Remote employee. Telecommuter. Satellite human. Whatever you call it, there seems to be a lot of conversation going on about the evolution of the workplace – and the workforce – of the future. So much so, in fact, that what began as an idea for a single blog post has evolved into a blog mini-series. Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be sharing insights, thoughts and data on remote employment in four parts:

  1. The Flexible Future: Why You Should Focus on Building a Workforce Not a Workplace
  2. I Swear I’m Wearing Pants: Misconceptions About Remote Employment and Employees
  3. From the Mouths of Managers: Advice and Insights on Making Remote Work for Your Company
  4. Welcome to Home Office Depot: Tools, Tricks and Tips of the Trade

So let’s begin.

In the two years since I started working remotely for my agency, a lot has changed in the business world. I’ve gone from being an anomaly to one of the millions of Americans making it happen from wherever we happen to be. And while I recognize that certain industries tend to be a little more embracing of this new trend, I find it refreshing that the general conversation has evolved from, “WHAT. YOU WORK FROM HOME? HOW DOES THAT WORK?” to “I’m remote, too. Don’t you love it?” The “worker bees in fake pants” have become our own tribe of new normal. And it’s catching on fast.

A Look at the Data

34 million Americans worked from home in 2013. That number is predicted to reach a staggering 63 million – 43 percent of the total U.S. workforce – by 2016.

That’s right. Almost half of the workforce is expected to work from home by the end of next year. While that figure may be a wee bit optimistic, there’s no denying that we are seeing a swift evolution in focus from workplace to workforce. Companies are eagerly embracing the understanding that in order to compete and thrive, they need to build a team of top talent – not just a team that shares an office space. From the employee side, work-life integration is taking precedence, turning flexibility into the ultimate employment perk.

An annual survey conducted last year by the Society for Human Resource Management found a greater increase in the number of companies planning to offer telecommuting in 2014 than those offering just about any other new benefit. While there are surely a multitude of factors prompting companies to embrace remote options, a few of the biggest motivating factors are:

Remote options retain current talent. When it comes to top talent, poaching is the name of the game. There is always someone dangling a carrot offering more money, more plentiful perks or a better deal. In 2014, employees received an average raise of only three percent from their employers. Given the cost of inflation, that pans out to approximately one percent in additional spending power. However, if an employee opts to leave their current employer and accept a position with a new company, they can expect an average 20 percent increase in salary. That’s a pretty enticing difference.

The numbers vary slightly, but the average cost to replace an employee who quits ranges anywhere from 50-150% of their salary. And that figure doesn’t take into account the hit to established client relationships, workflow and the brand reputation. (Think people don’t notice when your agency/company is a revolving door? They do. They really do.) says it well: “If your company has thousands of dollars that it can just light on fire at the next office BBQ, then maybe you don’t really need to invest in employee retention. But my guess is that the vast majority of companies are simply not in that position. It costs less to retain than it does to replace.”

Moves happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes even the happiest employee has got to go (spouse relocation, caring for aging parents, etc.). But relocating doesn’t have to be synonymous with leaving a company and job you love. (That’s bad for the company and bad for the person.) Remote employment options open door to alternate arrangements that are good for employees and good for business. Employment becomes less about where you are – and more about that special something you bring to the business. (Fun Fact: Remote employees reported higher levels of happiness and were found to be 50 percent less likely to quit than their peers.)

Remote options attract prospective talent. Similarly, remote employment options allow companies to tap into and attract a much wider pool of prospective talent. Chances are, the best applicants for a given position don’t live in your backyard – or even in your zip code. For companies that physically exist in smaller, rural areas, this challenge is even greater. The smaller the city, the smaller the talent pool, which can prove to be especially challenging when it comes to recruiting, attracting and hiring applicants with highly-specialized skill sets.

When your company considers only local talent, you’re hiring for geography, not skill set. I challenge you to find a single case study where being in the same location proved a greater contributor to a company’s success than the passion and talent the team brought to the table.

Remote lowers overhead costs. As part of its BlueWork program, American Express conducts an employee survey, which helps assign employees to one of four categories: Hub, Club, Roam and Home. “Hub” employees’ work requires a fixed desk, and their presence in the office every day.  “Club” employees have flexible roles that involve in-person and virtual meetings; they have the opportunity to share time between the office and other locations. Those in the “Home” category are based from home offices – set up with assistance from the company – on three or more days per week. “Roam” employees are almost always on the road or at customer sites, and seldom work from an American Express office. The BlueWork program has delivered not only improved worker productivity but also saved between $10- $15 million annually in real estate costs, the company says. [source]

So now that we’ve covered a few of the benefits of remote workplace options, let’s talk about some of the struggles. On Thursday I will be sharing a post about misconceptions and misperceptions about remote employment and being a remote employee. In order to prep for the post, I threw the question out to remote employees in my social network. Here were a few of the responses I received regarding the things people have said to them:

“That when you are not in the office you are taking the day off.”

“That it means you either have to work from home or coffee shop.”

“That it’s difficult to keep in touch with co-workers, access files, etc.”

“That you never see your coworkers or talk to them.”

“That you can’t possibly be putting in 8 hours a day at home.”

“That you work in a bubble of isolation.”

“That you must get nothing done.”

“That you are lazy, haven’t showered in two weeks and only wear pajamas. Pajamas? No, sir. Yoga pants? Well, yes.”

Curious. What comes to mind when YOU think about remote employment and employees?