Managing a Virtual Workforce: How to Cope With This Growing Trend

We here at TLNT might be a bit more curious about virtual workforces than most because that’s what we operate under every day.

We’ve mastered the virtual high five and the digital celebration very well. I don’t think everyone works optimally in a remote work environment, but it works out well for our crew here.

As I talk to other folks in HR though, many companies don’t blink an eye at an employee who comes in a couple times a week. And it is likely that they’ve hired a completely remote employee in the last year too.

WorkSimple recently released an infographic (at the bottom of this post) and it illustrates both the state of the virtual workforce as well as some interesting tidbits.

The state of remote work

I often wonder if flexible and remote working environments have been helped or hurt by the economy in the last couple of years?

On one hand, employers could be more demanding and ask that employees actually come in to work. For those who would need to relocate: tough luck. You either make the move or not. While it’s a guess, I’m guessing many people don’t say no to that.

On the other hand, it may be impossibly tough to relocate right now, especially with a spouse established in a job, kids in school, and maybe an aging parent. And with moving benefits and pay raises being tight, remote work and flexible schedules might be the solution to attract great talent that might be otherwise out of reach.

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The advantages to me are clear: when geography isn’t an issue, it’s much easier for any size company to compete in the talent space. Beside budget, location seems to be the largest hurdle to pass. So it is nice to see some traction being made on this front for everyone’s sake.

Virtual work by the numbers

Of course, anecdotal evidence and stories are one thing, seeing the virtual workforce show actual growth is quite another. Which is why a few of the numbers stood out for me:

  • 61 percent believe their companies will allow more telecommuting over the next three years. Great news for those who advocate telecommuting options but I wonder where the other 40 percent are? Are they already allowing a sufficient level of telecommuting or will they not even consider it?
  • 56 percent believe telecommuting makes their employees more productive. I don’t believe telecommuting universally makes employees more productive. I do think that for those who are inclined (and have the ability) to work remotely, it can be greatly beneficial to their productivity.
  • 62 percent allow employees to work remotely on either a part-time or full-time basis. I do wonder if those are the same people who are confident that their companies will allow for more telecommuting?
  • The median age of a teleworker is 40 and they are more likely to be male and have a college education. This is fascinating to me because it seems to bust two assumptions I had about telecommuting: that much of it focuses on younger workers and females who desire greater work/life balance. Does this point to inequity in virtual work arrangements or something else entirely?

Take a look at the chart below for more about the virtual workforce and thanks again to WorkSimple for putting it together.

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7 Comments on “Managing a Virtual Workforce: How to Cope With This Growing Trend

  1. Great infographic, Lance! I agree with the 61 percent
    who believe that companies will allow more telecommuting over the next three
    years and see it as a growing trend, but I also see it as another shift in the
    way HR operates. Technology has begun to make this possible with on-demand,
    easily accessible and centralized systems that capture employee information and
    performance, automate learning and compensation platforms and extranets that
    securely provide controlled access from the outside. Before the remaining 40
    percent of respondents buy into the idea of a telecommuting explosion occurring
    within the next few years, the foundation needs to be laid. Businesses who are
    still operating under an “old school” set of HR practices need to solidify and
    streamline the processes that they use to manage their people – and embracing
    modern HR technologies is critical in building an infrastructure capable of
    supporting a virtual workforce.

    Ginger 
    @SilkRoadTweets:disqus 

    1. Agreed, Ginger. Certainly there are positions that aren’t conducive to remote work or even flex time but there are few companies where this applies to all of the workforce. It will be interesting to see how quickly the tides will change, especially if competitive pressures come into play.

  2. You’ve hit on a huge issue, Lance. For me, the first step toward getting a handle on your workforce – regardless of whether your managers are interacting with your employees remotely or in person – is understanding them behaviorally: http://www.peopleanswers.com.

    1. Good point, John. Understanding helps every manager, no matter if their employee sits next to them or 3000 miles away.

  3. Lance, thanks for the insightful post! From having experience managing virtual employees myself, its important to have self starters on board and be able to keep the lines of communication open. 

    1. I agree, Heather. Both identifying people who would work well under remote work and making sure you encourage an environment and provide resources for a great virtual workplace is essential.

  4. Great infographic Lance and pleased to see the data is from large companies. What I really wonder about though is what roles these workers have. I think F500 companies are fine with middle management and lower working remotely but for senior managers and others, I’d hypothesize that the numbers would be different. I know the median age is 40 and college educated, but I’d bet that also describes the average worker in an F500 so I don’t think that tells us about level.

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