We know the added value of remote workers for the company. Lower office expenses combined with higher productivity levels make remote workers an attractive option for companies of all sizes. What started as a way to outsource low skill white color labor has now become the norm. Corporate management recognize the benefit from shifting resources to cheaper labor markets or to by providing employees with the flexibility to work from home.
What is often overlooked is that hiring a remote worker is often a zero-sum game. In other words, for every benefit that is accrued to one party, the other one pays a price. In most cases, it is the employee sacrificing their work/life balance for the good of the corporation. Equally concerning, many remote workers do not receive the same level of professional recognition and compensation that is received by office-based.
At Binfire, we recently conducted a study of remote workers to understand the primary drivers of remote employee behavior. Over 60% of respondents agreed with the statement that distance from the home office negatively impact their career growth prospects within their place of employment. A similar number of respondents indicated that by working away from the corporate office they were removed from the corporate culture.
Given what our research has indicated, the obvious question is why do so many people opt to work via remote? In some ways, technology is the culprit. The perception is that with project management software, email, skype and collaboration tools there is no longer a need to be in a physical office. In the short term, technology can solve some of the problems of working via remote, but over time, there are significant challenges that need a different solution.
First, it is critical to find remote workers with self-disciple and emotional maturity. Let’s put qualifications aside. Many people lack the temperament to work independently. They require the comradery of a physical team environment. There are a number of tests and evaluations that can be used to weed out potential employees who are simply not cut out to be remote workers.
In addition, organizations with remote workers need to re-invest some of the savings into a tier of middle management that are capable of nurturing and supporting remote employees. Project managers need organizational support so that they can dedicate time and resources to advocating and mentoring remote workers. Extra budget for in-person meetings can be a worthwhile long-term investment.
Finally, companies should give careful consideration to the project management software and collaboration tools. Before deploying new tools, consider how your employees are communicating today. For instance, if Google Hangouts are used extensively by remote team members, then little will be gained by forcing the adoption of new collaboration software. Consider document collaboration features in project management software so that all team members can share files easily.
The longer you have a remote worker, the more valuable they are to your organization. Therefore, it is important to recognize that your organization will need to implement policies and practices to minimize employee churn. If hiring remote workers is in the strategic interest of your company, then supporting these employees and helping them further their career objectives can turn a zero-sum-game into a win-win.