Telecommuters, flexible workplace, distributed workforce or remote workers: – whatever name you choose to call it, it’s a trend that’s growing in leaps and bounds. According to Global Workforce Analytics, about 3.3 million people in the U.S. work from home as their primary place of business – and that doesn’t include the self-employed for volunteers. While there are no reliable statistics about the number of people who work from home on a less frequent basis, Global Workplace Analytics estimates the number could be as high as 25 million.

It’s no secret why it’s a popular alternative for employers and employees alike. Just a few of the benefits include flexibility and satisfaction for employees who don’t have to spend time commuting; reduced overhead costs for employers; access to a larger talent pool; and an increase in worker satisfaction leading to greater productivity and reduced turnover. See an extensive list of telecommuting benefits, advantages and considerations for employers.

Recently, Harvard Business Review blogs featured two articles on telecommuting and ways to make it work. We’ll offer a brief overview of both, along with a variety of other links and tools that we think might be helpful to any employers who currently have remote workers or are considering adopting telecommuting.

Why Remote Work Thrives in Some Companies and Fails in Others
Sean Graber asks, “Has remote work lived up to the hype?” He answers yes, in some companies, and offers two examples of two: Automattic (the creator of WordPress) and the U.S. government. The former is a completely distributed model, and the latter is selective by department.

“Why are some organizations reaping benefits but others not? Conditions are seemingly ideal: More and more people are choosing to work remotely. By one estimate, the number of remote workers in the U.S. grew by nearly 80% between 2005 and 2012. Advances in technology are keeping pace. About 94% of U.S. households have access to broadband Internet — one of the most important enablers of remote work. Workers also have access to an array of tools that allow them to videoconference, collaborate on shared documents, and manage complex workflows with colleagues around the world.

How tools are changing the way we manage, learn, and get things done. So what’s the problem? The answer is simple: Many companies focus too much on technology and not enough on process. This is akin to trying to fix a sports team’s performance by buying better equipment. These adjustments alone might result in minor improvements, but real change requires a return to fundamentals.”

He suggests three critical success factors or principles that must be in place, and elaborates on each: Communication, Coordination, Culture. There are tools and technologies that enable these and he suggests some. The trickiest might be creating a cohesive culture, which some organizations address by an initial in-house orientation and periodic in-person meetings; other organizations use social share tools to foster culture.
5 Basic Needs of Virtual Workforces
Randy Rayess offers three examples of tech companies with “distributed workforces” – he also includes Automattic. He notes:

“In our experience at VenturePact, telecommuters tend to be self-starters and quick learners. You don’t have to micromanage them, just provide clear, high-level direction. But there are some common pain points. In a 2014 Robert Half Technology survey of U.S.-based CIOs, 30% said communication was their greatest remote management challenge, followed by productivity (22%) and technology (22%). Focusing on a few principles can help address these challenges”

He identifies 5 key principles and a discussion about each: Convenience, Transparency, Accountability, Communication and Trust.

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Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

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