The Pros and Cons of a Remote Workforce Nicci Troiani The world is filled with digital nomads—folks ditching the nine-to-five lifestyle for a remote careers abroad. Web developers, virtual assistants, marketers and content creators living anywhere in the world they like. The question is: Do you want to work with them? The dust has settled on this work style, and there are now enough people earning a living with online tools that the pros and cons of remote work are pretty clear-cut. The choice comes down to your priorities, your own work style, and how you envision the future of your small business. Pro: A Remote Workforce Will Probably Save You Money The cost of renting an office alone will save thousands a year, not to mention smaller details such as office supplies, commute costs (think of all that gas mileage!) and in-house computers. That said, you will absolutely run into unforeseen costs with a remote workforce, such as digital software subscriptions and travel costs—say, if you wanted to gather your team together for a bi-annual face-to-face meeting. But taking into account even a few hundred dollars in software each month, you’re still likely to come out with a lower overhead. Con: Physical Barriers Make Communication Trickier Your communication will need to be faster and broader than email, but even communications platforms such as HipChat or Slack pose problems when clearly communicating issues in a rapid way. Humans have developed body language for a reason, and doing away with it will alter your team’s communication skills. Then there are more practical problems, such as time zones—actually arranging a time to meet over the phone or streamline working hours is obviously trickier when everyone is in their own zone. One of the benefits of working remotely is personal freedom, but you have to delineate where the line is between personal freedom and workplace commitment Pro: Your Employees Will Be Happier On that note, personal freedom means you can work when you feel like it and spend time with your family when it’s convenient. People who don’t mind working odd hours can take their kids to work, run errands during the day or enjoy an outdoor workout on a random summer weekday, provided they have enough time and time management skills to finish their projects when they’re due. This attitude means they’re happy, and if they’re happy in their job, they’re likely to want to keep the train moving smoothly. Con: The Life/Work Balance Becomes Hard to Navigate What happens when your employee is at the beach on a random sunny weekday afternoon and something breaks that only they can fix? You can call them, of course, and they can interrupt their afternoon to fix the problem, but it’s not an efficient system. Of course, you can fix this issue by setting out clear guidelines from the outset, such as establishing consistent work hours, enforcing time-tracking apps and having protocols in place for when things go wrong. But that will have a conversely negative effect on employee morale, and employee satisfaction is one of the biggest benefits of a remote workforce. Pro: You Can Hire the Right People What if you could hire anyone in the world, based purely on morale? Some people prefer to hire locally, but more often it’s a simple necessity. If you’re in a town with a small viable workforce for your industry—say, you’re looking to ignite a start-up in an amish farming hamlet—you no longer have to relocate yourself or lure in outside talent with freshly churned butter. You can hire anyone, anywhere, any time you like. You can find someone who fits the job description and never settle for the biggest fish in your small pond. Con: They Might Not Care About You or Your Work Yes, they’ll do the job. But one of the problems with hiring a remote worker is simple emotional investment. People tend to disengage without faces or voices to keep them energized. Remember, humans are fundamentally emotional, social creatures, and when you strip some of these sensory attributes away, replacing everything with text and apps, you won’t find the same connection unless you make it a virtual priority. (You can remedy this with team-building exercises and fun chat rooms, but it only goes so far.) Make sure your entire team (remote and local) is on the same page with your small business mission statement. Even if your values align with that of your remote workers, you may still have higher turnover with remote employees. At the end of the day, you might have people abruptly quitting on you to pursue different jobs in a way they wouldn’t if they had to tell you face-to-face. Pro or Con, Depending on Your Perspective: You May Never Work in an Office Again If you’re planning on telling your current workforce to stay home next week, they might be thrilled. You might be, too. But keep in mind that there might be no turning back. Deciding to transition from a virtual environment to a bricks-and-mortar office is very difficult—maybe even impossible, given that your team will become dependent on employees spread out across the world. You and your employees will also likely grow to love the freedom, especially if you’re living rich lives travelling or spending more time with your family. Taking that away will cause some serious grudges once you meet in the office. On the other hand, maybe you’ll love it, the cost-savings will be worth it and everything will be work out seamlessly. Maybe it won’t matter that you can never go back to the office, because you’ll never want to. You won’t know until you try it.