Lessons Learned From 3 Companies That Have Long Embraced Remote Work

Hiring and managing a workforce without regard for geography poses unique challenges but the advantages are compelling.

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By Sara Sutton

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Remote work continues to trend upward, with 2014 posting a 26 percent increase in open remote job postings over 2013 and 83 percent of hiring managers say telecommuting will be "more prevalent in the next five years." So, which companies currently lead this trend, and what can other companies learn from them as they ramp up remote hiring?

The annual Top 100 Companies to Watch for Remote Jobs list features companies that most recruit for remote, or work-from-home, jobs each year, based on an analysis of more than 30,000 companies. These 100 companies come from a variety of industries and recruit for an even wider variety of jobs. The American Heart Association, GE, Apple, Salesforce and Humana are just some of the well-known names.

I spoke with Kaplan, Aetna, and Intuit, three of 2015's Top 100 companies, to learn about their remote hiring programs, the benefits and downsides of distributed teams, and best practices.

Related: Going Virtual: Hiring the Right Team for Remote Work

1. Kaplan leads work flexibility in the education industry.

Believing that people do their best work when they're able to work flexibly, Kaplan allows about 85 percent of its workforce to work remotely, a move that has occurred in recent years. "Technology has enabled us not only to evolve our program offerings but our workforce as well," says Lorin Thomas-Tavel, Chief Operating Officer of Kaplan Test Prep. Kaplan's expanded remote hiring includes not only teachers and tutors, but also sales, operations, and business development.

According to Thomas-Tavel, remote work has allowed Kaplan to expand its talent pool, improve retention, increase productivity and reduce office space costs, which are invested in training and technology to improve client and employee experiences.

Kaplan looks for certain skills when hiring remote workers, stressing that, "those who are the most successful in remote roles are often strong communicators who understand the value of connection and shared ideas to drive innovation and results." Quiet types and "lone wolf personalities" are less likely to thrive in a remote environment.

Communication is also important in cultivating a virtual culture. Says Thomas-Tavel, "The effective use of technology is critical, as technology platforms, channels and tools serve as the underpinning for enabling these connections."

2. Aetna builds on 20 years of remote work practices.

As a retention tool, Aetna has used remote work, or telework, for 20 years. One of the key components to its success its executive-level support, says Susan Millerick, Director of Communications. Over 31 percent of its employees engage in telework, and it is embedded into Aetna's HR policies and practices.

Additionally, Millerick says Aetna has "a strong process for determining which employees can telework successfully. The three main components include the actual job function (can the work be performed from home?), the individual's capabilities and competencies, and strict security standards for home offices."

Through telework, Aetna has seen benefits like saving between 15 percent and 25 percent of real estate and related costs, and largely reducing the company's carbon footprint. Aetna's teleworkers drive 65 million fewer miles per year, saving over two million gallons of gas, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by over 23,000 metric tons annually.

3. Intuit Seeks Talent Globally, Regardless of Location.

As a growing global technology company, Intuit has crafted a remote work program that keeps distributed employees engaged and connected. "In today's global economy and with Intuit's expanding global footprint, we know great talent is everywhere," says Terilyn Monroe, Director of Global Employee and Community Engagement.

Remote employee management requires different techniques and tools than managing on-site teams. To that end, Intuit offers remote employees a variety of specialized programs. "We have an Engagement Specialist dedicated to our remote workforce, who coordinates offerings that are global and virtual," says Monroe. "Fostering a flexible work culture is really a partnership, and it's all about setting expectations for the experience."

Monroe also adds that, to set everyone up for success, "Our recruiters partner with hiring managers to define expectations for the role and location given the type of work, and then work with candidates to ensure that their expectations are aligned. The end goal is to ensure all our employees are set up for success to do real work and have real impact. A telecommuting relationship requires great communication and shared vision on what success looks like."

With each of these company, remote work is based on a well-designed program that often took years to fully form. Other companies can benefit from learning about remote-friendly companies like Kaplan, Aetna and Intuit and then creating a tailored program to fit their particular needs. A company seeking to reap the benefits of a distributed, agile workforce through remote work should be strategic in its approach to properly position itself for success.

Related: Workers Without Borders: Managing the Remote Revolution

Sara Sutton

CEO & Founder of FlexJobs

Sara Sutton is the CEO and founder of FlexJobs, an award-winning, innovative career website for telecommuting, flexible, freelance and part-time job listings, and founder of Remote.co, a one-stop resource for remote teams and companies, and the 1 Million for Work Flexibility initiative. She was named as a Young Global Leader (class of 2014) by the World Economic Forum for her work in technology and the employment fields. Sutton is a graduate of UC Berkeley and currently lives in Boulder, Colo. Sutton is also the creator of The TRaD Works Conference, dedicated to helping companies leverage the benefits of telecommuting, remote and distributed teams.

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