Is a Remote Workforce Right for Your Business? Part 1: Productivity

As the lines between the office and home continue to be blurred with the now common practice of BYOD (bring your own device) and other technological advancements, the instance of remote or mobile workers is increasing drastically, regardless of the size of the organization.

To help you decide whether having a remote workforce is a good fit for your business, we’re taking a closer look at some of the benefits and challenges. This month, we’re focusing on workers’ productivity.

Are remote workers more productive?

Research shows that mobile workers, to put it simply, work more than their office-bound counterparts, but are they more productive? Well, let’s break it down, here are some of the benefits offered by having a mobile workforce:

  • Flexibility to work when most productive. Being a morning person or a night owl can affect not only an employee’s spare time, but dramatically impact their work time. Mobile workers with the flexibility to work when they want can be more productive, simply because they can choose what hours to work. Understanding their own tendencies and preferences means that mobile workers can be considerably more productive at times that work best for their preferences and schedules.
  • Shorter commutes mean more time working. It’s a simple reality, but one that is striking. For many employees, the morning and evening commutes can add an hour, two, or more to their workday. Mobile workers can start the day immediately, and often do so—resulting in more productivity, which benefits your business.
  • Less time wasted. A trip to the break room for coffee or the water cooler for some water can seem innocent enough, but both often result in friendly conversations and greetings with a range of coworkers. And guess what—that time adds up, fast. When workplace distractions like gabby coworkers and a long trek to the break room are removed, you end up with more focused workers. Similarly, how many meetings trail off into unproductive topics and run way over the time allotted while accomplishing less? Meetings held using Skype, AIM or even just over the phone are far less likely to stray off course, and are in general, more productive. Yes, home offices can provide their own set of distractions (laundry, unloading dishwasher, etc.); however, when your organization is flexible and offers mobile work opportunities to employees in the right positions and circumstances, you are often able to minimize or eradicate some of these work-from-home challenges.

In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the challenges; however, there are some common challenges that may creep up with remote work situations. Here are a couple:

  • Lack of personal interaction. For some, the lack of one-on-one face time can strain or otherwise negatively impact relationships. Simple things like asking co-workers how their weekend was or talking about last night’s game can cause a lack of camaraderie within a team. Using some great, often times free tools can help allay that fear (as we’ll dig into below).
  • Insufficient project updates. When a worker is not a few cubicles down, it may be harder to get needed project updates or questions answered. Having weekly calls to touch base, frequent emails, instant message or video chat updates will help your team communicate openly to ensure everyone knows the status of projects.

Productivity tips for remote workers

Of course productivity will change greatly depending on the individual. But now any mobile worker can maximize their productivity with the help of a range of apps and services designed to help the remote workplace run more smoothly. Additionally, there is an array of tools you and your remote workforce can use to stay connected, including:

  • Skype. Now commonly used by many, Skype is a free download for PCs and Macs, plus Android, Windows and iOS devices. It will instantly connect you to your employees for free. Share screens, see each others’ faces with video calls, or simply chat via text—you can do it all with Skype.
  • Dropbox or Google Drive. Share documents and files with your team safely and easily with tools like Dropbox or Google Drive. Give access to multiple users and define separate permissions for individuals or groups. These tools give you the ultimate flexibility and security you need when it comes to document and file sharing.
  • iMessage/AIM. Many tasks don’t need a phone call or an in-person talk. Sometimes you simply need a quick answer to a question, or you’d like to just share a link or file quickly. Popular messaging tools like iMessage (on Mac OSX Mountain Lion and iOS devices) or AIM (available for Windows, Macs and smartphone devices) give you the flexibility to quickly text chat with a coworker.

The best part about these tools? They are all free (at least in their basic settings—more storage or robust services can be purchased).

Clearly, each organization and employee has their unique strengths, weaknesses and situations, but offering some of your workforce remote options, may be the right choice for your organization to gain productivity.

Is your business using remote workers? What have been your organization’s benefits or challenges? Have you seen an increase in productivity from your remote workforce? Feel free to share your story in the comments box below!

And check back soon for part 2 of our blog series on the remote workforce, we’ll talk about additional benefits of having remote workers, such as being able to hire the best staff no matter where they live and money saving benefits for your team. Plus, we’ll take a look at a real-world remote worker case study—with MAKE’s own Elizabeth Hesse!