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Workforce Planning in the Age of Telecommuting

Let’s say you’re playing a game of chess. Generally speaking, there are two different ways you could play. You could plan your moves strategically, each one made specifically to achieve various objectives in order to win the game. Or you could just wing it. You can simply try your best to get to your opponent’s King while making reactionary moves in order to protect your pieces.

Which method seems like it’ll give you the best chance to win? Obviously, the first one. Whether you’re playing chess or you’re a Chief Human Resources Officer, forward-thinking is a must in order to succeed. There are several crucial long-term initiatives that every business implements (or should implement, anyway), but one of the most important is what’s known as workforce planning. And one of the most crucial elements of workforce planning is incorporating your telecommuting employees.

What is Workforce Planning?

Workforce planning is defined as the process of planning for current and future employment needs. The main goal of workforce planning is to make sure that the business always has the human capital it needs in order to run efficiently and effectively, both now and in the future. Developing a cost-effective talent acquisition strategy that closes any talent gaps you may have is also a major component.

Additionally, effective workforce planning includes regular analysis of how productive the business’ employees are, both as a whole and individually. If the workforce as a whole or specific groups are underperforming, then changes such as adding a learning management strategy can be developed to increase productivity.

Similarly, strategic workforce planning is the process of organizing the needs of the workforce with those of the business, based on long-term business objectives and goals. This includes succession planning, which ensures that there’s a plan in place to quickly fill essential management roles (typically with employees that already have the most important skills) when they’re vacated.

Do I Really Need to Plan for Telecommuting?

In a word: absolutely, positively, 100% yes. See how important it is? We couldn’t emphasize it enough with just one word. Telecommuting, as you probably know, is when your employees work remotely, whether that’s from their house, a coworking space or a French cafe serving the best eclairs south of Paris.

The number of remote workers is increasing rapidly. A 2017 Gallup survey on working remotely found that 43% of US employees spent at least some time working remotely, as compared to 39% in 2012. What’s more, according to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the US Employee Workforce report, almost four million full-time employees in the US, or about 3% of the workforce, worked from home at least half of the time. This number represents a 115% increase from 10 years prior.

Additionally, various studies have found that employees that work remotely at least part of the time are more productive, more efficient, less stressed and more engaged. This results in lower employee turnover and increased interest from the top talent, especially among Millennials.

So to answer that question again: yes, you need to include telecommuting in your workforce planning efforts.

Workforce Planning for Telecommuters

So what strategies can your HR department add to a workforce planning process when so many employees are clamoring for telecommuting opportunities? There are a few you can implement, including:

Proactively Networking with Employees Living Elsewhere

Just as your talent acquisition team needs to network with the top talent in your area, they should do the same for talent living elsewhere. Restricting your talent acquisition efforts to your city or state is a great way to ensure that you’re not finding the best talent. By reaching out to talent living elsewhere, you may just find your next great hire.

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Now, chances are this talent won’t want to move from their current location. In this case, you can offer them an arrangement that allows them to telecommute. This is an enticing proposition for many of today’s employees, as they can advance their career without uprooting themselves and their family.

Planning Regular Face-to-Face Interactions

Telecommuters can feel distant from the rest of the workforce without regular interaction, and the feeling is mutual for your on-site employees. That means that you need to implement not only regular digital communication, but also regular face-to-face communication.

We’re of course not talking about every week — your telecommuters wouldn’t be much of telecommuters at that point. But bringing in your telecommuting employees for a few days every few months, twice per year or whatever frequency is best for your business is crucial.

Facilitating regular face-to-face interaction helps keep your telecommuting employees engaged, since they feel like they’re a part of the company culture instead of an outsider. More engagement means more productivity, which means that your telecommuters will be able to reach their full potential. And doing so just might include promotion to upper management.

In addition, when your telecommuters and on-site workers have the chance to interact with each other in person, trust is created. This is essential for regular work, but even more so if a telecommuter gets promoted to a management role.

Helping Them Develop

If you made the right hires, your telecommuting employees should be just as likely to be your top performers and/or management potential as your on-site employees. And just like your on-site employees, you need to assess the competencies of your telecommuters so they can continue to grow and develop their skills.

Combining performance reviews with productivity metrics, you can identify which of your telecommuting employees are most likely to earn a promotion. You can then identify what skills they have, including both hard skills and soft skills. In some cases, this might reveal that some of your telecommuters are already ready to step into a managerial position, should one open up. In other cases, you may discover promising telecommuters that just need to fill some skill gaps. You can then provide them with access to relevant courses through a learning management system so they can fill those gaps and get prepared for a promotion.

Preparing for More Telecommuting

Finally, you simply have to be prepared for more telecommuting. As technology improves, telecommuting will only continue to become more prevalent. Soon, most businesses will have a substantial amount of remote workers that are either fully or partially remote. It’s time to fully embrace this change.

One way to embrace telecommuting is to plan an annual or semi-annual event, like a conference or summit. This event would bring all of your employees together to discuss the business, get to know each other and, hopefully, learn a few new things. This is a great way to build culture, in addition to providing another way in which to assess the people skills (aka management potential) of your telecommuters.

Workforce Planning for the Future

Using the strategies above, your HR department will be well equipped to handle whatever employment challenges come its way. You’ll never have to worry about filling an important role, adding a new position or attracting top talent ever again.

In addition, you can use workforce management software to make the workforce planning process easier. This type of software aids many aspects of workforce management, including scheduling, time/attendance and other administrative tasks. But possibly its biggest benefit is how it combines talent acquisition and employee skills development into one platform. This helps streamline your workforce planning efforts, as you can keep all of your data on past and current employees with that of your future employment needs. With this information in hand, your business will be prepared to address any employment and telecommuting challenges that may come your way.

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