The Advantages and Challenges of a Remote Workforce

Posted by on December 17, 2013 in Business Management, Startups [ 0 Comments ]

remote workforceRemote employment options are becoming increasingly popular for businesses and employees alike and the relationship can be mutually beneficial to all parties involved. Businesses have access to a much larger hiring pool, and can generally save on salaries and office space, while the employee saves on commuting and relocation costs as well as more flexibility in their work and personal time.

Automattic, software provider to blogging giant, WordPress, has been utilizing remote workers since 2005. Although the company is based in San Francisco, it employs workers from around the globe from as many as 26 different companies, according to an article published at Businessweek.com.

Staff and employers save with remote work

Automattic benefits by saving money on salaries. Instead of paying their staff based on wages appropriate for San Francisco and Silicon Valley, pay is based on the employee’s physical location. While that doesn’t benefit the employee necessarily, it does allow someone living as far away as Bangladesh a job opportunity without the added expense and inconvenience of relocating to California.

Related: 3 Ways to Save Money with Virtual Employees

Companies also save on building costs. A company like Automattic, which has over 100 employees doesn’t have to provide office space for their large workforce and can lease a significantly smaller space. Additional savings are accrued automatically because the company isn’t paying to furnish or heat a significantly larger space. Instead this money can be used for growth, salaries or technology.

Employees benefit from working at home by saving roughly $2,000 yearly in commute related costs and in general have fewer turnovers, miss fewer working days and have a high rate of work satisfaction according to Kirsten Sundin a Graduate Research Assistant for CAHRS.

Management and communication can be a challenge with remote staff

First and foremost, not every employee is suited for remote work. To be successful, a remote employee has to be self-motivated, organized and adaptable. Communication skills and team collaboration is essential.

One of the biggest challenges for companies with a remote work force is team management and connectivity between staff. An article by Keith Ferrazzi published in The Harvard Business Review said team collaboration works at a higher rate when each individual has a clear idea of their specific role without necessarily having a clear idea of how to reach team goals.

“The uncertainty encouraged everyone to collaborate and think more creatively about different ways in which to fulfill the group’s mission,” Ferrazzi wrote.

After sculpting specific roles for team members, providing staff with channels to stay in near constant contact is an important step for productivity.

Related: 7 Ways Technology Affects Business Productivity

One of the more frequent complaints from remote workers is that they feel disconnected from the company and their co-workers.

To avoid this issue, Automattic uses an internal blog with pages dedicated to various teams and topics where questions, announcements and conversations are visible to the entire workforce. Although email may seem like an obvious communication choice, Automattic uses it as little as possible to encourage information sharing.

Frequent meetings using Skype or Google+ hangout allow employees who may only meet a few times a year in person—if at all—to build personal rapport by seeing one another’s faces, expressions and learning co-workers sense of humor.

Is a remote staff feasible for all businesses?

At this point remote success has been fairly limited to small businesses—especially in the technology industry. So far there isn’t a large corporation that has utilized a similar model and in general many managers tend to have a negative take on remote staff.

A survey conducted by Forrester Research of more than 1,800 managers showed 41 percent of the respondents believe remote work limits opportunities for career advancement, according to Businessweek.com.

Related: Remote HR: How to Manage Employees Across the Country

So while a remote staff has tangible benefits, it also has obvious disadvantages which can make it a poor choice for a number of companies. Ultimately, careful planning and hiring decisions have to be made for any company to be successful—this is especially clear when employing a remote staff.

Author’s bio: Ricky Damron works in business development and extremely interested in the virtual business model. Ricky has written extensively on topics of virtual communication and offices and has worked with companies to find success using a virtual model.


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