Remote Workers: Qs, Best Practices, Resources

By Rajat Bhargava Posted August 15, 2015

managing remote workers

Call it working from home, virtual work, remote work, telecommuting, or telework – call it what you will. People are getting stuff done outside of the office. They like it. Their bosses like it. It’s growing quickly all over the world.

Remote work is giving people a more flexible work life, with less driving (and better gas mileage). It’s giving companies a happier and more productive staff. And it’s giving businesses and IT admins a colossal opportunity to save money and move their business forward faster– if they’re up for the challenge.

Here’s every fact you need to know, every question you need to ask, and every resource you need to use when you – or your organization – makes the switch to remote work.

Remote Work Facts (with the Stats to Back it Up)

Remote Workers can save everyone time and money
  • Remote Work is on the rise. Since 2005, telecommuting and remote workers have steadily increased around the globe, with Global Workplace Analysts reporting a 79.7% increase in total telecommuters from 2005 to 2012. A Reuters poll suggests about one in five workers worldwide telecommute.
  • Remote Work saves money.  Financial perks apply to both the business and the worker. A typical business is estimated to save $11,000 a year. The average telecommuter could save $2,000 – $7,000 annually on transportation and other expenses (Global Workplace Analysts)
  • Remote Working may increase productivity. Workers tend to be 11%-20% more productive when they get to tackle creative projects remotely. When they’re doing repetitive work, they tend to be 6%-10% less productive (Inc.). Ultimately, the results depend on good management, accountable employees, and the right IT tools.
  • Remote work introduces security risks. 6% of employees admitted to transferring files between work and personal computers when working from home (Cisco). Nearly 70% of those surveyed said they did not think about being overheard when speaking about company information in public spaces.
  • Employees prefer it. People like choosing their work environment so much, 37% of technology professionals would even take a 10% pay cut if they could telecommute (Global Workplace Analytics). If you’re looking for a way to attract better employees, offering them remote work may just tempt them to accept your offer.
  • The average remote worker is… a 49-year-old college graduate who earns about $58,000 a year and belongs to a company with more than 100 employees. Gender is nearly even. “Most research says it is at least equal between men and women,” reports Alina Tugend in the New York Times.

Questions You Need to Be Asking Remote Workers

Core Competencies

What makes an employee a good candidate for remote work?

“A great worker isn’t necessarily a great remote worker. There are plenty of exceptionally talented people who work far better in an office environment,” says Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove.

Turnbull recommends asking these questions:

  • Have they successfully worked remotely before, or run their own business?
  • Do they base their decisions on what’s best for themselves, or for our customers?
  • Are they willing to take calculated risks without asking for permission?
  • Are they confident enough to know when it’s time to take a break and recharge, whether it’s an hour for a walk or a week for a vacation?
  • Are they highly available / communicative?

Meghan M. Biro says in Forbes that you want telecommuters who are self-motivated, focused, curious, flexible, and open to collaboration.

What makes a good manager of remote workers?

Managing a team across the hallway is a very different endeavor than managing a team across the world. The task is both personal and technical.

Again, Biro gives us some insight:  

“As an entrepreneur who works with virtual teams… I must be self-aware, in tune with my skills, capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. It also requires me to be empathetic, emotionally intelligent, sensitive to what others need, and willing to provide the tools necessary to success – not just a mission statement and goals, but the communications and technical infrastructure to empower virtual teams.”

Is remote work a good fit for my industry?

Not every industry is built for remote work. Here are the top fields for remote workers, in order, according to a 2010 US Census Report on working from home:

  • Service (18.0%)
  • Management, business, financial (14.5%)
  • Office and administrative support (13.9%)
  • Production, transportation, and material moving (11.9%)
  • Sales and related (11.1%)
  • Education, legal, community, service, arts, media (10.8%)
  • Health care practitioners and technicians (5.5%)
  • Computer, engineering, science (5.2%)
  • Other (9.0%)

What are the security risks?

Remote Worker Security

Remote work implies extending the boundaries of your business/organization to the cloud. You can lock up your office building behind brick walls, but when a remote worker’s work device is stolen from a coffee shop, your organization’s credentials and resources are on the line.

Cisco conducted a study that found that remote workers engaged in the following risky behaviors:

  • Transferring files from a work device to a home device
  • Using personal communications on a work device that does not meet security standards
  • Speaking of company information in a public setting where others can hear
  • Not using a laptop privacy guard in public

What is your IT strategy?

You must ensure all workers have access to the IT resources they need by provisioning the requisite access to both internal and external applications.

Make certain that the client communicates securely with the server. This can be done through secure HTTP, via other secure protocol such as IMAPS, or by encrypting and tunneling communications through a VPN.

You should be able to (1) grant and withdraw user rights to applications, and (2) provision/deprovision centrally. This is possible with a cloud-based directory service.

Remote Work Best Practices

Remote Worker Best Practices

Just Do It

“The people who are allowed to telecommute now tend to be the oldest, highest paid, and most trusted employees. I call it the 5 percent privilege. Businesses need to get past that.”

Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics

Remote working is on the rise all over the world. But it’s far from meeting its potential.

While 2.4 million Americans telecommute (Inc.), it’s estimated that approximately 40% of the work force in the United States – that’s 53 million people – could potentially work from home (Matthew and Williams).

That’s a lot of untapped potential. More people working remotely means more savings, less gas money, and even better marriages, as long as you hire people with the right disposition for remote work and foster a good remote worker culture. So why not give it a try?

Start Gradually

There’s no need to dive into remote work right away. Start by dipping your toes in the water. Consider offering an employee remote work on an ad-hoc basis or on 1-2 specific days each week. That way you can see how an employee does before you’re all in.

Interview Remote Workers Differently

Working from home requires a different skillset and a different type of person. Before you hire a remote worker (or allow a current employee to work from home), you should interview them specifically about their remote work habits.

Esther Schindler at IT World recommends you ask these seven questions:

  • Have you ever telecommuted before?
  • Tell me about your (home) work environment.
  • How comfortable are you with troubleshooting connectivity?
  • Tell me about your daily work rituals.
  • How do you prefer to communicate with colleagues?
  • Tell me about your remote project tracking experience.
  • What are your concerns about working for this team as a telecommuter?

Ensure Your Remote Teams have the Right Tools

Remote Worker having the right tools

Here are some of the essential requisites for a remote team:

  • a good work space
  • a reliable Internet connection
  • reliable/compatible devices
  • access to company tools and apps
  • webcam / video conferencing capacity
  • access to company documents and resources

Some of these are basic responsibilities of the employee, others require the company take responsibility for extending their infrastructure securely to the cloud.

IT Must Gain Central Control Over User Devices

This is a security essential, in case of user termination or device theft. But it’s easier said than done, right?

If you’re using Microsoft Active Directory, it may be tempting to use a VPN tunnel between the remote work device and the home office. But the best method for AD is to extend it by using a bridging technology. This allows you to manage remote devices without VPNs. These solutions effectively mimic the Active Directory user store as a cloud-based service.

This cannot be achieved through a conventional on-premises directory alone without significant networking hurdles. Cloud-based identities can be stored and controlled through a cloud-based directory service, such as a Directory-as-a-Service (definition). As changes are made to the central directory in AD, they are bridged by the cloud-based service to the remote work device.

A Directory-as-a-Service can provide an IT admin the following abilities over remote devices:

  • Password management
  • Account lockout   
  • Local firewall configurations   
  • Browser privacy   
  • Security settings

Admins can also opt to have the task run daily (or more) to ensure all devices stay in compliance.

Make a Remote Work Policy

“A remote work policy should be drafted in addition to a standard employee contract,” says Amy-Mae Elliott at Mashable.

Elliott advises that you consider privacy issues (“Are they fine with work mail coming directly to their home address or do you need to put a redirect in place?”), equipment and insurance (“Who pays if something breaks?”), and security (“Will you be assisting your employee in ensuring they have a secure home network?”).

Some companies offer to cover some remote work expenses. This could include the phone bill, Internet, heating, electricity, and even water costs. Elliott says, “You need to clarify just what you are prepared to contribute toward, and just as importantly, what you expect the employee to do in order to claim such expenses, such as provide copies of bills.”

Global Analytics offers a free remote work policy sample. You can also check out examples from eCornell and George Mason University, or use this editable generic Remote Work Agreement (document will download immediately upon clicking link).

Track Hours, Value Results

It’s important for remote workers to carefully track their time – and there are plenty of good tools online that can make that easy (e.g. Toggl, Freckle, and Harvest). See a review of Toggl here. 

But more important than a remote worker’s hours is their output. The ultimate metric of success is results.

Make Room for Slacking

Probably the biggest obstacle to remote work is the idea from management that their employees will be slacking off on the job at home. Doesn’t it just irk you to think of paying someone an hourly wage to lean back in their pajamas with a bowl of Cheerios and a full Netflix queue?

This is valid concern – and you should carefully track employee output – but not only do managers need to let go of their paranoia about slacking, they should actually embrace it. At least a little bit.

“Water coolers matter. A lot,” say Alex Turnbull, “If you want your remote team to have any semblance of camaraderie, you’d better provide a water cooler for them, too.”

Turnbull’s remote team at Groove implemented Slack. Slack describes itself as a messaging app for teams, offering, “all your communication in one place, integrating with the tools and services you use every day.” We use Slack at JumpCloud, love it, and even featured it as one of our top time-saving tools for IT admins. Another good option is HipChat.

One of the biggest drawbacks to remote work is the loss of the sense of community and socialization that the office provides. Studies say, happier and more connected workers are more productive. So encourage water cooler talk with your remote staff.

Make Remote Work a Bit Less Remote

Remote Workers still need work community

Communication with remote workers will likely be a daily occurrence – and it should be. But there’s a big difference between email and face-to-face.

If possible, schedule weekly in-person meetings with your remote workers. If they’re further away, then make it a weekly call. A once every 6 months “in-person check-up” is advisable, even if that means a significant commute. If distance makes any in-person interaction impossible, than at least go face-to-face using video chat.

If you’ve got a whole remote team, then consider planning yearly team retreats where everyone comes together in person, in the same city, and re-connects.

Remote Work Resources and Recommended Reading

Leaving the Office Behind:  A Guide to Remote Work [pdf]

This 25-page white paper is a breezy read, covering the basics both of working remotely and managing remote workers. You can get it from High Five in exchange for your email.

19 Tools Our Remote Team Uses to Stay Connected, Productive and Sane [web page]

From Screenhero to World Time Buddy, Alex Turnbull at Groove provides great value with this list of tools, apps, and coping strategies his team employs remotely (link).

How to Grow, Manage, and Work with Remote Teams [ebook]

This “ultimate guide” from Wade Foster and Zapier is specifically written for people looking to manage remote teams. You can download the whole ebook for your email – or simply use the table of contents to jump to web pages for each section (link).

Generic Remote Work Policy Template [doc]

This editable generic Remote Work Agreement is an easy-to-use template for making a Remote Worker Policy. The Word document will download immediately upon clicking link.

25 Sites for Finding Remote Work [web page]

Looking to find remote work? This page on Skillcrush is a good place to start.

A New Frontier: How Cloud Identity Management and Mobile Management Are Intersecting In Enterprises [web page]

This article by BlackBerry discusses in depth the pros and security risks of having remote workers.

The Guide to Doing More Faster, Now with IT Control [ebook]

This is JumpCloud’s very own guide to navigating the exciting opportunities and challenges that new advances in IT offer, from DevOps to BYOD and – of course – Remote Work.

Any Questions?

We’ve done everything in our power to jam-pack this page with every essential fact, question, best practice, and resource on remote working… but maybe you know about something that we left out. If so, drop us a line on our contact page.

More about JumpCloud:

We’re a fast growing startup with a big vision in Boulder, CO. Our Directory-as-a-Service was recently featured in Forbes for sweeping the 2015 InterOp Awards. Learn more about what we do.

Rajat Bhargava

Rajat Bhargava is co-founder and CEO of JumpCloud, the first Directory-as-a-Service (DaaS). JumpCloud securely connects and manages employees, their devices and IT applications. An MIT graduate with two decades of experience in industries including cloud, security, networking and IT, Rajat is an eight-time entrepreneur with five exits including two IPOs, three trade sales and three companies still private.

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