Part One – History, Benefits, and Challenges
The recent Covid-19 pandemic has emphasized the absolute need for businesses to have the agility and capabilities for employees to work from home. Remote work is quickly becoming the new normal, permanently changing the business landscape. We’ve now moved out of the grieving phase of this pandemic and are settling into accepting the virtual-first environment. Businesses who are resistant to shifting to permanent remote workforce options will likely be left behind. As remote work gains popularity leaders must understand the unique challenges that go along with managing that workforce and the approach that will enable success.
A Brief History:
Throughout most of history, almost all work was remote work. A person farmed, created goods, wrote, and more from their homes and consumers came to them. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that work shifted from homes to factories as the work necessitated physical labor consolidated in one building.
Shortly after WWII the US economy was gaining momentum. There was an increase in corporate office buildings; the cubicle was invented, as well as the eight-hour workday. At this point, remote work came in an unexpected form. Women, who had been active in the workforce during the war, were now expected to be regulated back to their roles as housewives. Brownie Wise, a former sales person for Stanley Home cleaning products, recognized this as an opportunity and created the “patio party” to sell Tupperware, empowering women with flexible jobs and creating the in-home sales industry.
The advancement of technology once again began a shift in the workplace, including the business services outsourcing industry. Typically, traditional outsourcing firms require employees to commute to a service delivery center(s) and work from home options are only available for top executives. The buzz that ‘the future of work’ will revolutionize how the sourcing industry operates gained momentum over the past five years, with businesses slowly overcoming antiquated ways to conduct business. However, COVID-19 accelerated this and we are now in a virtual-first era. Automation has made jobs less physically demanding, and personal computers have increased the number of careers available in office based work like data analysis, project management, and finance and accounting. The invention and unprecedented mass access to reliable internet and Wi-Fi has given workers the flexibility needed to do their jobs from home, at the local coffee shop, while traveling, or even while relaxing at the beach.
Savvy businesses have been embracing the idea of a remote and flexible workforce. In fact, in 2019, 66% of companies allowed remote work and 16% were fully remote. That statistic is now much higher. Leaders are recognizing the many benefits, including lower costs, increased productivity, higher employee morale, and attracting and maintaining more highly skilled workers.
- Lower Costs – One of the most enticing aspects of having a remote workforce, and is the lower cost of doing business. On average, by remote outsourcing your key business processes you save up to 70% on overhead costs like office space, utilities, and equipment.
- Increased Productivity – A recent study from Stanford showed a productivity boost among the telecommuters equivalent to a full day’s work. In addition, employee attrition decreased by 50 percent among the telecommuters, they took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days, and took less time off. Employees who work from home are more likely to work a true full-shift versus being late to the office or leaving early. Employees also reported there were less distractions and found it easier to concentrate at home than at the office.
- Higher Employee Morale – Employees who are able to telecommute report higher levels of job satisfaction, feelings that they are important to their organization and have their voices heard, and a better work-life balance. By cutting out commute times employees have more time to spend with their families and actually save money, creating an overall better quality of life.
- Attracting and Maintaining More Highly Skilled Workers – According to Pew Research, millennials recently became the largest segment of the workforce in the U.S., surpassing Gen Xers in 2016. While older generations tend to see telecommuting as a perk, millennials are increasingly demanding flexible work schedules to achieve a better work-life balance. According to a study by Owl Labs remote workers surveyed said they’re likely to stay in their current job for the next five years 13% more than on-site workers did.
In addition, a remote workforce can address and make positive changes to social and environmental issues. Female teleworkers tend to have higher salaries than traditional office workers as well as more opportunities for promotions, narrowing the gender pay gap. Having remote teams removes the barrier of geographical location, creating opportunities for a more diverse workforce. Teleworking also eliminates the daily commute, reducing carbon emissions and decreases the amount of paper used in favor of digital platforms.
While teleworking has many benefits for both businesses and employees, managing a remote workforce also has unique challenges that must be addressed to be successful.
One of the most problematic challenges of managing a remote workforce is lack of engagement. Remote workers can feel left out of company life and culture. It is important for leaders at all levels to make sure employees feel part of the team and it is even more crucial for remote workers who do not have the opportunities for the day to day interactions that normally occur and create bonds that would encourage teamwork.
Another challenge facing remote workers is productivity. Even though overall, productivity is increased when employees work from home there can be issues keeping productivity consistent. Managers need to make sure employees have clear guidelines regarding productivity standards and expectations.
Lastly, remote workers may lack the tools for success that are available to traditional employees. From a dedicated workplace to time management and access to standard office equipment as well as opportunities for training and team building, it is vital that leaders take the time upfront to equip their employees with all the tools needed to be successful.
Implementing and managing a remote workforce can be a time consuming venture. Your business may decide to partner with an outsourcing company that is already experienced in managing a remote workforce. Liberty Source has proven its ability to leverage a remote workforce. Our skilled employees are motivated, engaged, and productive. They have the tools needed for success at their disposal and are eager to put their skills to work for you. Part two will go in-depth into each problem that managers and leaders face and how to effectively remedy the challenges in a modern and unique way.
Read part two here.