Permanent remote working teams are the new normal for many businesses across various sectors. While an entirely remote workforce carries several advantages for management and staff, this model also presents some unique challenges. This article will discuss how a distributed workforce affects the business and its employees and how management can successfully navigate a virtual working arrangement.
Benefits of a Remote Workforce
A healthier environment and less waste
While working remotely gives employees freedom from in-office, stress-inducing distractions, it also positively impacts our natural environment. Fewer vehicles are on the road when more people work from home, resulting in decreased greenhouse gas emissions. The resulting healthier air quality reduces cases of lung cancer, heart disease, and asthmatic condition. The increased number of people working from home also translates to less congested public transportation, leading to greater reliability and the ability to meet commuter demand.
Companies that employ a remote workforce help save precious natural resources by decreasing their dependence on paper products and minimizing waste collection. For example, office printers, once used to churn out endless documents, are no longer needed. A decentralized workforce also eliminates the need to stockpile expensive office supplies.
In addition, remote work eliminates the need for physical office spaces, associated energy consumption, and a cleaning schedule.
Remote work provides companies with a significant recruiting advantage as they can tap into a vast talent pool without location restrictions. This advantage allows recruiters to focus more on hiring the right person for the job, no matter where they live.
With the costs of recruiting and training employees ranging from 30-150% of an annual salary, turnover represents a significant expense for organizations. Organizations attract more candidates who seek remote working positions by maintaining and recruiting a remote workforce. This keeps turnover to a minimum since employees are happier working from home than their in-office counterparts and are less apt to leave the company.
Globally located workforce
Through online tools and communication platforms, employers can now seamlessly build globally located teams that work together as if they were all in the same office. Employees who have relocated abroad can often access remote jobs without adjusting their skill set. Remote work can bridge cultural divides and encourage creative problem-solving through diverse perspectives.
Freedom to relocate
Remote workers also realize decreased expenses associated with relocation while maintaining their ideal lifestyle. With their new-found freedom to live anywhere, many remote workers are leaving densely populated areas and relocating to small towns for more affordable housing and local community connections that they missed in large urban areas. The close-knit communities in the smaller cities help alleviate feelings of isolation employees may experience from not being in a physical office.
Will this migration persist, causing a significant population shift from large cities to smaller towns? While data suggests the trend is slowing, it shows no signs of reversing. Recent change-of-address data from 2022 shows that major metropolitan areas are experiencing negative growth, while small and mid-sized cities are seeing more robust growth.
Reduced transportation expenses
In addition to positively impacting the environment, less driving contributes to savings on fuel, tolls, and vehicle wear and tear costs for remote workers. Those who once relied on public transportation to commute no longer need to pay for fares and tickets.
Merely getting to and from the workplace results in missed income opportunities. A 2019 nationwide study revealed that full-time office workers lose as much as an hour a day commuting to the workplace. This equates to an average of $5,679 of lost annual income. In places with a high cost of living like Fremont, California, this amounts to an astounding $15,065 for Fremont, California, commuters due to the substantially higher cost of living in the state.
Reduced or eliminated childcare expenses
Caring for young children while working in the home may pose a challenge for many parents. However, with the increased flexibility in their schedules, they may be able to arrange child care more conveniently and cost-effectively. They can arrange for their children to be cared for by a relative or babysitter during certain hours rather than paying for full-time child care.
A higher standard of living
The cost savings realized from remote work can contribute to a higher standard of living. Families may have more money for leisure travel, entertainment, or purchasing a larger home. Others may use the savings to further their education, which, in turn, could lead to higher-paying jobs.
A New Way to Conduct In-Person Meetings
In-person meetings offer numerous benefits for remote teams. Collaborating in the same physical space allows team members to build camaraderie and strong relationships that are sometimes difficult to achieve through video conferencing alone. In-person get-togethers can also be immensely productive, as it can be much easier to effectively share ideas and get everyone on the same page in one group setting than by striving to stay organized with multiple video calls.
Organizations that offload their workplace expenses can opt to spend money on retreats or events for their staff, fostering camaraderie, discussion and development. By utilizing these funds for activities outside the office, employers can help increase morale and engagement without overspending on traditional workplace furnishings.
The rise of coworking spaces
Co-working spaces are increasingly becoming the norm for businesses with remote employees, offering a valuable in-person space for meetings that can otherwise become impersonal over calls or video chat. A co-working space is a shared office space usually rented out by individual projects or companies. It offers the convenience of private rooms, shared facilities, and proximity to other like-minded people and their businesses. The number of coworking spaces is expected to increase by more than 40% by 2024 as the demand for this innovative working arrangement continues to rise.
By providing a central hub for both local and remote members of project teams, coworking spaces offer a great way to bridge the distance between geographically dispersed employees. Ultimately, coworking spaces provide a valuable resource for remote workers looking for professional experiences outside their home offices.
Advanced Technology Solutions for Remote Working
With remote work becoming the norm in many workplaces, the ability to brainstorm and creatively problem-solve presents a more significant challenge than in traditional work environments.
Fortunately, technology provides several tools, including video-conferencing, online whiteboarding programs, and instant messaging capabilities to foster collaboration and communication. However, accelerating the development of advanced technologies and platforms allows companies to utilize new strategies for virtual team collaborations.
Some next-gen technologies that are changing the way remote work teams communicate and collaborate include:
Virtual Reality (VR)
While VR is used primarily in gaming, it can also be a mechanism for remote teams to collaborate and meet. VR technology eliminates physical barriers by creating virtual environments where team members can interact with each other, access shared resources, and work collaboratively regardless of their location. Adding spatial audio effects can simulate the experience of coworkers sitting next to one another. VR can emulate in-person meetings, and more spontaneous ideas and solutions may result as team members feel more connected.
Advances in cloud-based technology allow seamless communication and efficient file-sharing between team members. Remote teams can quickly store and share documents, host meetings and webinars with appropriate sharing and security protocols, conduct open discussions in various virtual formats, and establish unified communication networks regardless of geographic boundaries or time zones.
Machine learning technology
When utilized with artificial intelligence, organizations can automate many internal processes to improve efficiency and productivity. Advanced bots can take over routine and repetitive tasks, including meeting scheduling, checking project statuses, directing questions to the appropriate staff, sending reminders to the team, and tracking expenses.
Virtual whiteboards allow teams to jot down ideas, share documents, and brainstorm with colleagues worldwide. Not only does this help to create a more productive workflow for remote teams, but it also encourages collaboration among members who would typically be unable to interact in person.
Building Trust and Camaraderie
Building trust and camaraderie are essential for remote workers, as it creates a sense of connectedness and boosts motivation.
Traditional “water cooler” encounters in the office facilitated bonding by bringing staff together to discuss work-related topics and mutual interests. While this presents a challenge with team members spread across geographical boundaries, there are methods available that can help strengthen remote working relationships.
Taking informal team breaks for casual conversations can allow team members to bond with their colleagues. Allowing them to discuss non-work related topics can help them de-stress before completing their tasks. Team-building activities are an excellent way of building morale and trust. After participating in team building activities, 63% of leaders surveyed felt that communication improved, with 61% stating the activities improved confidence.
Other ways to build camaraderie include team-building exercises, virtual team lunches, photo-sharing sessions, and game nights.
Increased Cybersecurity Role
With more systems utilizing the cloud and employees using their home networks and devices, cyber threats such as phishing, ransomware attacks, and data breaches are more likely to occur if a company does not take proper security measures. This was evident in a report by Malwarebytes Labs that revealed 20 percent of organizations with a remote workforce experienced data breaches.
Companies must take extra precautions when allowing for remote access by setting up multi-factor authentication, auditing access permissions regularly, and providing staff with necessary training on cybersecurity protocols. Companies can ensure their data remains secure with a remote workforce by employing advanced cybersecurity measures.
Employee Recognition Challenges
Remote workers often face unique challenges when seeking recognition for their work. Without the physical presence of a colleague, supervisor, or manager, remote workers can feel isolated and disconnected from the workplace. While compensation and benefits are a priority for workers, a recent survey revealed that 21% said the recognition from their co-workers and managers is just as, if not more important than, salary considerations. This may lead to decreased visibility regarding accomplishments within the team and thus make it more difficult for them to receive recognition for their efforts.
To receive recognition and lay the groundwork for career advancement, remote employees must make the effort to be seen and heard. This can be through regular check-ins, speaking up on video conferences with questions or comments, or having one-on-one meetings with managers to discuss contributions to the organization. However, management must also do their part to recognize their employees’ hard work and accomplishments to empower them to do their best.
Emphasis on Work Done Over Hours Worked
In a remote work environment with less structure, employers must adjust their strategies to focus more on completed tasks instead of hours worked. This shift in vision allows employees greater flexibility to manage their time while delivering results.
Excess virtual meetings may prevent workers from completing their tasks on schedule. Although such meetings are essential for communication, reducing their frequency and duration can ensure employees have sufficient hours to work on their assignments.
Balancing synchronous and asynchronous work time
Leaders must balance synchronous communication and asynchronous work time in the virtual workplace.
Through training sessions or periodic virtual meetings, synchronous (or real-time) communication can foster collaboration and engagement among team members. Synchronous communication is essential for sensitive topics and feedback since written communication is often misconstrued. Additionally, complex discussions or brainstorming sessions are also best done in real-time.
Asynchronous work is also a necessity so that employees can complete tasks independently on their own time. This also allows them greater flexibility to tackle their workloads around personal schedules. Utilizing objectives and key results (OKRs) is an effective way to accomplish goals in asynchronous work. OKRs provide a structured way for setting expectations and tracking progress in asynchronous teams. Management can identify remote workers excelling (or struggling) with their responsibilities through measurable goals.
Many companies continue to use a permanent remote workforce solution to reduce costs. This arrangement is welcome news for employees wanting to break free from the traditional office setting. However, as we have seen, remote teamwork also comes with a few challenges.
Phone.com offers affordable, scalable virtual phone systems for efficient virtual team communication and collaboration. Our solutions come with an extensive range of features that can efficiently connect your globally located virtual team. Contact us today for more information on our innovative communications solutions for your business.