Balancing act: Company offers 4 tips for managing telecommuters

Published: Tuesday, April 29 2014 9:23 a.m. MDT

Some job tasks are definitely harder to do from home than in the office. And some teams may be harder to manage when people are working remotely. To help combat the latter problem, Robert Half Technology offered four tips to help manage remote teams.

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It turns out the work-from-home engineer really isn't a myth.

Last week, I wrote about a FlexJobs list of 20 top work-from-home jobs. My former and somewhat current job of "writer" topped the list, which wasn't surprising.

However, "engineer" was also in the top 20, which I found odd. So I asked for an engineer to drop me a line to let me know whether this is actually feasible.

I quickly heard from an engineer named Anita, who wrote in an email that she was surprised to see her job title on the list. But thanks to some changes she chose to make in her work life, she has become a telecommuting engineer.

Anita wrote that she worked for an engineering contracting firm with a national laboratory as a full-time employee for four years. But when she remarried, she chose to select part-time work that she could do from home after moving to the city in which her husband worked.

"Engineers typically work in groups and not alone so that not all the members of the groups have to be on-site or in the office," Anita wrote. "As long as at least one person in the group is available to take care of on-site issues, it is OK for the others to work remotely.

"The one drawback to being an engineer and working exclusively from home is that there are some activities that simply can't be taken care of remotely. These items are also the same ones that get you promoted within companies."

This is a common problem faced by telecommuters and one I'll address more fully in a future column. Anita wrote that she was a project engineer in her previous job, tasked with telling others what to do.

"Those tasks would have been difficult to do effectively from home, so I gave them up," she wrote. "Now I am back to being a 'doer,' which is just fine with me. ... I believe it has been a win-win for me and the company, since I get a little extra income and they get an experienced employee who can work with the ebb and flow of the job and who doesn't go on overhead when the work is light."

It does sound like this is an ideal situation, Anita, and I'm glad you've worked it out.

I've written many times before that such flexibility can be helpful for both employees and employers if they're willing to work at it. Reading about Anita's work arrangement reminded me of an email I received recently from Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis.

In a recent survey of U.S. chief information officers conducted by the company, 30 percent cited communication — namely a lack of face time — as their greatest challenge in managing a remote work force. Another 22 percent cited productivity, or a lack of insight into how work gets done, and 22 percent mentioned technology, or making sure workers have access to information.

The survey was based on more than 2,300 telephone interviews with CIOs from U.S. companies with 100 or more employees in 23 major metro areas.

As Anita mentioned, some tasks definitely are harder to do from home. And likewise, some teams may be harder to manage when people are working remotely.

To help combat the latter problem, Robert Half Technology offered four tips to help technology executives manage remote teams effectively. The company suggests:

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