Reconsidering a remote workforce

Becky Willard

For many business leaders, today’s biggest challenge is not having a enough available, skilled people in the workforce.

With the problem growing, it is reasonable to conclude we are not doing enough to respond. Although a low unemployment rate supports workers, it compounds workforce issues for many area businesses that have a growing number of open, unfilled positions.

Combatting and mitigating our shrinking available skilled workforce involves a complex multi-pronged approach. Businesses, educational institutions and public agencies all have roles in responding to this critical problem. As a solution provider and consultant, I believe a number of different approaches can help address this problem.

Here, I will focus on one — a remote workforce. A remote workforce can be a great advantage in terms of productivity, cost savings and attracting a more diverse team.

Telecommuting, or using a remote workforce, is not a new concept. Yet it has not been adopted by many organizations from a national or global perspective.

Some still insist that workers be seen in the office, and that workers also live in the immediate area. This line of thinking is outdated and sabotaging organizational health. If your organization has been operating under this assumption, it might be time to reassess what can be accomplished outside of the office.

To succeed in this process, be ready to debunk myths, re-educate, address trust issues and challenge traditionalist views.

To expand or adopt telecommuting or remote workforce strategies, there are four major considerations: geography, technology, ways of working and team support.

Geographically, we are no longer restricted to recruiting skilled workers from our immediate area. For many reasons, you may find some geographical regions with a surplus of the skilled workers you are specifically seeking.

More than ever before, technology and on-going innovation gives us more tools to support a successful remote workforce. These tools provide management with more productivity insight, address security concerns and boost the number of work productivity applications. It is technology that makes someone in Oregon feel as if they are sitting right next to you.

Once you determine the best cocktail of technology to support your business needs, give appropriate attention to the implementation of that technology.

The organization’s ways of working will need to adapt to the changing work environment. There may be a new workflow or changed responsibilities.

Developing communications protocols and collaboration systems, meeting etiquette standards and updating processes and procedures will make the transition smoother.

Organizations that work as a team are healthier and have a more productive workforce. Distance and technology do not address all aspects of teamwork. The small chit-chat that happens between co-workers while getting coffee, connecting in the hallway, celebrating milestones or simply having lunch brings people together.

Those who work remotely will miss out on the birthday cakes and hallway conversations. There are far too many benefits to an organization’s productivity to ignore this factor. It will be important to incorporate opportunities to connect in-person. Scheduling team connection days throughout the month, or year, can help support your organization’s team.

For some organizations, the transition can be a major operational shift. Changing management strategies and planning carefully can ease adapting to a different way of working.

Adopting or expanding a remote workforce, if implemented properly, could fill open positions, increase productivity, generate savings and attract a more diverse team.

Becky Willard operates Beacon Grace LLC, a supply chain technology and professional consulting firm in the Technical Innovation Center at Hagerstown Community College. For more information, go to www.beacongrace.com.