Bosses without borders: Essential tools for managing remote workers

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made headlines in February when she banned telecommuting, as did Best Buy when it canceled its telework program shortly afterward. But according to the Families and Work Institute (PDF), remote working is on the rise: Last year 63 percent of companies reported giving employees workplace flexibility, up from 34 percent in 2005. And in a recent Gallup survey, 39 percent of employees said they spent some time working remotely. The research firm also found that remote workers put in more hours and are slightly more engaged than their office counterparts.

It’s all well and good for workers who can opt out of frazzling commutes or choose to crank out a bunch of work in their pajamas, but what about their boss? How can you know if telecommuters are working as much as they say they are, and how can you help them do their best work? Here are some of the best tools available to promote stellar communication with remote workers.

For feedback and communications: 15Five Forget about tedious status reports. This slick cloud platform works as a communications backbone for companies by prompting employees to spend 15 minutes a week writing about their successes, challenges, ideas, and morale in a report that takes a manager only 5 minutes to read. Managers decide the questions 15Five asks, such as “What’s going well in your role?” or “What challenges are you facing, and where do you need support?” With the click of a button, managers can include an employee comment in their own report. Whenever an executive responds to an idea or issue, both the manager and employee receive an email notification, so they can hop back onto 15Five to continue the conversation.

Currently 15Five is off-limits if you use a free email provider, such as Gmail or Yahoo. The company plans to lift that restriction in an upcoming upgrade to the platform. Try it at no charge for four weeks; after the trial period, it costs $49 a month for the first ten people and $5 more for each additional person.

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