Technological advances have given employers--and employees--expanded options for remote work, and to be highly productive outside of the office.

Remote capabilities are potentially a boon (in terms of reduced overhead costs and increased productivity) but they also present a challenge for human resources (HR) leaders, especially in companies with senior leadership that favor on-premises teams.

The fact is, despite highly publicized efforts by Yahoo! and IBM to curtail their telecommuting programs, the remote-workforce trend continues to expand. A 2016 set of Gallup surveys found that in 2016, the percentage of Americans who did some or all of their work remotely was 43%, up from 39% in 2012. Over the same period, the percentages that only work remotely increased to 20% from 15%.

With this new reality, HR leaders must take positive steps to ensure that the business is getting as much (or more) production out of remote workers as those in the office. Simultaneously, they must nurture the employees they see less frequently--if at all--and make them feel as much a part of the team as in-office workers.

To accomplish this, HR professionals should turn their attention to the following:

I. Launching

According to Sandra M. Reed, SPHR, author of A Guide to the Human Resource Body of Knowledge™ (HRBoK™), published by HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®), for employers seeking to implement a telecommuting policy, the first priority is to identify strategic objectives. For example, is flexible work being considered because of a local talent shortage? "This is the case for many Silicon Valley companies, where housing costs and grueling commutes are significant barriers to accessing top talent," notes Reed, who is also an HR and management consultant at Epoch Resources.

Second, have HR lead a thorough analysis of potential telecommuting jobs, including what job components may be completed remotely and for which geographic proximity is essential. Global Workforce Analytics reported that 50 percent of U.S. workforce jobs are at least partially compatible with telework.

Third, design telecommuting-option criteria, including selection as a reward for tenure or performance, while taking into consideration the existing and future workforce. Some companies, such as Salesforce, require telecommuting candidates to complete pre-work (e.g., videos, job shadowing, training modules) prior to attending an HR boot camp-style onboarding event.

II. Monitoring

Some employees find points of connection, such as quarterly onsite meetings at headquarters, weekly Skype debriefs with a supervisor, regular phone calls or email exchanges to be a necessary tradeoff for the many upsides of telecommuting. However, for remote workers, such monitoring can also be a lifeline to the company.Find ways to check in regularly with your remote workers to both monitor their projects and progress, as well as to keep them engaged and actively feeling that they're part of the company.

III. Evaluating Performance

HR can also provide value by identifying career paths for all organizational roles. "Employees considering a telework position can see how it may evolve in advance, and whether a promotion would require returning onsite," Reed says. "A well-organized HR department will also have ongoing development conversations with the employees, using gap analysis to identify current skill sets and employee development needed to achieve promotion."

It is important to evaluate telecommuting program outcomes regularly, using analytics -- and to develop ways to share remote-employee achievements within the division or firm-wide, so they feel recognized and seen.

IV. Keeping Employees Engaged

Thanks to new advances and software solutions, there are a number of creative ways to keep remote workers engaged. For example, the communication platform, Slack, provides myriad tools for collaboration and exchanging information. Such applications can help remote workers stay looped in, so they can contribute ideas and add value through crowdsourcing, brainstorming, one-on-one discussions and document sharing.

Obviously, if there are company-wide conferences, retreats or celebrations, make every effort to include remote workers in such outings.

"In a war for talent that will continue to get fiercer," says Reed, "employees expect their employers to be just as innovative with employee programs--such as telecommuting--as they are with client solutions."

In Conclusion

With all of the changes in the ways we work today, companies must have the leadership in place with the vision and training to best navigate these new landscapes. The key, of course, to such smooth navigation is reliance on a strategically-minded HR team that will not only prepare your company for today's realities, but also for whatever future realities may be just around the bend.

Published on: Sep 5, 2017