In recent years, many companies have begun to implement remote work policies, while some rely entirely on a remote workforce. Telecommuting is becoming an integral part of American work culture, with about a third of employees now working from home at least part of the time.
There are many reasons for a company to build a remote team, from accessing top talent to cutting costs. In particular, startups that can’t afford office space, and digital companies where work is all done on a computer are among the most likely to employ remote workers.
If you’re a business owner, keep reading to learn about the pros and cons of having remote workers so you can judge whether it’s the right move for your company.
What Is Remote Work?
Remote work is a flexible arrangement that allows employees to work outside of a central location such as an office. Some employees work remotely full time, while others telecommute part of the week or a couple of days per month. While most remote employees work from home, other options include coffee shops, libraries, hotels, and co-working spaces that rent out desks.
Remote work can be the solution to some unique situations. Let’s say a great employee is moving because their spouse has accepted a job in a different city. Rather than letting the employee resign, why not allow them to telecommute? Another good example is allowing an employee with mobility issues to work from home.
With reports of improved performance and greater job happiness, remote work can be beneficial to both employers and employees.
The Advantages of Employing Remote Workers
Telecommuting is becoming increasingly commonplace, and for good reason. Here are just a few benefits to hiring remote workers or implementing remote work policy.
Hiring from a wider pool of talent: It can be challenging to find the right person for the job, and hiring remotely allows businesses to cast a wider net. Instead of hiring a semi-qualified applicant in your area, you can look nationally or even internationally until you get the best candidate for the position.
A more productive workforce: In most cases, performance improves when employees are permitted to work from home, even for a portion of the work week. A study conducted by two Stanford researchers demonstrated that employees actually take fewer breaks and work longer hours when at home compared to in an office. The biggest reason they cited for their increased productivity was a less distracting environment.
Employee satisfaction: Remote workers are typically happier in their jobs due to a better work-life balance. Everyone has different commitments, and telecommuters appreciate being able to work when and where they want. What’s more, avoiding the hassle of a daily commute saves employees both time and money.
Remote workers also report feeling more valued, better engaged, and less stressed, which may contribute to employee longevity. In fact, many companies find having a distributed team actually reduces staff turnover. The perk of working remotely either full or part time appears to encourage people to stay with a company longer than they would otherwise.
Cutting costs: Employing remote workers can reduce operating costs ranging from office space to office supplies. For example, with a full-time remote workforce, a company can reduce real estate expenses by $10,000 per employee per year.
You can save on salaries by paying distributed workers competitive salaries relative to the cost of living in their city. Companies also report fewer unscheduled absences from remote workers, who can take care of a sick child or make an appointment without taking a full day off work. Fewer absences can create significant savings for a business.
The Drawbacks of Having a Remote Workforce
Despite the many benefits of telecommuting, it’s not necessarily the right fit for all businesses or all individuals, and managers can still face some challenges when dealing with a distributed workforce. Fortunately, you can overcome these obstacles with a little effort.
Finding the right employees: As discussed above, the wider you search, the more talent you’ll find. However, it can be tough to find team members who thrive in a remote work environment. Candidates without remote work experience may think they like working from home, but ultimately wind up feeling lonely, forgotten about, or directionless.
To be productive, a remote employee should be self-motivated, organized, and disciplined. You might not be able to assess these skills right away, so you might want to give candidates a mock assignment before hiring them or institute a trial period for new hires.
Communication: Contact between managers and remote workers is limited, which can make it challenging to build relationships. You can’t simply stroll over to an employee’s office to ask a question or talk about weekend plans.
With a remote workforce, there is a greater potential for unclear or lack of communication, so it’s imperative for managers to set clear goals and expectations around communication and deliverables. They should also make an effort to be in frequent contact with remote workers in order to monitor their progress and diminish feelings of isolation. Emails, phone conversations, and video conferencing are popular options, but you can also use messaging apps and online chat tools.
Team building: Many remote workers struggle to build relationships with coworkers. Just like manager-employee relationships, it can be difficult for remote employees to connect when they have limited in-person contact. If a team is divided between co-located and remote employees, there is the added challenge of ensuring remote workers aren’t left out of spontaneous decisions and conversations happening on site.
Building culture with a remote team is challenging, but not impossible. Tools such as Slack and HipChat are useful for project management and collaboration, but they also have a social aspect. It’s easy to create messaging channels for watercooler conversations, share videos and articles, and have other informal interactions. Managers can expect more creativity and better problem solving from a team that’s personally connected.
The Way of the Future
Telecommuting can be mutually beneficial, with employers reporting that remote workers are just as productive as co-located employees, and employees reporting improved job satisfaction and decreased stress levels. Millennials value flexibility in a workplace above all else, and with most work now done on a computer, it’s easy to work from home during hours that are personally convenient.
Do you employ remote workers? Would you?