With the growth of the knowledge economy, technology has become an enabler to the growing phenomenon of telecommuters or remote workers. From electronic time cards to video conferencing and GoogleDocs, the technological tools for connecting with and managing employees in the field abound.
Creating effective virtual teams, however, involves a lot more than providing cool technologies and a good broadband connection. Remote workers face a number of challenges as do the companies that employ them. Both structured and ad hoc communication with remote employees, for example, becomes critical. Supporting an awareness of the company’s vision and mission can also be difficult remotely, but is essential for creating a sense of inclusion. Finally, developing team connections and mutual accountability often requires extra effort with a dispersed workforce.
Telecommuting Results Have Been Mixed
Some companies have successfully navigated those challenges and report enhanced employee satisfaction and improved productivity from their home-based staff. Others have not found the experience as positive as this internal Yahoo! memo from Jackie Reses would suggest:
“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home…We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
The push back in response to this memo (and the decision itself) was fast and furious, both within Yahoo! and from the many organizations that believe “Freedom For Workers Means Productivity For Companies”.
Regardless of where you stand on the telecommuting issue, the growth of virtual teams and remote workers seems certain since it'is powered by the triple-hitter of economics, employee satisfaction, and the open talent economy driven by the pressures of globalization.
When we throw in the potential for improved productivity and even a reduced carbon footprint—the outcome seems inevitable.
Debate Over the Merits of Remote Workforces Continues
While the debate over the productivity of remote workers continues to rage, more evidence is emerging to suggest that employers’ fears about work-shirking are not borne out by the reality.
In a study conducted by Stanford University with CTrip (a 16,000 employee, NASDAQ-listed, Chinese travel agency), researcher found that call center employees randomly assigned to either work from home or in the office for 9 months showed a 13% performance increase among the home workers.
The improvement came from a combination of 9% from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment).
Meanwhile, one Canadian company, T4G Ltd., embraces the concept of remote workers as the way of the future and focuses on employee profitability to determine whether it’s working or not (and it is, according to Paul Barter, VP Research).
Productivity and employee satisfaction are not the only potential gains to be had by shifting a portion of your workforce to home-based, remote work environments. Analysis conducted by Global Workplace Analytics states:
“If those employees who held telework-compatible jobs (50% of the workforce) and wanted to work at home (79% of the workforce) did so just half of the time (roughly the national average for those who do), the economic benefit would total over $700 billion a year”
The Environmental and Social Impacts Of More Remote Workers Also Substantial
- Reducing greenhouse gases by 54 million tons – the equivalent of taking almost 10 million cars (the entire New York State workforce) off the road for a year
- Reducing wear and tear on U.S. highways by over 119 billion miles a year saving communities hundreds of millions in highway maintenance.
- Saving almost 90,000 people from traffic-related injury or death.
- Accident-related costs would be reduced by over $10 billion a year.
- Save over 640 million barrels of oil (37% of Persian Gulf imports) valued at over $64 billion
Given the many benefits of offering work-from-home options, it seems likely that remote workers will continue to occupy a growing share of the workforce and the technologies that support them will also continue to expand. When it comes to choosing the best technologies to support your telecommuters (and the rest of your workforce) connectivity, in every sense of the word, is key.
Ensure that the tools you choose:
1. Give your remote people every opportunity to collaborate, communicate and connect with the rest of the organization, especially within their functional teams;
2. Include video communication options to provide a semblance of face-to-face communications;
3. Provide a real-time conduit for sharing company news;
4. Effectively represent the culture of your organization; and
5. Fully tie your remote workers into functional, administrative and HR capabilities that are available to all other employees.
With the right people and the right approach, you may soon find yourself committed to offering a work-from-home option to your new and existing employees; hopefully with the same positive results that other companies have experienced.
TribeHR offers a social HRIS that connects your local and remote workers to their managers, to each other, to your company values, and to the heartbeat of your organization. Sign up for your free trial today.