The Pros and Cons of Remote Employees

Imagine being able to measure your daily commute in steps rather than miles. That’s one reason the number of remote employees has increased 159% since 2005. But it’s not just remote workers who benefit. So can the small businesses that hire them. Take a look at the pros and cons of hiring remote employees.

Whether you call them remote employees or telecommuters, an estimated 40% of U.S. employees now work remotely on a full or part time basis. To take advantage of that trend, it’s important for business owners to understand the rewards and risks of hiring remote employees.

What You Gain

  • Boost productivity – A human resource study found that teleworkers are more productive and less likely to take time off from work, even if they are sick. Without the distractions of the workplace, they are able to focus and accomplish more.
  • Lower overhead costs – Businesses with remote workers could reduce their overhead costs. With fewer employees, owners can rent a smaller space, incur lower utility costs, and reduce the supplies needed to run the business. One source puts the savings at $11,000 per employee, per year.
  • Increase candidate pool – Need to fill a position but can’t find anyone locally with that skill set? The availability of remote workers lets you expand your search to other areas without having to offer relocation incentives.
  • Improve retention – Remote work gives you another way to retain a key employee who leaves for personal reasons (e.g., spouse is transferred to another city, health reasons, moving to another part of the country).

What You Risk

  • Less incidental collaboration – Sometimes the best ideas come when employees collaborate by accident. They overhear another employee describe a problem and offer a solution. While online tools like Yammer can facilitate collaboration, it’s hard to duplicate the level of anecdotal interaction that happens onsite.
  • Employee disengagement – Remote workers may not have the distractions of working onsite, but they may have issues like childcare or home maintenance problems that cause them to lose focus. So, it’s important to establish expectations and provide guidelines, just as you do with onsite staff.
  • Less direct oversight – Traditional supervision methods many not be possible with remote workers. Rather than directly observing their work, you’ll need to focus on the product of their work and the results they achieve. Status updates may become more important to establish milestones and troubleshoot issues.
  • Worker’s Compensation issues – Business owners don’t have as much control over the working conditions of remote employees as they do with onsite staff. That can raise an unexpected liability for worker safety. To address that new risk, it’s important to adopt telecommuting policies. Here are some additional factors that should be considered when drafting those guidelines.

Remote employees offer both opportunities and challenges for small businesses. Understanding each will help you determine whether the time is right to hire remote employees for your small business.

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