Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made headlines in early 2013 when she announced her company would severely restrict if not eliminate altogether its work-at-home policy. At the time, Mayer said a virtual workforce was preventing Yahoo from reaching its full potential.
Mayer’s announcement sent shockwaves across the business world. Many social influencers came out against her decision, and it’s not really surprising why: Countless studies prove that flexible working policies make employees happier and more productive. At the same time, remote working reduces business expenses—so what’s not to like?
Not much, according to Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, who make the case for remote working in Remote: Office Not Required (Crown Business, 2013). While the authors taut the myriad reasons as to why decision makers should embrace remote working, they don’t act as though virtual workforces are without their own unique problems.
Indeed, Remote serves as a blueprint of sorts that can be leveraged to build remote workforces that are as productive and optimized as possible. Digging deeper, Fried and Heinemeier Hansson explore three specific areas businesses owners need to fully understand prior to choosing to modernize their approach to work. Let’s briefly examine them.
1. The Benefits of Remote Working Speak For Themselves.
Remote working arrangements provide numerous benefits to both employers and employees.
Business owners who embrace remote working stand to benefit from increased employee output. Because work is no longer confined to the hours of 9 and 5, employees find themselves more willing to put in an hour here and an hour there—even if it’s at night or on the weekend. Employers also benefit from reduced expenses, as well as the fact that it’s very clear to see who’s performing, as office politics become a thing of the past and work speaks for itself.
On the other side of the coin, employees who work from home are generally happier. They don’t have to spend time or money commuting to and from work (which also benefits the environment), and they can sleep in a little longer so they’re better rested when they “get to work,” i.e., open their laptops. Since they’re able to work the hours that are best for them—so long as they don’t miss appointments or deadlines—they’re also able to spend time doing that which interests them: going for a run, cooking better meals, taking the dog to the park every day and so on.
It should be noted the above is certainly not an all-encompassing list, but you should catch the drift.
2. Like Anything Else, There Are Some Drawbacks to Virtual Workforces.
Remote working arrangements deserve serious consideration from decision makers across all industries. But that doesn’t mean they are without their disadvantages.
For example, due to a lack of face-to-face interaction, some remote workers might very well become depressed and feel isolated. With kids, significant others and animals running around—not to mention every favorite gadget and all hobby-related stuff at their disposal—working at home can also be distracting.
Additionally, some employers think that remote working makes it difficult to ensure someone’s always there to pick up the phone when customers call. And still others fear that sensitive company data can become compromised because systems administrators have less control over employees’ Internet activity when they work from home.
These concerns most definitely deserve attention. Luckily for us, Fried and Heinemeier Hansson spell out how to make sure companies avoid letting them prevent remote working configurations from succeeding.
3. It’s Pretty Easy to Make Remote Working Work.
To make sure your employees don’t get depressed, arrange regular social gatherings (even if it’s just once a month). Also, encourage employees to connect with one another (maybe meeting up at a coffee shop for a few hours) or check out coworking spaces. Be sure to regularly engage them via instant messaging, emails and videoconferencing when applicable. Managers should also try to overlap the shifts of employees working in different time zones as much as possible so they’ll at least be able to connect with each other digitally now and again—even if they never meet.
To make sure your employees don’t get distracted, encourage them to make schedules and figure out how to best budget their time. Don’t bug the hell out of them or micromanage their every minute, but do check in with them from time to time to make sure they’re engaged. Tell them about apps like RescueTime, which prevents you from wasting your time on the Internet. Encourage them to make use of other timekeeping tools, too.
To make sure your employees don’t abandon your customers, schedule your customer service representatives so they’re available to pick up the phone at whatever time you tell your customers your business is open. While some jobs need to be done at certain times, your entire workforce doesn’t need to be at their computers between 9 and 5.
To make sure your employees don’t lose sensitive data, leverage the power of the cloud and draft best practices that include backing all data up. Also make sure your employees connect to your network securely, making use of encryption technologies and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
Thanks to breakthroughs in technology, today’s workers no longer have to be in the office to get the job done—which why we consistently read about the explosion of the remote workforce. Businesses that wish to remain relevant over the longer term need to strongly consider virtualizing at least some facets of their workforce. The good news is that once you’ve decided to adapt a modern approach to work, Fried and Heinemeier Hansson help make the transition incredibly easier.