The Remote Workforce:
Challenges and Changes
According to recent reports1, the 21st Century workplace looks to be shaping up to be a place that looks… a lot like home.
That’s in large part because of the rise in remote work and flexible scheduling arrangements for an increasing number of employees. In fact, when the U.S. Census Bureau published its stats on this topic in 2013, the numbers revealed a 35% increase over the previous decade in the number of workers working from home at least one day per week.
Now that rise in remote work arrangements (also known as telecommuting) is still trending with a reported 3.9 million U.S. employees working from home at least half of the time, representing a 115 percent increase since 2005.2
As these changes take place across the business landscape, certain challenges are presented by remote work, the global workforce and long-distance collaboration. And as a result, human resources professionals face new challenges as well.
Here are some of the prominent issues finding their way into the discussion on remote workers today, and some ideas about how to address them.
Burnout & Loneliness
As recently reported in the Harvard Business review3, research has demonstrated the link between social support at work, lower rates of burnout, and greater work satisfaction and productivity. Feelings of loneliness can add to workplace exhaustion, which has been connected to increased absenteeism, anxiety and more.
So, in an era of increasing distance between workers and flexible schedules, how can this larger issue be addressed? Promoting a company culture of inclusion, interaction and group celebrations can be trickier with miles and hours separating employees, teams members and leadership—but it can be done. Some ideas include:
- Seek to hire more experienced remote workers who are prepared to manage their work-life balance, collaborate from afar, and have developed high levels of self-initiative
- Provide plenty of feedback, career path opportunities and the chance to interact in person for both 1:1 sharing and community-building events like awards ceremonies or sales meetings
- Ensure collaboration and communication with the right tools, processes and structures, to help ease feelings of isolation
Communication & Collaboration
When team members can’t gather in the same room to brainstorm, learn together or share reports, developing understanding and consensus can be a challenge. Good ideas and problem-solving tend to feed off each other, and keeping everyone on the same page is a critical element of project progress.
- Shop around for project management software for organization-wide use, to connect colleagues from different locations who need to access and track each other’s work
- Enhance teamwork and creativity through digital tools designed for group collaboration that also include discussion areas
- Take advantage virtual communication technologies, too, to help build relationships through live interaction
Structure & Process
Eliminating hassles and difficulties is a big goal for managers juggling needs of team members working from different locations or time zones, potentially with different approaches and tools. Streamlining processes and providing a continuity for colleagues working together, but at a distance, is key.
- Make flexible/remote scheduling easier to manage, such as rotating days each week that a percentage of workers are always in the office, or scheduling mandatory on-site days that everyone can plan around
- Look for group productivity software that provides clear communication of assignments, responsibilities and timelines
- Whichever tools and approaches you choose, make sure they can be easily leveraged by team members and leaders alike, and offer ample training plus ready support
1 Chokski, N., The New York Times, 2017, Out of the Office: More People are Working Remotely, Survey Finds, accessed on the internet at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/15/us/remote-workers-work-from-home.html (visited October 30, 2017).
2 Flexjobs.com, The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce, accessed on the internet at https://www.flexjobs.com/2017-State-of-Telecommuting-US/ (visited October 30, 2017).
3 Seppela, E. and King, M., Harvard Business Review, 2017, Burnout at Work Isn’t Just About Exhaustion. It’s Also About Loneliness, accessed on the internet at https://hbr.org/2017/06/burnout-at-work-isnt-just-about-exhaustion-its-also-about-loneliness (visited October 30, 2017).