by Jennifer Lumba | April 01, 2013
Recently, Yahoo! Chief Marissa Mayer told her remote workers that they have until June to get to an office or find a new job. That’s a troubling stance. After all, research says that remote workers who operate on flexible schedules tend to be highly productive.
For example, Chinese travel company Ctrip split its workforce and found those who worked at home to be 13 percent more productive. Similarly, consulting firm Ernst & Young found that employees who took more vacation time performed better in annual reviews.
Newer reports say that Mayer doesn’t object to telecommuting in principle. Rather, she’s cracking down on a legacy of institutionalized laziness among a handful of remote workers. Yahoo! wasn’t getting enough from these staffers, and underperformance had gone unpunished for too long.
Fair enough. As with any corporate policy, there’s a fine line between enabling freedom and unleashing morale-crippling chaos. Here are 10 tips for using social tools to get the most from a distributed workforce:
1. Build Around Skills Rather Than Locales 
Expertise and availability are all that matters when it comes to creating teams. Be unafraid to put in-house employees together with their remote peers. Instead, set expectations high and then trust your technology and your team members to rise to the occasion.
2. Bank Office Space Savings in the Technology Budget 
Trusting technology doesn’t mean having to practice ignorance. Spend money on social tools that connect workers wherever they may be — and not just remote workers, either. Connect the entire staff so that employees in New York can share ideas with contractors in Los Angeles as if they were in the next cubicle.
3. Upgrade Infrastructure
Social networking technology only works if the underlying network can handle the traffic demands of a distributed workforce. Invest in broadband Internet access. Outfit remote workers with high-speed Internet connections at their home offices. Remove any technical barriers to getting work done.
4. No In-Person Meetings
A dramatic step, admittedly, but if your intent is to eliminate time and distance as barriers to productivity then it should be commonplace to use social technology for organizing and conducting meetings.
5. Standardize on a Platform 
Pick a social tool for where the entire company can collaborate if need be. Think broadly. Allow even the lowest ranked line worker to send a note to the CEO for open comment, but include enough flexibility for teams to meet and discuss projects privately.
6. Encourage Creativity 
The act of anointing one tool for collaborative work doesn’t — and shouldn’t — prevent workers from trying other tools for engaging with peers, customers, partners, and interested outsiders. Make it easy for employees to show the world what they’re working on and offers to collaborate will follow.
7. Preserve Privacy
Similarly, don’t force workers to embrace social media on a grand scale. Social tools are just that: tools. Let those who prefer the quiet of undisturbed work keep off the network most of the time — just so long as they participate enough to keep their peers and managers updated on their progress.
8. Eliminate “On-Site” Incentives
Don’t punish your remote workers by offering additional perks to those who work in-house. Or, if you do offer, say, on-site cafeteria benefits and free meals to those at headquarters, allow remote workers to expense a certain number of restaurant visits per month or quarter. Treasure all of your workers equally.
9. Design Team Incentives
Encourage cooperation by designing team incentives. That way, remote and in-house workers get to share equally in the spoils that result from exceptional outcomes.
10. Reward Exceptional Performance Only
Eliminate rewards that are tied to on-site attendance. Instead, offer sincere recognition to those who perform well above expectations. Broadcast their achievements company-wide, noting how their work has added measurably to meeting or exceeding stated goals.
Jennifer Lumba is the chief marketing officer of Rideau Recognition Solutions. Built on state-of-the-art technology, Rideau’s employee recognition and customer loyalty programs change the way companies recognize employee service and achievement, reward individual and team performance, strengthen customer relationships, and create brand loyalty. Lumba can be reached at [email protected]