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Is a Remote Workforce Right for Your Agency?

Weighing the Pros and Cons of a Remote Workforce

Is a Remote Workforce Right for Your Agency?

Second Wind believes in the small + smart agency model, but realizes it isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Here are some questions to consider when deciding if a remote workforce is the best choice for your agency:

Does remote working benefit your competitive situation? Does a competitive situation ever change the way your agency does business? Are there times when your agency wishes to be perceived as a large, vibrant agency versus a permanently small one? If so, a remote workforce may not your best choice.

How is your agency’s morale? Does it need a radical change? If so, bringing all your employees back to one physical location may be the most efficient way to change it.

What is your agency’s culture? Can you maintain it when you are not all together? Can you keep everyone invested in the company’s culture no matter how scattered they are?

Does teleworking inhibit your people’s creativity? While some argue that creativity occurs best when everyone is in one location and can bounce ideas off each other and build a creative spark, new technology can encourage the same engagement online. Jason Fried, author of the book Remote: Office Not Required, argues in favor of remote working for creatives who, he says, need long stretches of uninterrupted time to work best. You know your employees’ work styles. Which works best for each of them? What works best for the agency as a whole?

Can you work efficiently and maintain productivity with a remote workforce? Make sure your processes enable seamless collaboration, good recordkeeping and efficient time management.

Do you have the physical space to house all of your employees in one place? If not, a remote workforce is essential.

Does your agency have the resources to provide benefits and higher wages to keep a full-time on-site staff? Would you do better combining a core group with a remote freelance/contractor workforce? How does failing to provide benefits to part-timers and freelancers affect their bond with your agency?

How does a lack of remote work options affect employees? Do you have key employees who would need to commute long distances, or who live too far away to commute? If so, are you willing to lose them by not allowing telecommuting?

Do you wish to attract a young work force? Most Millennials expect—and even demand—workplace flexibility. You risk losing them, too, if you banish remote working.

Making a Remote Workforce Work Better

Carefully consider what works best for your small agency, and keep in mind that there are ways to encourage better morale and help your culture flourish even among dispersed staff.

Consider “core times,” or “core days” when all employees must be onsite. Hold face-to-face meetings, so misunderstandings don’t build up. With wireless Internet, it’s much easier to invite people to use the office as their “hub”; invite freelancers and contractors to “plug in” at your agency as needed.

Use video conferencing where people can see each other’s facial expressions and connect those with people’s tones of voice. At the start of each project, share project plans with everyone involved, including remote employees, to build trust and better communications. Have employees research, plan and brainstorm together.

Build morale and a team mindset through social media, holiday gatherings and community outreach events. Encourage your employees to share items of personal interest or write internal blogs to build camaraderie. Have a common mission statement and see that each employee is aware of it.  

Check with employees periodically to make sure no one is feeling isolated. Assign each remote employee a point person to answer questions about assignments and organizational issues. Some people prefer to work in the company of others while others work best away from the interruptions of the office, so it might benefit you to make adjustments in the way employees work.

Ultimately it is up to agency managers to determine what works best for their agencies. Take the time to reassess your agency’s model annually. Then determine if a remote workforce still works for your agency. If not, pulling remote workers back to headquarters may help you better set up your agency for a strong future.

When Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer announced plans to cancel a longstanding policy allowing employees to work from home or other remote locations, she renewed the ongoing debate about how or whether remote workforces are a functional and beneficial business model. Yahoo, once an Internet leader, fell behind Facebook and Google in rolling out new products and keeping up with technological trends. Mayer’s intention was to bring innovation and collaboration back to the company by having all employees in one place. A Yahoo press release on the move insisted, “This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home. This is about what is right for Yahoo, right now.”

When does the use of a remote workforce no longer serve your company’s interests? Yahoo responded to a competitive situation. Mayer was one in a long line of CEO’s brought in to heal the ailing company. To catch up with Apple, Google and Facebook as an internet leader, she needed to repair Yahoo's scattered culture and rebuild morale. Bringing employees together in one place was a major part of her solution.

That said, Mayer’s policy change flew in the face of HR trends leaning toward more flexibility in the workplace. Global Workplace Analytics reported that 40% more companies offered remote working in 2018 than five years previously. They also reported that remote work has increased 140% since 2005, and telecommuting increased 115% over the past decade. Banishing telecommuting may be the answer for a large business that needs to put out multiple fires at once to remain competitive. But is it right for a smaller agency? Reassess your own situation periodically and adjust as needed. Include a review of remote work policies in your annual business planning session.

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