect them to have their work done by.
One of the best tools for outlining this, as well as providing a general overview of where everyone is with their projects is Trello.
Trello uses the Japanese Kanban paradigm for managing projects. Originally popularised by Toyota in the 1980s, the system uses a series of boards, cards, and lists to show how far along a project is.
While Trello’s incredibly useful, it’s probably best used as one piece of the project management puzzle. It can’t, for instance, do instant communication. For that, you need something like Slack. Ultimately, you should look at your needs and pick and choose which tools you use accordingly.
The time-based approach
Of course, not every industry can use the project-based approach solely, if at all. Some jobs require you to be able to log hours. An advertising agency might, for instance, give its clients 20 hours of development work on a website.
Making sure that a worker doesn’t spend too little, or too much, time on a task, companies sometimes have to use time-tracking technology.
One example of this kind of technology is Hivedesk’s time tracking software. The software aims to go beyond the usual project management tools. It does this by including a slew of features such as timed screenshots of their desktops, the ability to review remote workers’ time, and generate activity reports and graphs.
Perhaps one of the best features when it comes to tracking remote workers – especially those in different time zones – is the fact that time tracking only starts once the worker has checked in.
Other examples of time-tracking software include Time Doctor, Timely, and Tickspot.
Trust and simplicity
While all of the tools we’ve mentioned above are great, it’s important not to go overboard with them and to realise that they can’t guarantee your employees will be any more productive than they would otherwise have been. That’s why who you hire is likely to be much more important than the tools you use.
Whether you’re taking the remote-working approach to save on office space, use international expertise, or just because you think that your team would be happier without an office, it’s important to hire people who won’t abuse the situation.
“Not everyone can work from home or a remote office,” Grant Gordon of the Solomon Consulting Group told Business.com. “But if you’ve hired self-starters who are intrinsically motivated for such positions, that’s all the tracking you need”.
Even if you need to keep up-to-date with where a particular project is, having remote workers you can trust means you can get away with simple, free, collaborative programs such as Google Sheets and Forms.
Big Brother tendencies
Even if you find the right balance between productivity-tracking tools and trustworthy employees, if you’re managing a remote working team a lot of the onus on making it work comes down to you. You have to resist the urge to constantly manage and review what everyone’s doing. You wouldn’t do so if you were in all in an office (you couldn’t), so why would you try it with a remote team. Moreover, if you become an overbearing remote manager, you risk losing many of the benefits of remote work.
What we’re saying, ultimately, is that you shouldn’t abandon tracking remote workers but that you should remember that the actual work matters more than tracking it.