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The single greatest obstacle to getting work done effectively from home or on the road is time management. When an employee is in an office, they tend to focus on their work due to a few motivating factors - being around other employees that are working with them, management oversight, and the simple desire to do a great job. In the typical remote office environment, the first two items are usually not present, unless they are replaced with collaborative team tools and methods to oversee an employee’s productivity. Implementing these tools and others can help remote workers with time management, but for the most part it needs to be a self-directed effort. Here are some tips and tools for ensuring that your remote employees are managing their time effectively.
1) Include Time Management Items in Their Contract
While you can’t typically enforce what someone does at home or on the road, you can lay out reasonable expectations for number of hours worked per day and request that the employee minimizes distractions in order to ensure that the required hours of work are met. You should also implement the same protocols that would be present if they are working in an office - if, for example, their child is sick and has to come home from school, they should contact you to let you know if their hours worked will be reduced.
If there is an expectation that employees are available during certain times either on the phone or by email, those should be specified in the contract as well. Don’t go too crazy with these expectations - if your employees are working the required number of hours, you shouldn’t worry about exactly when their hours are being put in unless they need to be available for customer service or other client-facing services.
You can also request in the contract that they use certain time management tools, check in with their supervisor a certain amount of times per day, and any other items you need to ensure productivity.
2) Limiting Distractions: Tips and Tools
There is one big downside to working in a traditional office environment - distractions are everywhere. From the employee ranting about a client and causing negative vibes to a cubicle mate endlessly scraping the bottom of a yogurt cup like they are digging for gold, workplace distractions are one of the main reasons many remote workers feel more productive in a home office. In a home office, workers can control their own environment and block out any distractions that affect their productivity. But it takes discipline. There is one overriding distraction for at-home workers; the Internet. Luckily, there are a number of digital tools to keep online distractions from sucking work time out of the hourglass. They range from apps which block certain sites to sites which lock down everything but what you are working on at the moment. Here is a comprehensive list of distraction-blocking tools for PC and Mac users. Offer to purchase the ones your employees like for them, and keep in mind that preference for these tools will change by individual, so one of them shouldn’t be forced on users organization-wide. Texts can also be a source of distraction. If turning the ringer off isn’t enough, you can limit texts by downloading any one of these apps which are designed to keep you from texting while driving - just turn it on as if you are driving before you start your work and turn it off when you are done. Just make sure to use one that relies on manually turning on and off rather than pairing with your car. Who knows - your employees may drive safer after installing these too!
3) Staying Focused on Goals and Doing Tough Stuff First
Once distractions are limited, work can begin in earnest. But which work? In what order? What gets the highest priority? Luckily, tools exist that can help your employees sort that out too. Asana is a great light project management tool that allows your employees to organize their work, notate tasks, and even work on teams if you upgrade to the paid version.
Once you’ve used Asana or another project management tool to organize the work that needs to be done, tackle the hardest items first. Harder items may require more collaboration, and starting on them first gives you time to reach out to colleagues for help, schedule meetings surrounding them, and more. Easier items that you know can be completed on your own without assistance should be left for the afternoon. It will also give you a greater sense of accomplishment to finish harder - and therefore more stressful - projects first.
4) Sign Them Up for Time Management Courses
All employees are not going to get out of the gate with the time management skills they need. There are many online webinars and courses to choose from to teach them time management, and help the aces brush up on their skills. Try to keep professional development to a dull roar - about once a month is a good pace to keep from interfering with core productivity.
5) Establish Some Oversight Into Their Work
Regular meetings with managers and colleagues should also be scheduled through video chats with Google Hangouts or similar tools. This will encourage employees to put the same effort into grooming and appearance as they do in an office, which puts them psychologically in a “work” frame of mind. One of the things that keeps employees in an office on track is a watchful manager’s eye, and this is the main reason many company executives resist a remote worker program that offers many benefits. But there is a balance you have to strike - you can’t treat your employees like children and monitor their every move through keyloggers, software that sends screenshots, or similar tools. These are too invasive and remove the freedom that allows remote workers to flourish. Prodoscore strikes the right balance with the ability to monitor tasks that workers complete within G Suite - including Gmail, Google Docs, and any other G Suite app. It assigns a productivity score based on their activity that managers can use to help the remote employee improve, or reward them based on their effort. To summarize, you need to have agreements in place with remote workers that they will practice effective time management, give remote workers the tools to manage their time effectively, provide an education in time management, and oversee their work in a non-invasive way. Do all of this, or even just some of this, and you’ll see their productivity spike even more than if you put in no effort to time management at all.
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