As a remote worker since 2014, I learned how to work remotely before most of the rest of the world did. Through trial and error and a lot of time, I improved my ability to set asynchronous expectations, form lasting bonds with colleagues I saw in person only once a year, and make internal decisions about distributed team structures and meeting formats.
I’ve experienced firsthand the benefits and challenges of operating remotely, such as hiring top talent from a global talent pool, leveraging the creative tensions that come with diverse perspectives, and boosting employee retention (which was likely due to the joy of designing work around your life rather than vice versa).
Being aware of remote work’s promises and pitfalls will help you, as a business IT leader, create new strategies and processes to optimize your team’s own remote experience.
Let’s dive into the pros and cons of remote work that tech leaders should never ignore:
Benefits of remote work
1. Access to a global IT talent pool
When your workforce isn’t tied to a local office, you can hire anyone, anywhere. Hiring globally increases the chances you’ll find the best person for the role while simultaneously adding to the diversity within your team.
With the right inclusion practices, a diverse, fully distributed team will create an environment of learning and shared perspectives, fuel innovation across the board, and expand your organization’s time-zone coverage and knowledge in different markets.
2. Highly engaged and motivated employees
When you embrace the flexibility that comes with a remote culture, you put the onus of work on the individual. This autonomy and trust allow employees to prioritize the things in life they value, which, in turn, motivates them to put their best foot forward at work.
[ Also read Remote work: 5 tips to maximize productivity. ]
Employee priorities might include picking up kids from school, caring for aging parents, spending time outside on a particularly sunny day, or managing chronic pain, which are all real examples I’ve heard from remote employees.
Additionally, this level of increased flexibility means your employees can choose when and where they work best, improving the quality of their output and the value they add to your company.
3. A culture of transparency
When your team is solely connected through their laptops, it’s imperative that the work is easy to find through digital means.
Having clear tools—or a “digital house”—will help people navigate your IT strategy easily. Building strong documentation practices—a must-have in any remote environment—enables knowledge sharing and creates a culture of transparency by default. This will save your employees time when accessing needed information and support successful decision-making within the company at large.
Disadvantages of remote work
1. Complicated pay strategies
One downside of a global team is the issue of global pay, which has become a hot-button issue in IT. As a tech leader, you need to analyze the tax and compliance requirements in the areas you do business and determine if you’ll adopt a local or global pay structure for your employees and contractors. For example, if you’re headquartered in the United States, will you offer U.S.-based pay?
Communicate the reason behind your decision and explain the role it plays in your business strategy.
[ Also read 5 tips for pay transparency in IT ]
2. Persistent remote work myths
There’s plenty of negativity about the perceived consequences of remote work: isolation, lack of productivity, too many hours worked, and more. I’ve heard it all.
The reality is that these things are possible in both remote settings and brick-and-mortar offices. It’s up to managers to create work environments that allow employees to thrive. Blaming remote work is a lazy excuse that doesn’t address the root causes of the issues teams are facing.
Instead, dispel these myths and help your employees learn the skills they need to be successful in their roles while cultivating a culture of trust and autonomy.
3. Extreme intentionality
To be successful in remote settings, your mantra should be “Intentionality is everything.” Be deliberate in decision-making, creating processes, and communicating work decisions to your team.
Those all-important deliverables and timelines? Intentionally confirm them with your team; gone are the days of quick check-ins by the coffee machine. Those spontaneous brainstorming sessions? Intentionally lay out where they should happen digitally. Those ambiguous emails you’re used to sending? Be intentional about how you communicate in writing so that it comes across the way you intend.
This can be a hard shift to make, but practice makes perfect. With the right resources, you can build your remote work muscles.
[ Learn the non-negotiable skills, technologies, and processes CIOs are leaning on to build resilience and agility in this HBR Analytic Services report: Pillars of resilient digital transformation: How CIOs are driving organizational agility. ]