Remote working is often a dividing topic amongst managers and HR professionals; many understand the benefits it can bring to the business and willingly embrace it. Others, view it with scepticism; they imagine their employees sitting on the sofa in their PJs watching TV all day. It is also often assumed that remote employees are somehow disconnected from other employees and their manager. However, this shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be the case. Good communication between remote workers and managers is crucial, and can be easily achieved.

Remote working is here to stay

The last five years have seen the rise of the remote worker. Figures released by the UK government in 2015 showed that 4.2 million people work remotely. This is up from 3.4 million in 2005. Further research suggests that remote working will continue to grow with a predicted 70% of businesses adopting a flexible working scheme by 2020.

Those who come under the banner of ‘remote workers’ include people working in admin, payroll, financial services, IT, HR and many more sectors. Remote workers work full- or part-time and can be employed on a permanent basis, or as contractors and freelancers. Most people associate remote working with working from home. Whilst, it is true that most remote workers choose to work from home, remote working also covers people who work while travelling, or from a different office in another part of the country or from a different country altogether.

The challenges facing managers of remote workers

Managing remote workers presents a different set of challenges compared to the traditional working model of manager and employees working in the same place. With remote workers, a manager can’t physically see what employees are doing, but this doesn’t mean they can’t monitor their output and productivity. There are tools you can use to both review the work being done, and also enable communication across other members of the team. To ensure that remote working benefits both the business and your employees, it’s imperative that the business establishes a remote worker strategy, and that communication is placed at the centre of it.

What communication needs to achieve

It’s obvious why many remote workers enjoy working from home; they don’t have to battle the commute to and from work, and they find themselves being more productive as they can manage their own workload. However, there are downsides for remote workers. Many find remote working to be very lonely and employees can find themselves feeling isolated and out of the loop.

By creating or using a communication system that suits both you and your team, you can effectively communicate duties, updates, and other information with your employees. In return, the employee understands what is expected of them, they can plan their working schedule and communicate with others who are working on the same projects.

How to keep control over communication

Advances in technology have certainly facilitated and prompted the rise in the number of people who work remotely so be sure to use apps and online tools to make it as easy as possible for managers to communicate with remote workers and for employees to communicate with each other.

Well known web-based apps like Skype allow you to hold face-to-face conversations with multiple people at the same time. Project management apps like Trello and Slack let teams of individuals communicate and collaborate on multiple projects. Even using WhatsApp as a safe and secure instant messaging service is a great way to facilitate and encourage regular communication.

There can still be structure and schedules with remote workers

It’s important to remember that remote workers still need structure even if they are working from home. Systems for communication will help with this, but also generally stating when an employee should be working – no matter where this may be – can help maintain some structure to both your and your remote workers’ days.

Managers can use different systems, which allow you to schedule employees’ working hours, add in comments about their daily tasks, and you can even use it monitor your team’s working hours by using online timesheets. It is also a system that all employees can use to request time-off, get in touch with their manager and check their upcoming shifts – no matter where they work – as long as they have an Internet connection.

Out of sight, always in mind

Technology has made communicating with remote workers simple, but maintaining control over communication is not always as easy as it should be. This is where the saying “out of sight, out of mind” risks becoming true as we let time lapse without regularly checking in with remote workers, or we prioritise the tasks in sight over the managing of employees working away from the office. That’s why scheduling regular one-to-ones, having reminders to check in with staff and always keeping communication channels open during working hours is a crucial part of managing employees who work remotely.

Emma Saldanha is a content creator here at Findmyshift. Emma has more than 10 years experience in content creation, marketing and PR. In between writing for Findmyshift, Emma writes marketing and branding advice for small to medium business on her blog, writtenbyems. Connect with Emma on Twitter and Facebook.