Remote Employees: Expense or Investment

CEOs, unit leaders and entrepreneurs are all facing a common question of allowing or not allowing employees to work remotely.

The decision to do so has a financial impact on the company and the employee and there are many questions to answer and implications to be aware of. If your company has never allowed remote employees, this can be an unsettling decision to ponder. It is basic human nature to worry about employing people who do not come to your office every day. You wonder if they are working, or working hard or are they distracted by things at home. It can also be expensive to support remote employees in that your firm may have to register in new states and pay taxes and associated costs that otherwise would not be borne if they all worked at your main office. If you have allowed remote workers and consider if reversing that policy is worth exploring, much like Yahoo did famously, there is much to review. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 22% of Americans work remotely at least some of the time, so if your company is part of that cohort, taking that benefit back could have very negative effects on morale and create turnover. The very first thing to consider for a remote policy consideration is does my business or unit need such a policy in the first place? There are certain industries where the workforce is not demanding it, or so few employees ask for it its not a necessity. If there is a need, then consider next what roles and people does remote work make sense. Highly collaborative functions may be less conducive to remote work, where finance and programming might be better suitable. A significant driver to the success of remote working is the worker themselves. Have they ever worked remote or at home before? Are they the kind of person that will not get distracted by the TV, personal interests, or socializing? This latter question requires the hiring and supervising managers to actually do a much better job of really understanding if they have a good hire, after all if the person is a self-motivated person, where they work will not change that. If they are seen slacking off in the office, it will only get worse outside the office. On the management side of the equation, an inherently distrustful management team will make any remote policy problematic. If your company is in a very defined niche, then sometimes the ideal new team member may be in a different state. If the decision to get the best employee is between hire the best or take second best because they are local, enlightened companies go with the former. The ripple effect of hiring the best person for the job also can have a profound positive effect on the organization, although it can be hard to financially quantify it. There is an additional downside to remote employees and that is the reduced comraderies and brain-storming that can never be 100% alleviated be technology or frequent travel. However, if you are indeed hiring the best, the decision continues to be hire the best for most advanced organizations. Finally, a comprehensive financial advisor in conjunction with an accountant and a human resources professional can fully calculate the financial impact and to some degree the cultural impact of remote workers to the firm, its owners and of course employees. The key to the decision is being truly open to the culture, costs and opportunities of this important decision. Related: Investing in Unprofitable Companies