If you are a business owner who wants to have more of your staff working at home, there is something you have to understand before you and your management team set plans into motion. That the remote staff and work-from-home staff be differentiated and distinguished in your minds is critical. They may sound the same, but they are not. When management and leaders lump these two and identify them as the same kind of workforce, the stage is set for possible failure. If the distinction is not made clearly enough, management might create expectations that are unrealistic and may not be met. As a result, performance suffers, goals are not reached, and the entire company can fall short on their deliverables.
To make it a little clear, do not expect your remote staff and your work-at-home staff to behave the same way because they are not identical. If you build the structure for a work-at-home staff and expect them to deliver the way the remote staff regularly does, then you might be in for a disappointment. Worse, you might not even get your ROI.
Employment (work-at-home) VS Contract Work
First, let’s identify what a work-at-home staff is, or what their collective arrangements are with the powers-that-be. A work-at-home staff can work remotely but they are not bona fide remote staff. They are actually your employees who enjoy a certain tenure with your company and have been given work-at-home privileges. This means that they draw a regular salary from you, receive certain benefits, are mandated to follow an employee’s contract, and does have a regular space, e.g. a cubicle, in your office. However, they can work from home occasionally or at regular intervals, e.g. every two days, a Monday or a Friday. This flexibility is only enjoyed upon management approval or part of an employment contract. And Yes that’s another difference, there is an employment contract with work-at-home staff.
Chances are, the staffer that asked for this arrangement — or accepted your offer of one — did it for certain reasons that had to do with his home-life integration. They prefer to do online work on certain days because they want to take care of their kids, take longer rests due to medical reasons, or are simply tired because of long commute hours. You, as their boss, were sympathetic to their concerns and granted this set-up. At the same time, you do expect their performance to continue, if not actually improve.
Now contrast this set-up with a remote staff who are not your employees but are contract part-time workers that you hire to meet certain objectives. A remote staff could be your writers, editors, administrative assistants, accountants, and creative designers, just to name a few. They have their own home office, supported with all the right equipment, and they work online 24/7. They have a contract with you that determines their pay rate, number of hours worked, and deliverables. They also answer to a project manager who does make sure that the work is done on time and according to standards set.
Resilience and resourcefulness
One thing that does make remote staff and work-at-home similar is the work-at-home set-up. However, there is one crucial difference that you should closely look at, especially if you want the productivity to be consistent, if not optimal. Work-at-home staff may prefer to type up their reports in their own living room once in a while, but they may not be entirely used to this structure. Remember that their normal offices which they are familiar with and comfortable with are the four walls of your office and their own cubicle in it, which they choose to escape from once in a while. However, once in the privacy of their own residences, can they maintain their focus once their kids start asking for their attention? What happens when neighbors drop by to invite them to lunch? Or when their favorite video streaming service reminds them of their favorite series that’s about to start?
While remote staff also face the same challenge, the truth is they are more equipped to address it and are more motivated in coming up with the support system that allows them to continue working at home. Work-at-home participants are full-time employees who may rely on their years of tenure in the office to vouch for them, should productivity suffer. Remote staff do not have that luxury. They have chosen to work at home on a full-time basis, are basically contract workers, and recognize that they can only be good as their last project. Clients can cancel contracts at a moment’s notice if their performance slackens. That’s why remote staff to install the necessary phones, state-of-the-art computers, high-speed internet, as well as secure office space that can shut out the noise –, and other human nuisances — should the need arise. And, yes, they have trained themselves to politely but firmly tell the friendly neighbor to visit them some other time.
Remote staff who are recruited, trained and supervised by managed outsourcing firms like HOPLA also have an advantage over work-at-home staff. They work as a team and in collaboration with a company that monitors their performance, upgrades their skills, and liaises with the client to see to it that all bases are covered. Remote staff follow a production calendar and adhere strictly to deadlines. Regardless of whether they are in a cafe or on the commute, they will respond to a client’s call ASAP. They know they are on the job all the time.
To reiterate: remote staff are consummate professionals who understand and have coped with the challenges of working online and outside a brick-and-mortar office. They acknowledge they are warriors on the frontline. Work-at-home staff may see their flexible arrangements as a privilege or right that they have earned and should enjoy and may not have the resources and natural resilience to deliver the work optimally once the challenges set in. The mobile workforce is a reality in the digital workplace, and you will have to make a choice about letting some of your work be done out of the office sooner or later. A word to the wise: differentiate remote staff from work-at-home staff, and then decide accordingly.