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Summary:

Great companies make it easy for employees to do their jobs, whether they have a cubicle in the corporate headquarters, work out of a remote office or work from their home. By giving everyone remote participation options, you make everyone more productive.

I’ve worked in companies that made it really easy to be a web worker and in companies where it was very difficult to work remotely outside of the corporate office. In one small startup, I was the only remote employee, so they would frequently forget to call me for scheduled meetings, and it was difficult to stay in touch with decisions that were being made in office hallways. On the other hand, I’ve also worked for companies that treat everyone like a web worker, which levels the playing field for everyone: people working in the corporate office, remote offices or at home.

Great companies make it easy for employees to do their jobs, whether they have a cubicle in the corporate headquarters, work out of a remote office or work from their home. By giving everyone remote participation options, you make everyone more productive. Here are a few ways that companies can treat everyone like a web worker.

Meetings With Remote Attendance Options

At the company I work for now, many meetings are scheduled without booking a conference room, and almost every meeting has a way for people to attend remotely. We have audio conference numbers where people can call into the meetings, and if there are any presentation materials, those are usually sent out over email or posted online in advance of the meeting.

When you schedule all of your meetings this way, you give people the flexibility to attend from wherever they happen to be working. It’s not just great for web workers, but also for people who are traveling and participants who work in other offices. By giving everyone this option, you can make sure that people can participate without any extra hassle.

Instant Messaging Made Easy

One of the benefits of working in the office is that you can swing by someone’s cube to ask a quick or urgent question, but IM can also serve this need if you make it easy for team members to find each other on IM. We have a corporate chat system where you can search by name and get connected to anyone in the company. Smaller companies or teams can use chat programs that automatically add team members to a group in your IM account, which gives employees a fast way to contact anyone on the team without having to exchange IM credentials in advance.

Another option is use a group chat application or IRC channels for team members to chat as a group. This is a great complement to regular one-to-one IM and is especially useful for getting answers to general questions that many different people could answer, depending on who has a little extra time to answer it. Group chats are also a great way to collaborate on a difficult problem or brainstorm solutions, and they can serve as a “virtual water cooler” where people can chat about almost any topic.

Like remote meeting attendance, using IM tools also lowers the barriers to working remotely, giving everyone the same opportunities to stay in touch with colleagues informally.

Online Collaboration Tools

Treating your company like an online community with a variety of online collaboration tools makes it much easier for both web workers and people in the corporate office to find information and communicate with team members.

I worked in one company where there was no corporate intranet; instead, we had an internal community with wiki documents, forums for discussion, and blogs. It was a great way to keep in touch with other team members and people across the company. People blogged about business trips, relevant industry news and anything else they wanted to share with the rest of the team. We used the discussions to talk about everything from which snacks we should have in the break room to larger strategic topics where anyone could weigh in with an opinion before a decision was made. The wiki documents were used to share information about everything from human resources policies to instructions for using corporate software. Regardless of any particular physical location, this gave everyone the same opportunities to collaborate with the rest of the team on equal footing.

What else can companies do to make it easier for remote web workers?

Photo by Flickr user cogdogblog used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Enabling the Web Work Revolution

  1. We could not agree more. As founders – we all came out of much larger corporate environments where there were varying levels of virtualization and collaboration emerging.

    While we also have brick and mortar offices – we definitely subscribe to the freedom of online collaboration. If we provide the tools (the smart phone, iPad, computer and requisite access to online collaboration platforms) everyone has a part in our tactics and strategy whether they are in boxers in a home office or sitting in the meeting room.

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  2. Your points about instant messaging are spot-on. That’s why we made HipChat. We were sick of using AIM at our previous jobs and not having good chat rooms, easy file sharing, archived history, etc. You can be so much more productive when you have the right tools.

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  3. Great observations. I’ve been working on a long-term freelance contract with a major company for almost eight months. The single most helpful thing they’ve done to help me feel like part of the team, even though I’m essentially a web worker living 3,000 miles away, is set up a standing weekly conference call. I really think it helps them remember I’m there, and makes everyone – including me – get our work done because we know we need to be accountable for it by the time that weekly call rolls around. They’ve yet to institute IM or document sharing, which would be helpful but not having them haven’t been a problem.

    Michelle Rafter

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  4. I also was one of the first remote employees in the company I worked at and it worked pretty well for everyone. I just need to make sure remote employees are getting the results for the company. A few years later I now have my own remote workers and I know what it’s like to work with them and get results. The world is changing.

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  5. I have been telecommuting for the last 4 years and the best tool is a good webconferencing system. Important it isn’t one that the company has to install on all machines though and needs IT dept clearance. Web browser based are easiest to get accepted by IT and upper brass.

    Anthony Russo
    Global Conferencing Specialist
    Infinity Conference Call
    arusso@infinityconferencecall.com
    Skype: anth.russo
    Twitter: @AnthonyRusso

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  6. What’s interesting about this article is not only how it applies to workers with full-time jobs, but to freelancers and independent contractors too. Without the right tools and ability to stay in contact with others, no work would ever get done.

    I currently work for a technology start-up that is centered on providing the best match between employee and employer for freelancers out there. One of the best benefits of Werkadoo is its application of a “werkspace” that compiles all the apps available to workers, such as Skype, Zoho, GoPlan, Mint, etc. If any of you are current freelancers, or know friends who are freelancers, definitely shoot them an email about werkadoo because it’s one of the few websites that have been adapting themselves to the changing work environment!

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  7. I am a freelance photographer and ‘ve been working remotely much too long. i think chats, blogs and forums are great chance to get in touch with all employees, even those you’ve never seen before. but for the work i prefer using 4shared as the most reliable online sharing service. i use it everyday to save my photos on web and share them with co-workers. and if talking about security and privacy, it has never yet failed me.

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