When thinking about a “long distance relationship“, most people instantly doom that to failure; but the thing is – out of  sight doesn’t necessarily mean out of  mind. Well, at least in business.

We have already made some points about how relevant remote working has become and what are, in our opinion, some of the best tools and software solutions that you can use for managing your remote workforce. This time we’ll try to get an insight on  the pros and cons of managing telecommuting, as well as how you and your remote employees can both benefit from time tracking.

Whether you already are or will be relying on remote workers as part of your team, the combined pros and cons list that follows offers a comprehensive overview of aspects to bear in mind.

 

Pros: Measurable improvements.

  • Time saving.

Getting away from ringing phones, overheard conversations and other distractions can create uninterrupted spans of time to think and write, or focus on detailed data work. Not to mention all the time wasted for commuting.

  • Access to otherwise unavailable talent pools.

Less expensive talents or talents that want to work from home for their own reasons, like families and caregivers, or generation Y workers –there’s a whole new world out there eager to work under  different conditions to the norm. Also, telecommuting can allow you to have a diverse workforce in the geographic sense.

  • Higher employee productivity.

Employees who are engaged in work that challenges their skills and not reassigned to supporting or unrelated tasks, enjoy greater job satisfaction. Thus the result: increased productivity. A Gallup survey from a few years ago found that remote workers put in more hours and are slightly more engaged than their office counterparts. Not everyone is productive on the same schedule too. Working remotely allows night owls and morning people to work when they are at their peak.

  • Broader workforce scale.

Remote flexible labor is easier to expand upon when necessary, and likewise, to reduce to a core team when it’s time to scale back again.

  • More flexible business model.

Working remotely is probably the wave of the future, with younger talent more likely to demand it. If done properly, it could save you an incredible amount of money (Aetna, for example, estimates that it saves approximately $78 million a year on real estate, utilities, housekeeping and other location-related services by enabling remote work), but also widen your organization’s area of expertise, put you up for new challenges and encourages “taking bigger bites.”

 

Cons: Points with potentially serious consequences.

  • Security concerns.

Whenever somebody takes work home it’s a security issue; especially since the workflow now includes communicating and saving data in cyberspace. Though office security systems are typically closely monitored and very secure, home-based systems may be far less resistant to hacking and data leakage.

  • Hardware and connectivity problems.

Technically, the employer is required to provide a safe and functional workspace. When that workspace becomes virtual, they still must make an effort to minimize hardware issues such as low-performing computers and outdated equipment.

Some ideas suffer from a lack of feedback and brainstorming, so there’s always a danger of remote staff working in a vacuum. It can also be harder to mentor or train someone who is new to the field.

  • Not mining available talent.

Remote employees are typically last on the list for promotions, since for many people, remote work doesn’t appear to go hand-in-hand with leadership. This misperception can lead to good talent repeatedly not making the advancements they deserve.

  • Remote worker separation anxiety.

Offsite work doesn’t fit every person and certainly not every job. Allowing workers to telecommute can be kind of like working in the dark – if you can’t see them, how do you know they are actually working? How can you make sure your remote workers aren’t slacking off while everyone else is busy working? Psychologically, it’s pretty hard – for the employers – to see that their employees are not reachable during  working hours.

 

With benefits presented like this, it’s easy to see why telecommuting is so popular and widespread; yet the shortcomings are serious and need to be handled with caution in order to implement this model successfully. After you’ve taken care about the proper infrastructure, defined the communication channels and secured your system, you and your remote employees are good to go. How far you will go and where you’ll end up now lies almost entirely in their hands.

Of course, your job is to keep an eye on them just as much as you do with your office workers – not less, but not much more either. The part with time-tracking is not easy and it won’t always reflect productivity and your employees’ involvement; but it can still be an indicator of a problem. Some workers will actually welcome it as a way to monitor their own habits, as long as you introduce it the right way and do not make it an annoying spyware. It’s the hardest lesson in management, but you really will have to focus mostly on results.

In any case, your two best defenses against slacking are: 1) Learn to hire trustworthy people; 2) Be a great person to work for and make them want to work for your success.

These two rules apply whether they’re working in an office with you, or working 4000 miles away.