How to harness the benefits of remote workers

How the nature of technology is changing the nature of the modern workplace at an unprecedented rate.

Many of the biggest businesses in today’s world, the big winners of the tech boom of the 80s and 90s, are based almost entirely online. When the majority of a company’s day-to-day activities take place in cyberspace, it raises a contentious question: is the classic cubicle-farm office still relevant to a 2015 workspace?

As the online footprint of business and tech grows, and communication and collaboration technology improves, more and more employers are embracing remote workers and telecommuters. Is this the right move for your business? Here’s how you can get the most out of allowing your team to work from home.

The benefits

Critics of the work-from-home model worry that employees will be less motivated and less productive without direct oversight, but the data of the last ten years doesn’t bear that out. According to Global Workplace Analytics, major companies like Best Buy, British Telecomm, and Dow Chemical have all found that their remote workers are considerably more productive than their office-based counterparts…and the benefits don’t stop there. Let’s take a look at some of the ways remote workers can benefit your entire team.

For the employee

Forbes magazine surveyed remote workers, and found that the number one reason they preferred working from home was the ability to manage their work/home life balance. That’s a common theme among remote workers: they’re less stressed, able to eat healthier, and enjoy more family time and more control over their schedules. The second and third responses were closely related: saving gas and avoiding traffic. As the cost of gas and transportation continues to climb, a long commute can become a major drain on the finances. While working from home isn’t for everybody, there are clear benefits to the employees who thrive in a quieter and more controlled environment.

For the employer

The bonuses of improved productivity speak for themselves, but it’s easy to underestimate how much money a happy and productive workforce can save an employer. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that unscheduled sick days cost employers an average of US$1,800 per employee per year…and allowing employees to work from home drastically reduces the number of sick days taken. In addition to being happier and less stressed, remote workers often report better focus. Offices are loud and distracting: many tech employees benefit from being able to control incoming calls and emails, “going silent” to really focus on an involved project. That comes back to the employer in faster output and higher quality work.

Easy collaboration, easy communication

The key to managing a remote workforce effectively is communication. There are a wealth of apps, programs, and systems out there to help keep a remote team running smoothly, but the first necessity for any widespread workforce is a good video conferencing network. Cloud-based systems like BlueJeans are the easiest to set up, and the most reliable once they’re running: since all calls are hosted through an online server, it’s extremely easy to link everyone to the same network, regardless of their hardware or operating system. That broad-base compatibility is one of the biggest advantages of BlueJeans videoconferencing: it requires very little setup to get a conference running. The ease of starting a video chat mirrors the feel of sticking your head through the door to ask a coworker a question, and goes a long way towards helping remote workers feel connected and engaged with the rest of the team.

Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise

The Harvard Business review found that the biggest resistance to remote workers comes from middle management. The perception is that it’s much harder to manage productivity when they can’t observe it in action themselves. However, Forbes contributor Kevin Kruse points out that this isn’t an accurate way to measure productivity. According to Kruse, ineffective managers don’t set measurable goals, relying instead on seeing a worker at their desk to measure productivity, when all they’re measuring is presence.

When your workforce is spread out, it becomes extremely important to set those measurable goals for your team. Inc Partner Insights recommends setting weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals with a clear aim in mind to keep your employees on task. Shared documents like Google Calendar make it much easier to keep your remote workers on the same page, and keep everyone working towards the same goal. Inc.com also emphasises the importance of checking in with remote workers on a one-on-one basis, just like you would in a traditional office. When you can’t meet face to face, it becomes all the more important to ensure that all the members of your team are connected and engaged.

Wrapping up

The Internet age has changed the way business works for everyone. Fortunately, this new age of commerce has provided some powerful new tools that can keep your employees happier, healthier, less stressed and more productive…and you’ll see all those benefits come back to your bottom line!

See also: Why remote working teams can be viable for small businesses – Jason Downes looks at the difference between a remote worker and remote working teams, which could be shaping the future of the workplace.

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Remote working

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