The Tools You Need to Manage a Far-Flung Workforce
Entrepreneur|January 2016

How do you maintain productivity, communication and morale when your staffers are all over the map? There are many benefits and challenges to having a remote work force, but the right tech tools and leadership tactics can connect far-flung individuals into a cohesive, efficient team.

Marcia Layton Turner

Jesse Mecham, CEO of YNAB (You Need a Budget), ran his money management training and software venture in Provo, Utah, by himself for the first year and a half after launching it in 2004. Then software engineer Taylor Brown emailed, offering to help add functionality to the software Mecham had created. The fact that Brown who now serves as YNAB’s CTO was in Austin didn’t stop Mecham from immediately saying yes. Using phone and email, the two worked together virtually for about a year before meeting face to face. Geographic distance simply wasn’t an issue.

“My first experience [of working in separate locations] was very positive,” Mecham says. That’s why he was willing to expand his hiring search area when looking for another team member two years later. The company’s third hire came from even farther afield: Australia.

Mecham’s experience is consistent with a growing trend toward hiring virtual employees. According to Global Workplace Analytics, which analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the number of teleworkers employed by for-profit companies reached 2.86 million in 2014—that’s about 2 percent of the total U.S. work force.

Of course, technology allowing for remote communication and collaboration has helped drive this growth. Additionally, entrepreneurs appreciate the savings from not having to fund a brick-and-mortar office with desks and phone lines. But aside from that, many businesses are finding that virtual teams get more done than those who work in traditional offices—in fact, management consultants Aon Hewitt found that virtual teams are 10 to 43 percent more productive, depending on the industry and organization.

There are other reasons why a virtual team may be right for your business. “As an entrepreneur starting and growing my company, having a virtual work force gave me freedom to grow it as it made sense and alleviated an often challenging decision of how much office space we needed or could afford,” says Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs and Remote.co.

What’s more, she says, by not restricting the search to a specific region, one creates a broader talent pool from which to draw. “Being able to hire the best person for the job, without being limited by geography, is a compelling point in and of itself.” This is particularly true for highly specialized functions that may be difficult to find locally. Expansion into new territories can be made easier by hiring local talent as a point person.

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