The Pros and Cons of a Remote Workforce: What’s Best for Your Company?
By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager
At some point during the pandemic, business leaders realized there was no going back to “the way things used to be.” They sensed a permanent change when the remote work trend transformed from a reaction to a crisis to a proven alternative work model with its own set of advantages. As a result, an increasing number of employers and workers declined to revert to the full-time, in-person workplace.
Despite the newfound benefits that everyone enjoyed as remote work became more standard, its shortcomings were increasingly evident, too. This dichotomy left many business leaders in a quandary about their organization’s direction.
What’s the best solution? Because of the vast differences among companies, there’s no cookie-cutter answer. Instead, the most prudent approach for CEOs is to evaluate the pros and cons of remote work for all involved. Then they can use that assessment to forge a plan that will move their company ahead in a post-pandemic world. Hint: company culture is the key to success regardless of the path they choose.
Remote Work Pros & Cons
Business leaders must make many decisions about the trajectory their companies will follow. Most weigh all sides of an issue before taking action. Below are points leaders should consider as they determine what kind of workforce structure will be the most advantageous for their company.
The Plus Side of Remote Work
Many organizations’ leadership and employees recognized multiple benefits after converting to a remote or hybrid work model. Both sides reveled in new options.
Global Workplace Analytics estimates that the standard U.S. employer can save an average of $11,000 annually for every employee who works remotely. They note that companies can whittle their real estate footprint with a remote workforce and reduce associated overhead costs like insurance, supplies, and equipment.
Less obvious than tangible cost cuts are savings that stem from increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, and less turnover in remote teams.
Wider Talent Pool
As soon as employers allowed remote work on a broad scale, they could look beyond local talent options for certain kinds of jobs. Now companies can recruit top candidates from afar for many positions, allowing them to find ideal fits with specific skill sets.
Easier to Scale
Business leaders often postpone or forego growing their companies because of the staggering expense of workplace expansion. But a remote workforce structure can improve opportunities for scaling sustainably and effectively.
Attractive to Recruits
Once workers got a taste for telecommuting during the pandemic, many grew discontent with the restrictions of on-site jobs. This shift is illustrated in Joblist’s latest U.S. Job Market Report, which notes that 61 percent of all job seekers are interested in remote job opportunities for 2022. Consequently, recruiters and hiring managers who offer remote or hybrid positions are winning the talent battle as the Great Resignation takes its toll on less flexible organizations.
Boon to Sustainable Goals
An increasing number of companies are developing environmentally responsible policies. Since 86 percent of commuters drive a private vehicle to work, converting to a remote workforce is a strategic way to live up to this commitment. Additionally, on-site employees use far more paper and twice as much electricity as people who work from home.
Eliminating the Commute
People who switch to full or part-time remote work can now pocket money formerly spent on fuel and parking fees or public transportation costs. Perhaps even more precious is the additional time they gain in their day to either work or devote to personal issues. In addition to saving time and money, remote workers don’t endure the stress that commuting often induces.
Many remote jobs offer semi-flexible hours, allowing employees to fulfill their work and life responsibilities without compromising either one. Telecommuters can more easily juggle child, elder, and pet care, along with other personal issues. And many remote jobs allow them to work the hours when they feel most productive. This level of flexibility is essential to a high percentage of today’s workforce.
Remote employees can also move without changing jobs to meet other family needs, save money, or just because they want a change of scenery.
More Job Opportunities
Just as employers enjoy a wider talent pool with a remote workforce, telecommuters have the option of working for distant companies without pulling up roots. Now, instead of having a handful of reasonable job offers, many workers have dozens of opportunities to advance their careers. This broader selection helps them get the salary, benefits, and company culture they desire no matter where they live.
Remote work can pose some challenges, as noted in this article’s next section. But many telecommuters find that working from home significantly reduces job-related stress. For example, respondents to a FlexJobs survey of over 3,000 professionals said that working remotely:
- Reduces distractions during the workday (75 percent)
- Cuts down on interruption from coworkers (74 percent)
- Keeps them removed from office politics (65 percent)
- Allows for a quieter (60 percent), more comfortable (52 percent), and more personalized (46 percent) work environment
When the pandemic forced millions to work remotely, one of many employers’ biggest fears was that their staff would be less productive doing their jobs from home. But to the surprise of many, the reverse was true.
A two-year study by Great Place to Work of more than 800,000 employees at Fortune 500 companies found that most people reported stable or even increased productivity levels after employees started working from home. Lower stress and flexible work schedules brought out the best in most telecommuters, who found they worked more effectively and efficiently at home versus the office.
Negative Aspects of Remote Work
Despite all the upsides to remote work, many leaders and workers also registered complaints about telecommuting because it triggered new problems or exacerbated old ones.
Harder to Manage Teams
Managers weren’t issued a playbook when COVID suddenly forced them to lead their teams from a distance. After years of hands-on supervision and spontaneous coaching opportunities, many found it challenging to work within the virtual confines of remote work. In addition, newly remote managers felt less able to track and measure performance and hold their people accountable for delivering results.
Hiring remote employees usually involves virtual onboarding, which presents another steep learning curve for numerous organizations. Many companies that were comfortable performing this process a certain way have had trouble adjusting to online introductions, orientation sessions, training, and introducing company culture. Leaders must be willing to change tactics to achieve these things effectively for remote recruits.
Strained Collaboration & Communication
Many managers detect diminished collaboration and communication with remote teams, despite the abundance of tech tools that can connect employees with their bosses and coworkers.
Since communication is less spontaneous when people don’t physically inhabit the same space, it’s easier for departments or individuals to work in silos. And many remote employees often find it harder to find the information or resources they need than when they worked on-site.
Ironically, collaboration problems are sometimes due to an overabundance of communication methods that well-meaning companies introduce to unify their remote teams. As it turns out, too many lines of communication dilute employees’ ability to work effectively with their colleagues. A tangled web of technology can often lead to a slower realization of goals.
Diminished Company Culture
Many business leaders find it more challenging to sustain their organizational culture with a remote team. They discover that the culture that evolved organically when their people worked together in person is almost impossible to replicate in a virtual world. Accordingly, companies without a systematic approach to developing and reinforcing a strong culture may find a remote workforce untenable.
Feeling of Isolation
One of the most prevalent problems for remote employees is loneliness. Telecommuters may enjoy more time with friends and family, especially as the pandemic wanes, but they often feel very disconnected from their colleagues. And since work consumes a significant amount of time, they spend most of every day feeling alone. This isolation hampers their ability to enjoy their jobs and is closely tied to reduced engagement with their organization.
Lack of Career Growth
Working in isolation can make progressing up its ranks more difficult, especially for those just beginning their careers. In companies that have adopted the hybrid work model, remote workers often worry that they miss opportunities their on-site teammates enjoy.
They have a point. Brian Kropp, head of Gartner’s human resources practice, is quoted in an Axios blog with this observation:
“64% of managers believe that office workers are higher performers than remote workers, and in turn are likely to give in-office workers a higher raise than those who work from home.”
Since many women now choose remote work to better balance personal and professional responsibilities, this proximity bias subjects them to being overlooked for promotions more than ever before. Industrial-organizational psychologist Elora Voyles calls the phenomenon the “Zoom Ceiling.”
Less in-person contact can also subvert diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and career growth for people of color or with disabilities.
Another issue that cropped up as remote work became entrenched was the fading boundaries between professional and personal life. Telecommuters are technically always “at the office,” leaving them more prone to work longer hours after on-site employees leave for the day.
Additionally, many remote workers complain that their bosses and teammates feel free to contact them at any hour. And even if an immediate reply isn’t requested, people who work from home often feel pressure to do so. Telecommuters also aren’t as comfortable taking sick days when they’re ill because they don’t want their managers to perceive that they’re slacking off.
Back to the Office or Bust?
With so many potential drawbacks with a remote workforce, it seems logical that many companies would opt out of this work model. In addition, remote teams aren’t feasible for some industries. And for organizations where remote work is possible, some CEOs maintain that their teams fare better when working under one roof.
But it’s not that simple. Companies in many industries must offer remote jobs to remain competitive in the job market. A survey of 1,500 hiring managers conducted by Upwork predicts that 22 percent of workers will be telecommuting by 2025.
Even industries specializing in hands-on work (such as hospitality, health care, manufacturing, and distribution) have certain positions that telecommuters can fill. Consequently, most business leaders must find a way to overcome the challenges that remote work can pose.
Rethinking and capitalizing on company culture is the method to achieve that goal.
Empower Remote Teams with Company Culture
Company culture is evident in how people approach their work, interact with colleagues, and interface with the public or other stakeholders. Organizations can successfully operate with a remote or hybrid workforce if they deliberately develop the culture that supports that environment.
CultureWise founder David J. Friedman wrote Culture by Design to explain how CEOs can build a high-performing culture. In the second edition of the book, created during the pandemic, he describes how leaders can instill and reinforce culture with remote teams.
Friedman observes that companies with remote workforces that manage their cultures successfully share two significant themes: intentionality and flexibility.
He describes how leaders with remote teams must be very intentional about setting them up to succeed. They should never assume things will simply work out—nothing should be left to chance. This deliberate construction of remote team culture is essential for employees and the organization to thrive.
Paradoxically, flexibility must be a key element of that structured culture. Leaders must adjust their management style to best deal with the many challenges team members and managers face with remote and hybrid work.
When leaders master intentionality and flexibility in their company culture, they are far more capable of maximizing communication, elevating respect and inclusion, and developing relationships with their remote staff.
They are also better positioned to give management the necessary support to develop remote employees and effectively help them reach organizational goals.
How CultureWise Can Help
David Friedman based CultureWise on the eight-step framework to build a high-performing culture that he outlined in Culture by Design. This innovative system helps leaders develop and sustain the culture to help their organization thrive.
Visit the CultureWise website to learn more about how a powerful culture is the foundation for organizational success, whether leaders choose to work with remote, hybrid, or entirely on-site teams. And enjoy a complimentary subscription to Culture Matters to stay informed about the many ways organizational culture impacts every business.