Are Remote Workers Changing the Way Business is Done?
Imagine this, a bustling cafe where there're several people sitting with laptops, some typing vigorously, others thinking deeply, some staring at their computer screens with a cigarette in their hand.
These are some of the scenes you see at several cafés in Bangalore, India, which is being touted as the startup capital of India.
Bruce Dugan, a blonde American man aged about 56 years works out of a coffee shop in Jayanagar, an urban neighborhood in the silicon valley of India.
He's from New York and has been living in Bangalore for three years now, he likes it here, and all his clients are from the US. He happened to come to India for a single project and he's stayed back ever since. He says he's been able to provide better quality work for his clients at a low cost using workers in Bangalore.
There're several other people who either work from home or cafés for clients overseas. Writers, web developers, virtual assistants and graphic designers are now using the power of technology and the internet to create a lifestyle they could only dream about 20 years ago. Employers too are beginning to understand the apparent benefits of hiring remote workers.
Benefits of hiring remote workers
Some of the benefits of hiring remote workers include:
The obvious benefit is reduced costs. The employer saves money on office rent, electricity, workstations, janitorial expenses, stationary, furniture and maintenance of the office. It also significantly reduces the number of days employees call in sick. Some employers believe that they can save thousands of dollars per employee in real estate and overhead costs by switching to remote workers.
Employers can hire the best talent, irrespective of where they are located. This is a significant benefit. The last thing a start-up needs is losing a great hire because they are located far away from their place of business.
Saving Time on Commute
Several remote workers love the flexible lifestyle that allows them to work from anywhere without having to commute long distances. They don't need to leave early to beat the traffic. Two hours of travel time a day amounts to 480 hours a year, or 2400 hours over a five year period, which could be utilized pursuing a hobby or learning a new skill.
More remote workers means that there's less traffic, less vehicular pollution and a better environment which leads to better health and wellness for society as a whole.
Employers need to worry less about creating a physical workspace that increases productivity. Instead, they can focus their time and energy on training employees, acquiring clients, and making their business more productive.
How to manage remote workers?
When managing remote workers, there are three things that are important.
Measuring their time and productivity
When you don't see employees on a day-to-day basis, communication becomes more important than normal. Whether employees are remote or in-office, they need to be in tune with the goals and mission of the company. Managing virtual teams can be a little different from managing in-person teams, so it's important to alter your management style accordingly.
Nolan Kier, Project Manager and Business Development Associate at Messappswe says, "The process by which we manage remote workers relies on the very simple but fundamental principle of communication. By utilizing task management and communication tools, we can ensure that everyone is updated, kept in the loop, and that there is no loss of communication. These tools allow team members to enter their time, prioritize, complete tasks, and communicate any issues or concerns."
He further goes on to add, "When it comes to remote workers, the level of trust established at the hiring phase needs to be above and beyond the normal worker whose competency might grow as they develop trust in the office. For remote workers, there needs to be an additional degree of trust that quells the inherent risk in hiring that worker. Not being able to have in-person contact during work hours can always pose a risk when you are in the business of ensuring that tasks are completed on time."
There're several tools like Skype, Slack and Teamwork that allow you to chat, make VoIP calls, share files, screenshots, and even have virtual meetings. Fellow contributor at entrepreneur magazine, Will Weinraub, shares some tools for team communication in his article here.
Employee time and productivity too can be tracked with softwares like TimeDoctor, Desktime and Toggl. These are softwares that run in the background of the computer and employees are expected to log in when they start work and log off when they finish.
I've used only Desktime and TimeDoctor. Both of them are equally good but where TimeDoctor scores better is that they have a nice task list. Employees check off an item on the task list when they are done. The amount of time spent on each specific task can be tracked. This ensures which tasks are more productive and which ones are less. Cynthia Boris' article on entrepreneur magazine talks about some of these tools in more detail.
Remote workers can sometimes be a challenge. There are both benefits and disadvantages with hiring them. It may not be something that every business is comfortable doing. However, it might work for some businesses and is definitely worth giving it a try.