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Should your staff be coming into the office every day or should they be free to work from home (or from anywhere they like, for that matter)?

Flexible work, remote work, and remote teams (or virtual teams) are popular topics at the moment. Pre-pandemic, only 7% of American employees were working remotely or had the option to. Now, the number is around 45%.

As a member of a remote-first company and a seasoned remote worker myself, I'll explore the benefits of remote work from two perspectives—both the employees and employers—plus potential challenges, actionable solutions, and best practices.

What is remote work?

Remote work is the practice where employees work or perform their full-time jobs outside of the traditional office environment, usually from home.

Remote work comes in few different flavours. Some companies take a hybrid approach with mandatory office days, whereas other businesses are fully-remote, globally distributed with no physical office space at all.

Benefits Of Remote Teams

Remote or hybrid work has stuck, even now that most of us have the option to return to the office. Why? Because it benefits both employees and employers.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

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Benefits of remote teams for employees:

  1. Better Work-Life Balance: A study by PwC found that 67% of employees say they can better balance their personal and professional lives when working from home. The absence of a commute increases time for rest, and the flexible schedule enhances life quality.
  2. Increased Productivity: According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, remote employees complete almost a whole day's extra work per week compared to their in-office colleagues. This can be thanks to fewer distractions or the chance to work during their most productive hours of the day (or night).
  3. Improved Employee Retention: The option to work remotely is a strong incentive for employees to stay with a company, which is a benefit for employers, too. According to Owl Labs, 74% of workers say that having the option to work remotely would make them less likely to leave a company.
  4. Healthier Lifestyle Choices: Remote work often leads to healthier lifestyle choices, as employees have more time for exercise, cooking, and avoiding fast food. The benefits of this have been proven, with 41% of in-office personnel experiencing burnout, compared to just 26% of remote workers.
  5. Reduced Commuting Stress: Eliminating the long commute reduces stress and exposure to traffic-related frustrations. According to data reviewed by Upwork, on average, those who work remotely save an average of 49.6 minutes a day. This, in turn, aids to a more peaceful and less hectic daily routine.
  6. Customized Work Environment: Employees can create their own workspace, tailoring it to their comfort and productivity needs. This meets the desire for a personalized and comfortable work setting, enhancing overall job satisfaction.

Benefits of remote teams for employers:

  1. Access to Global Talent: Remote work allows employers to tap into a global top talent pool, significantly widening their recruitment options. If this is something you’re considering, you may want to use an employer of record service to more easily hire across borders and different time zones.
  2. Greater Diversity of Candidates: Remote working policies increase the diversity of applicants, which meets the need for diverse perspectives and skills in the workforce. For example, when insurance broker Allstate switched to remote working, they saw a 30% increase in diverse candidates applying for roles.
  3. Cost Savings: Business owners can save substantially on office space costs with remote work, ultimately bettering their bottom line. For example, Sun Microsystems identified savings of $68 million yearly in real estate costs while Dow Chemical and Nortel saved over 30 percent on non-real estate costs.
  4. Reduced Absenteeism: Remote work often leads to lower absenteeism as employees can work more flexibly around personal commitments and health issues. This addresses the need for consistent employee availability and productivity.
  5. Enhanced Employee Well-being: Offering remote work options shows a commitment to employee well-being, which can boost morale and loyalty. According to Team Insights, work well-being leads to 2 less sick days a year, a 6 times lower probability of being absent, and a 9 times higher loyalty rate.
  6. Eco-Friendly Business Model: Remote work contributes to a greener business model by reducing emissions, fuel and energy consumption, and even office waste. This addresses the growing need for environmentally responsible business practices and can enhance the company's public image.

Challenges Of Remote Teams

While remote work offers numerous benefits, it also presents unique challenges that can impact both productivity and personal well-being. These include: 

  • Maintaining Effective Communication: For professionals striving for clear and timely communication, remote work can present challenges. The lack of in-person interactions may lead to delays and misunderstandings, impacting collaboration and project success.

    Solution: Employee communication software can help you share information internally and help your employees feel more connected
  • Achieving a Healthy Work-Life Balance: Remote workers often seek a better balance between their professional and personal lives. However, the blending of home and work environments can make it difficult to establish clear boundaries, leading to potential overwork and burnout.

    Solution: Consider encouraging employees to use a time-tracking app, such as Insightful or Clockify, to help them establish clear work times and boundaries.
  • Overcoming Isolation: Many individuals desire meaningful social interactions in their work life. Remote working can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, as it removes the daily social interactions of an office setting, which can be detrimental to mental well-being and overall job satisfaction.

    Solution: Plan recurring events, such as monthly or annually, to get your team together to connect in person. Consider welcome events for new employees.

Remote Work Best Practices

To maximize the effectiveness and well-being of remote teams, it's crucial to adopt best practices tailored for the remote work environment. These may include:

Regular and Structured Communication

Regular and structured communication is crucial for maintaining clarity, preventing misunderstandings, and ensuring remote team alignment. It compensates for the lack of physical presence, fostering collaboration and an understanding of goals.

Pro Tip: Be sure to implement regular virtual meetings and communication channels like Slack or Teams to ensure collaboration amongst team members.

Clear Work-Life Boundaries

When home doubles as an office, it's easy for work to encroach on personal time. Setting specific work hours and having a dedicated workspace helps employees disconnect, ensuring they can recharge and maintain their overall well-being.

Pro Tip: Encourage employees to set specific work hours and create a dedicated workspace to maintain a healthy balance. This will really help company culture.

Foster Community and Social Interaction

Social interactions foster a sense of belonging and community, which are vital for employee morale and engagement. By encouraging informal chats and organizing virtual or in-person social events, companies create a supportive and connected remote work culture, enhancing job satisfaction and overall team dynamics.

Pro Tip: Organize social events and encourage informal chats to mitigate feelings of isolation among remote workers, promoting a sense of belonging and cohesion.

Emphasize Mental Health Support

The feelings of isolation, blurred work-life boundaries, and potential overwork make mental health support an important part of any remote work structure. By providing appropriate resources, companies can help employees manage stress, maintain work-life balance, and feel supported.

Pro Tip: Acknowledge the unique challenges of remote work, check in with your team, and include access to counseling services or paid mental health days.

Training and Resources for Remote Work 

Let's face it, while remote work is clearly beneficial, it's also a unique work environment. Mastering digital tools, managing time effectively, and properly onboarding coworkers can enhance productivity, reduce frustration, and promote a more efficient and satisfying work experience.

Pro Tip: Offer remote training programs and resources to both managers and employees on best practices for remote working, including time management, digital tools proficiency, and ergonomic home office setups.

Resources To Help Remote Teams

The many perks and benefits of remote working—increased employee engagement, productivity, retention, and diversity—are there to be had.

But, as we all know, it does require a bit of reconfiguration. To make a success of it, you have to put in place the right tools and processes.

Organizations with a remote workforce will need to equip their team members with the right tools, processes, and expectations. A few resources to help include:

If you're looking to expand your team to include remote workers, then check out how to hire remote employees (recruitment-focused) and how to hire international employees (legal-focused).

By Finn Bartram

Finn is an editor at People Managing People. He's passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.