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.

Lance Haun is the practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy, where he focuses on researching and writing about work technology. He is also a former editor for ERE Media, broadly covering the world of human resources, recruiting, and sourcing. 
He has been featured as a work expert in publications like the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, MSNBC, Fast Company, and other HR and business websites.
He's based in his Vancouver, Wash., home office with his wife and adorable daughter. You can reach him by email or find him off-topic on Twitter.