More businesses than ever are leveraging distributed workforces, with employees spread around the world and many working from home or in remote office locations. Approximately 50% of the workforce will be remote by 2020, according to MarketWatch. While the use of a distributed workforce brings numerous advantages and reduces the cost of running a business, it also creates a new set of challenges. The following complications commonly occur when leveraging a network of remote employees, but by understanding and anticipating them, businesses can take preventative actions before issues arise.
Miscommunication and Lack of Context
Workplace communication problems naturally happen due to emails, shared documents, instant messaging, and the speed of business. This is only amplified as remote workers rely on these forms of communication even more and cannot resolve conflicts through face-to-face discussions. Time zone differences can make syncing up even more difficult and delay projects while teams wait for problems to be solved.
Prevention: Create open lines of communication, including instant message tools like Slack and project management software (PMS) that keeps all involved parties updated. Schedule regular video conferences that take remote worker time zones into account to keep coworkers in sync, which can prevent and quickly resolve miscommunications.
Working from home contains distractions not present in an office and also suffers from a stigma of unproductivity. Distributed employees may feel unfairly judged because they are not physically present. According to a Harvard Business Review study, remote employees feel their colleagues speak badly of them regarding their productivity and even lobby against them at a higher rate than on-site workers.
Prevention: PMS helps delegate projects to the right employees and track their completion. The insights generated can identify data-driven productivity issues and implement measures to improve future project completion rates. These findings can help highlight the accomplishments of remote workers and help alleviate their negative perception. Additionally, a peer-to-peer recognition system can celebrate hard work and even provide occasional rewards for a job well done.
While leveraging a workforce around the world means that a company can provide 24-hour service, it also runs the risk of making employees feel like they are always on call. These high demands and an unhealthy work-life balance can lead to employee burnout and excessive turnover rates.
Prevention: Set off-hours for remote employees to ensure they can rest without the stress of late-night or early-morning work demands. Align these hours with other time zones to create consistent coverage and sufficient time off. When scheduled properly, remote workers can remain responsible for their time on the clock without feeling as if their work-life balance has been compromised.
Companies that are entirely digital do not have a central location to provide training to new team members, which can become especially difficult when hiring entry-level employees. These obstacles can mean difficult onboarding or a tendency to lean toward more experienced staff, even for filling an entry-level position.
Prevention: Look for workers whose past experience, even if short, shows a tendency to enjoy and thrive in a remote capacity. Supply a detailed training schedule that provides resources, mentors, and exercises that reinforce the attitude and performance you need. Most remote employees will still need time to adjust, but a robust training package can help them start strong.
Assembling a distributed workforce often means dealing with employee-owned devices accessing a company network. The result is varying levels of secure access between employees, exposing a company’s larger network to vulnerabilities.
Prevention: Provide a secure virtual workspace for each employee that hosts sensitive files, messages, and documentation. Instruct workers to only use company-approved devices, whether these are their own or have been supplied by the organization. Keeping all employees within a secure ecosystem can prevent breaches that occur when standards become lax.
Leverage the Distributed Workforce
Read “The Rise of the Remote Worker” and make the most of the modern distributed workforce.