I make my living working from home as both an exec in a company with a 100% distributed international workforce and as an entrepreneurial cheerleader for converting companies to virtual workforces. I am often asked about the benefits of a remote workforce and I can literally talk for hours about them. However, let’s be frank about the two biggest challenges.
Remote workforce companies have to be pickier than anyone else
Let’s assume that everyone can work in an office (it’s not true but most professionals do). When managers check resumes and interview new employees, they consider the candidate’ skills for the job, how they will fit in with the team, etc. Managers rarely consider discussing whether the candidates are able to work effectively in a cubicle or open plan office with dozens of co-workers.
When hiring for a work from home job, it’s different. The remote employee not only needs to be able to do the job, they need to have the ability to drive themselves to complete work on time without the overt or passive pressures of having their boss and coworkers nearby. They also need to be able to cope with the all of the social and psychological issues of working far from everyone else on the team, often never meeting their co-workers in person.
If you are thinking: “I work with a lot of people I’d rather not see every day,” consider that a good portion of the average professional’s network of friends comes from work and that a recent statistic that people with a best friend at work were 7 times more likely to be fully engaged in their work.. Those of us who work from home long-term learn how to cultivate our friendships far from work. Can every potential employee do that? Not a chance.
Great work from home managers are practically unicorns
Work from home managers not only have to be all those things that define a strong remote employee but also be capable of hiring a trustworthy, talented team and verifying the quality of work being performed hundreds or thousands of miles away. If those managers get it wrong by either being too trusting or go too far the other way by micromanaging their team into oblivion, they risk imploding the company.
This is why the question of scalability of distributed workforces won’t go away. Need a hundred data entry clerks to work from home? No problem. Need a highly qualified manager for every team of ten? That’s hard. Need a highly qualified exec or middle manager with the understanding and experience of remote teams to oversee the whole thing from their home office or a café down the street? Better start looking yesterday.