A few short decades ago handling the daily communications and operations of the workplace was completely different. Transmitting a file meant waiting on a fax to slowly transcribe an original paper document on the sender’s side to a flimsy, waxy roll of paper on the receiver’s end. If you wanted to meet with a team on the other side of the country, you booked flights, accommodations, and local transportation to get all the attendees in the same room.
The technology of the new age means near-instant file transfers and a range of technology options to communicate from almost every corner of the globe. This has created a bevy of completely new industries and job titles in 2015 alone, many of which were unthinkable even 5-10 years ago. With these developments we’ve seen the rise of the remote worker, who doesn’t need to make an office appearance to get the same work done. While embraced by many, there is still a contingent that has been hesitant to adopt this new trend, for reasons we will explore here.
The first and most frequent concern is regarding employee productivity. “There are so many distractions in people’s homes, we couldn’t possibly expect them to be productive while not directly in our line of sight” is a common argument. The truth of the matter is that without the burden of commuting and with the work-space so close at hand the majority of remote workers tend to start work earlier AND stay online longer than their in-office peers. As long as you set clear productivity goals and are engaged as a manager (being careful not to micromanage), and provide regular feedback, remote workers tend to be more productive than counterparts in an office equally full of distractions. Sure they may take a break to unload the dishwasher or do a load of laundry here or there but if the work is getting done… who cares?
Another common (and not entirely unfounded) issue that people have with a remote workforce is the topic of collaboration and communication. There is a benefit to your team being able to walk over to each other and talk in person, and in some instances it can be needed. That being said, many of these concerns for remote workers can also be addressed through technology. There is no shortage of chat, video conference, file-sharing and productivity software options to achieve many of the same things that can be done in person. Set a core “hours of availability” for your team so they are online at the same times. When you do occasionally have them together in the office, use team building exercises to engage them and bring them closer.
There are many business benefits to offering a remote work option. With remote workers, you’ll enjoy lower overhead (as a result of smaller office space requirements), including rent and utility savings. You will also gain additional flexibility to respond to emergency situations quickly, with workers almost always being near their regular “workstations” should the need arise. The biggest benefit, however, might be your ability to attract and retain talent. Many remote employees have reduced expenses (think childcare and commuting), which results in a net pay increase—a difference that can make them much harder to headhunt. You’ll also be able to recruit the best talent without the burden of geographical restrictions.
If you have been on the fence about a remote workforce, now might be the time to change your perspective. You might be surprised at the rewards waiting for you on the other side.