Remote field teams are becoming ever more popular in today’s day and age. In fact, according to a report from Global Workplace Analytics, there was an 80% increase in “telecommuting” employees between 2005 and 2012. Remote employees experience many unique benefits and challenges as part of the nature of their work. This post will analyze three perceived “disadvantages” of remote work and discuss how they can be viewed as advantages.
1. Lack of Connection to Company Culture
Company culture is typically cultivated through brief interactions that happen in a traditional office setting. However, remote field employees do not have the opportunity to partake in casual conversations by the water cooler or lunch breaks with their colleagues. Because of this deficit, hiring managers need to be sure to employ individuals who align well with the values of the organization. If such individuals are hired, they will feel connected to the organization, rather than isolated.
In order for remote workers to forge bonds with each other, an efficient means of communication must be in place. Since field employees can’t tap their co-worker on the shoulder when they have a question or just want to have a conversation, it is critical that they are able to reach out in other ways. Utilizing technologies that have instant message and/or billboard announcement functions is an excellent way to foster a sense of community within remote teams. Employees will feel like part of a team, and engagement will increase when they can contact their peers or managers in real-time. Managers can use the communications functions of a mobile software solution to provide words of encouragement to their employees or reminders of organizational goals. By implementing these communications practices, company culture can be promoted from any virtual location and remote employees will feel more akin to their team members.
2. Inability to Work Together in Real-Time
Because remote field representatives are working independently across multiple locations, it can be difficult to collaborate with each other in real-time. Fortunately, there is technology available to mitigate this problem as described above. Nevertheless, being unable to work together at a moment’s notice presents some unique advantages for field reps.
Remote employees actually have the potential to work more productively than their office counterparts because they tend to encounter fewer distractions. Throughout the day, an office employee may have to abruptly stop working to attend a meeting, speak with a colleague, or respond to a number of other disruptions. Field employees will not experience these types of disturbances and therefore can focus their attention on value-building tasks. If an organization is using a chat function to keep remote workers connected, the field employee has the option to brush off an instant message temporarily for the sake of tending to a more relevant duty. This ability to work asynchronously lets field reps budget their time more effectively, boosting productivity.
3. Little Face-to-Face Interaction with Other Members of the Organization
Remote field reps face more obstacles relating to communication than office employees do. It is obviously much simpler to communicate in an office environment, where all team members are working in a shared space. This luxury doesn’t exist for remote employees, so they have learned to adapt to the circumstances.
Field reps need to make a more deliberate effort to communicate with their peers or management. Because of this, their communication tends to be clearer and more on-task than that of their office counterparts. Remote employees are also more likely to make use of technologies that improve communication processes, as opposed to only relying on telephone calls and email. In a sense, technology replaces physical space as the place where naturally flowing communication occurs.
Working outside of a central office location certainly has an effect on how field employees accomplish goals. With the incorporation of technology in the remote workforce, gaps in communication can be easily bridged and company culture can be fostered from virtually anywhere an employee is working. Remote field reps are also able to work more productively and with less distractions than typical office employees. Additionally, remote field employees tend to be better communicators because the nature of their job demands it. These examples highlight how field teams can overcome challenges associated with working remotely.