“2014 is the year to find remote jobs.”, declares career search website, FlexJobs.com. The site, which has remote work job listings “from all over the United States and the world”, publishes an annual list of the top 100 companies offering flexible work opportunities. Its 2014 list includes big name telework advocates such as Xerox, United Healthcare, Dell, Aetna and American Express.
Yes, the workplace has evolved.
Savvy organizations have embraced the increased productivity and decreased costs (a.k.a. bigger profits) synonymous with the adoption of a remote workforce. For example . . . in 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported that insurance giant, Aetna released more than 2.7 million square feet of office space as a part of its effort to transition nearly 17,000 associates to work at home positions. The move saves Aetna $78 million each year.
And the relationship isn’t one-sided. Hungry for work-life balance, devoted call center representatives, project managers, application developers and the like – at companies all over the world – are eager to do the work they love, while reducing their own expenses or caring for children or elderly parents. According to a Future Workplace study, (Multiple Generations @ Work) flexibility is the number one benefit cited by Gen-X and Gen-Y workers today. As proof, job-seekers happily fork over up to $15 per month for access to FlexJobs.com postings.
Despite its mutually beneficial nature, the remote workplace, does have perceived drawbacks; primarily in keeping remote professionals engaged with one another. Let’s face it: The art of sharing ideas, information and knowledge is challenging enough when we can see our co-workers. With the added barriers of time and distance, communication and collaboration are easily diminished. At a minimum, they require concerted effort to maintain. Indeed, some companies have found these new challenges weighty enough to justify pulling back. As if the Marissa Mayer “horse” hasn’t been beaten enough.
Limited collaboration in particular, is a big issue because collaboration is one of few processes that enhances group dynamics through individual empowerment. Concepts like brainstorming and ideation originated from the psychology of collaboration. Research indicates we generate better ideas, solve problems faster and deliver more comprehensive solutions when we consider each person’s unique perspectives and contributions. This is the essence of productivity. In short, collaboration enables us to leverage the great power of diversity. Without it, any gains in productivity are bound to be short-lived.
As such, it’s critical that leaders and organizations give greater consideration (and bigger budgets) to soft skills training for remote managers and their work teams. Sure, IT spend is up. Companies now issue laptops rather than desktops and we deploy tools and technologies designed to protect networks and facilitate access in the cloud. Just this year, Dell revealed significant increases in IT spending on security solutions as traditional workplaces to transform into cloud-focused BYOD cultures.
But, when it comes to professional development, too many organizations have transitioned an ill-prepared workforce to a remote workplace with little to no regard for how managers and associates will apply “old school” skills – listening, leadership and teamwork – in the “new” workplace. If we are to continue to evolve and compete in an ever-shrinking global marketplace, we must invest in the asset that drives innovation and productivity: People.