Stop Being Scared of Remote Workers

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Oct 23, 2019

For many, “telecommuting” is still a dirty word. For all the anxieties surrounding remote work, its potential to empower your workplace cannot be ignored. 

Ten years ago, the Internet of Things  was little more than a theoretical concept. Twelve years ago, modern smartphones did not exist. Twenty years ago, cloud computing was a nascent, barely-realized technology. Thirty years ago, the Internet was barely used outside of academia. 

Each of these technologies has, in one way or another, changed the world. They each represent a fundamental shift in how we work, play, and live. For the most part, modern businesses have adapted to these changes.

They’ve implemented infrastructure and policies to support the secure use of smartphones and tablets. They use cloud infrastructure and platforms to help with everything from communication to  analytics to recruiting efforts. They’re using IoT to enable new workflows and revenue streams.

Yet even with all this innovation, there’s one area in which I’ve noticed many organizations consistently fall short: Telecommuting. I’m not talking about enabling employees to occasionally reply to emails or edit documents when they’re out of the office.

I’m talking about true remote work.

Allowing an employee to do their job without ever setting foot in the office. Hiring someone who lives in a different city without expecting them to relocate. Giving existing staff the ability to freely work from home if and when they so choose.

For some reason, in spite of all the technological advances we’ve seen elsewhere, many organizations are still openly fearful of telecommuting. Even as they support technological innovation in every other line of business, they approach the concept of employment as though it’s still the 1980s. That needs to change.

I understand the pushback. I get why they feel the way they do. On the surface, it does appear as though there are plenty of compelling arguments against remote staff. Ultimately it comes down to one thing.

“As business leaders, we are afraid to incur the cost and risk of change management — especially with a concept as foreign as unsupervised work environments,” writes global virtual operations consultant Laurel Farrer. “There are both right and wrong ways to implement remote work. If you’re holding back because you’re only looking at the wrong examples, you’re going to miss out on many rewards.” 

In her time as a consultant, Farrer has heard a number of excuses as to why remote work doesn’t work. I’ve heard a few, myself.  At the end of the day, none of them hold water. 

  • If one person works remotely, everyone has to. Remote work doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Just as you’ll have a few employees who prefer to work from home, there will be just as many who want to be in the office. 
  • Without an office space, a business loses credibility. Nope. If your business’s first impression  is based entirely on decor, you need to rethink your brand. 
  • Remote work means sacrificing career growth. The 1980s called. They want their office culture back. An employee’s success (or failure) should be measured by results, not by whether or not they’re fun to talk to at the office water cooler. 
  • There are too many distractions for remote employees to be productive. As anyone who has worked in an office with an overly chatty coworker or bad climate control will tell you, offices can be incredibly distracting — at home, a worker has more control over their environment. That means they can actively remove distractions when they’re trying to focus. 
  • People only want to work remotely out of laziness. The notion that employees only want to work remotely so they can work from the beach or so they can be lazy demonstrates a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of the workplace. An employee who slacks off at home will find ways to slack off in the office –– people who don’t take their job seriously put a surprising amount of effort into being lazy. 
  • Remote workers are a security risk. An employee who’s working from home is no more or less of a risk to your business’s data as someone at the office. Moreover, with a proper remote work environment and the right security controls (the ability to remotely revoke access to sensitive files, for instance), remote work is a non-issue. 
  • Employees need to be nearby in case something urgent comes up. Thanks to workplace collaboration tools like Slack, this is patently false. An employee working from home can be just as accessible as someone working in the office; moreso, even. 

I’ve debunked the major arguments against remote work. But why should you support it? 

“Telecommuting has moved beyond being just another millennial trend,” writes Andrea Loubier, CEO of Mailbird, which develops and maintains a multipurpose Windows email client. “It’s become a way of life, disrupting the traditional workplace as we know it with employees who are happier and more productive.” 

In my role at BlueCotton, there are some jobs such as screen printing and embroidery machine operating that would be very difficult to employ an individual remotely. I truly started believing in the power of remote work when I hired a marketing agency that operates 100 percent remotely. It has no physical office, but it’s able to hire experts in all fields and do not have to worry about relocation issues. 

It’s time to stop being afraid of remote workers and embrace them. Your staff will thank you for it — as will your customers, in the long run. 

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