Working remotely not remotely appealing to some CEOs

The equipment to work at home may be there, but the office experience is lacking.

Working remotely is seen as a good way to virtually corral and expand the reach of your workforce while letting those who work offsite be more productive and benefit from not having to travel long distances. It is also viewed as something of a perk for employees.

The U.S. mobile worker population will grow at a steady rate over the next 5 years, increasing from 96.2 million in 2015 to 105.4 million mobile workers in 2020, according to a forecast by International Data Corporation. By the end of the forecast period, IDC expects mobile workers will account for nearly three quarters (72.3%) of the total U.S. workforce.

But while the numbers grow, some CEOs think these employees are missing out on important workplace experiences. At Weaving Influence, a digital marketing agency, some staff work remotely and others work in the office and CEO Becky Robinson feels those that are offsite are at a disadvantage.

“They don’t have the spontaneous team building moments that happen at the office,” Robinson said. “It's difficult to come up with a way to assimilate a team lunch with virtual staff and they legitimately miss when I bring in coffee or muffins or lunch; they're not here to enjoy that.”

Remote staff also miss chances to meet clients in person when they're at the office; this is a seldom occurrence but one they miss nonetheless, Robinson said.

And they miss out on learning from work in the moment," she added. "My staff here can learn more about what the company does by overhearing conversations. They have more direct access to me as a leader for questions in the moment.”

Casual, but important, conversations are missed, said Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, CEO of Tribe, a communications concern.

“Sometimes water cooler talk can be more productive than an hour-long meeting; remote employees are out of this and other crucial loops,” Baskin said. “A significant challenge of having and managing effective remote workers is to strengthen communications with them to improve collaboration, productivity and deadlines.”

Additionally, “Those employees who never hear from top management interpret that as a lack of respect for them and their contributions to the company’s success,” she said.

Remote workers are disconnected from company culture and lose the chance to learn from others given those in the office tend to be close to each other when discussions and strategies occur, said David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc, a human resources outsourcing firm.

Lewis also asked, “What is the career path for a remote worker? Tough to define unless they plan to return to the office in most places. And leadership in some places may spontaneously gather people to talk about an issue, often forgetting the remote people in the process.”

As a result, employees need systems to stay in touch remotely. 

Companies like Bonfyre are popping up to address the situation. The company says it has a communications platform with tools to help maintain company culture and establish personal relationships among employees, which is proven to help workers stay engaged. Users can post statuses and photos, share materials with one another, take quizzes sent out by HR departments, and stay in the loop just by scrolling through the platform's Instagram-like feed, the company said.