Earlier this year, Suzy and I wrote an article discussing the benefits and challenges of working remotely. The bottom line was that while “commuting to the office in your slippers” definitely has some advantages; it also brings with it (potential) career limitations. Often, when key decisions are made, or the team rallies together around a tight deadline, you’re not there. It can be a simple matter of “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to deciding who gets assigned to a key project or even who gets a promotion.
I’d like to pick up on this topic, but this time from the perspective of managing remote workers.
The Pros and Cons of a Remote Workforce
There’s little question that organizations can benefit from having some roles filled by remote workers. Fewer people in the office means less space is needed, resulting in lower real estate costs; time spent commuting in rush-hour traffic can be used for more productive tasks, etc.
But with the benefits come downsides. Remote workers are likely to be less engaged in the culture and mission of the organization; they miss the normal opportunities to build relationships, and they can’t easily go to co-workers to get help or share ideas. Yes, they’re a valuable part of the team – they’re just not THERE all the time.
Nevertheless, the trend of leveraging technology to work remotely is gaining steam and shows no sign of letting up. In the US, approximately 1 in 5 workers now work from home on a regular basis, and some estimates have this number increasing to 50% over the next decade. As a manager, you can’t ignore this trend. If you’re not already managing at least a few remote team members, you likely will be shortly.
My Own Experience
Our school, the Jack Welch Management Institute, offers a fully online MBA program. And boy, have we been growing! In just over five years, we’ve gone from fewer than 100 students to over 1400 students (all working professionals) who attend virtual classes. They do this from as far away as India and Russia and as near as down the road from our offices. And who is teaching these students? Our world-class faculty, now numbering over 80 strong and growing – all of whom, themselves, work remotely.
To successfully manage a remote workforce and continue to grow your business (while ensuring that quality and customer service don’t slip) you have to unleash every tool you’ve got to maximize socialization in ways that make sure the culture and spirit of your company, and its values and behaviors, are demonstrated and transferred.
7 Tips for Managing a Remote Workforce
All in all, there is a lot more upside than downside in allowing flexible hours and work locations. Not the least of which is that it gives employers access to a much wider pool of qualified applicants than they might otherwise have. As long as the work gets done, and as long as team members and managers understand and address the challenges, the future looks bright for future generations of telecommuters.