Within the United States, 37 percent of workers say that they have telecommuted. More than half of those who have tried remote work are college graduates who earn an annual household income of $75,000 or more. As more employers see their competitors turning to remote workers to meet challenging goals, the number of professionals who work remotely may grow even more in the near future.
Companies interested in this trend should learn about the pros and cons before deciding whether they want to commit to remote worker programs. Current research shows that the advantages usually outweigh the disadvantages.
If you decide that remote work is right for you, you'll also need to learn how to properly manage a remote team in to unlock their potential rather than give them a pass to slack off.
The Case for Remote Work
A large amount of research shows that remote work can benefit employers as well as employees. Many of the benefits come from reducing the stress that employees experience while working in crowded offices. One report shows that 82 percent of telecommuters report lower stress levels than employees who fulfill tasks exclusively at work. Other surveys show that remote workers are significantly happier than office workers.
When they help lower the stress and improve the happiness of workers, companies can benefit from increased productivity and efficiency. Considering that employers lose an estimated $1.8 trillion from low productivity each year, it makes sense for companies to give employees opportunities that improve engagement and efficiency.
Hiring remote workers can also lower a company's real estate and operating costs. For example, when American Express started its BlueWork program, which allowed some employees to work from home, the company saved between $10 and $15 million annually while improving employee productivity.
Despite the benefits of using remote workers, some companies resist the trend to let more people work from home. This makes it difficult for those companies to attract the most talented millennials and postmillennials, many of whom say that the option to work remotely would increase their interest in job options.
The research makes it clear that remote work benefits employers and employees by:
- Improving productivity and efficiency
- Keeping employees more engaged, healthy and happy
- Lowering real estate and operating costs
- Attracting the most talented recruits
With so many benefits, all companies need to take remote work opportunities seriously.
Potential Problems With Using Remote Work
While most studies show that remote work offers numerous benefits, there are critics who raise concerns about working from home. According to some, working at home can lead to problems such as:
- The plentiful distractions in a person's home
- A lack of oversight that can harm productivity
- Loneliness that can affect an employee's mental health
- Too much flexibility that tempts employees to use their time unwisely
- Increased personal stress caused by working and living in the same environment
- Detachment from managers and colleagues (it's already hard enough!)
Employers obviously need to worry about these concerns. Even though most research indicates that working remotely can improve a person's well-being and work performance, it does not work well for everyone. Some people may not have the right skills to stay on task without close oversight. While some may thrive outside of the office, others encounter problems that impair the employer-employee relationship.
Writers Make Great Candidates for Remote Work
In general, writers make great candidates for remote work because they need personalized environments to meet their goals. It's practically impossible for a company to provide the type of environment that each writer prefers. One person may do his or her best work while listening to loud music and pacing the room, while another gets the best results while sitting in a perfectly quiet office.
Writers need to approach their work from a creative perspective, so managers cannot expect them to perform in the same way as other professionals. The flexibility to take a walk outside, for instance, could lead to an insight that becomes a website's most popular blog post. Inspiration may also come from playing with pets, practicing an instrument or speaking out loud.
Companies don't want writers participating in these activities at work because they would distract everyone else. If managers force writers to follow restrictive policies, though, you could miss a writer's best work.
Strategies to Improve Team Cohesion and Communication
Given that remote workers may encounter some issues, managers should learn how to improve team cohesion and communication even when some employees rarely, if ever, visit the office. Luckily, today's technology makes it relatively easy for workers all over the world to collaborate with each other and stay in touch.
Communication tools that can keep remote workers connected to managers and other employees include:
- Online chat and videoconferencing options like Skype and Google Hangouts
- Weekly calls with the full team
- Required quarterly trips to visit the company headquarters
- Invitations to team retreats with sponsored airfare
- Project management systems that track the progress of specific tasks
Management style can also improve team cohesion and communication. Managers should look for job applicants who have the experience and personalities needed to work remotely. Once hired, managers can keep in contact with remote workers via phone calls and emails. Establishing clear, quantifiable objectives and a chain of command can also help remote workers understand what employers expect from them.
Remote work may not match the needs of all employers and employees, but most people find that they benefit when they have access to the right technology and management.
Making your remote team doesn't mean sending your current employees away. You can sample the life of a remote work manager by building a remote writer bullpen using Scripted. Don't know what you need? Take Scripted's content marketing starter quiz to learn more.
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