One big theme to emerge out of our conversation last week about the future of the workplace was remote working. I thought it would be beneficial to start this week off by thinking about the disadvantages of remote work and the technologies and policies that may be able to mitigate some of those problems.

Productivity remains a concern for managers unwilling to give their employees a chance, but according to telecommute advocacy groups like Undress for Success and The American Telecommuting Association, research shows those concerns are mostly unwarranted. However, there are some other problems. Here are some of the issues I've witnessed in organizations of all sizes, and some ideas about what to do to fix these issues.

Please leave your own gripes and solutions in the comments, or e-mail klint@readwriteweb.com, and we'll highlight the best responses in a follow-up on Friday.

Missing Out On "Hallway Meetings"

Anti-meeting commentators, such as those from 37signals often point out how unproductive meetings are, and how little hallway conversations are usually where the most important conversations take place. This is probably true, but it creates a communication problem: those important conversations and decisions have to communicated to everyone who needs to know about them.

This can be hard enough when everyone works in the same space. But when employees aren't physically present, keeping everyone in the loop can be even more difficult.

Solution: This is what e-mail and intranets are for. Managers need to be dililgant about documenting and communicating decisions, and making sure that information is easily accessible to employees.

Lack of Responsiveness During Work Hours

One of the proposed advantages of teleworking is the ability to minimize interruptions from co-workers. However, sometimes co-workers have important needs and questions and not being able to get in touch with a remote working employee can damage everyone else's productivity.

This is exacerbated by flex time, especially when flex time overlaps with telecommuting.

Solution: Communicate virtual "office hours," and set standards for timeliness of responses. Instant messaing has proved to be a good medium for communication remote workers, but can be a distracting productivity killer. Setting "IM hours" could be a happy medium.

Being diligent about entering useful information into the organization's intranet will reduce the necessity to be contacted directly. Using Q&A sites like MindQuilt could also help employees find answers to questions.

Morale

Jealousy can impact the morale of workers who can't or aren't allowed to work from home. Also, while managers can track the productivity of employees who work from home, co-workers might be less privy to that information and harbor doubts about their remote co-workers accomplishments.

Solutions: Undress for Success recommends the following for dealing with telecommute-envy in the workplace:

  • Employees need to understand why they were or were not chosen for telework.
  • Employees should see telework as a benefit that is earned, not given.
  • Standards of selection should be uniform.

Photo by Richard