Age of the Telecommuter: Managing Remote and Virtual Teams in the Digital World
In a traditional professional work environment, workers drive to an office where they sit in a cubicle from 9am to 5pm while they finish their daily tasks, and then proceed to go home to their family and have the rest of the day for personal pursuits. This way of professional life is now being challenged by telecommuting, a mode of work that came about because of advances in technology and changing expectations. The infographic below, created by the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Online MBA program, takes a closer look at the rise of telecommuting and how management styles are evolving as a result.
The Rise of the Telecommuter
The concept of the workplace is changing and the US is leading the revolution. There are currently 53 million freelancers in the country. It is estimated that 45% of employees work from home or are considered as virtual employees. About 2 out of 5 freelancers complete their work online, underscoring the importance of the Internet in this movement. The effect on the economy is substantial. Studies peg the annual contribution of the freelance workforce at $715 billion. This is bound to grow if trends continue. Remote job listings increased 27% between 2014 and 2015.
Five Types of Freelancers
While the circumstances of each individual are always unique, researchers have found it useful to divide freelancers into five broad categories. Around 40% work as Independent Contractors, which are defined as those who are unattached to a company and are going on a project-to-project basis. Next are the Moonlighters who still find it useful to keep a day job but does freelance work on the side to increase income. Then there are Diversified Workers at 18% whose sources of income tend to be a more even mix of traditional and freelance work. A tenth are Temporary workers such as consultants that are bound to a single company. About 5% of freelancers have managed to become small business owners themselves.
Who is Freelancing?
The overwhelming majority of freelancers work in and around the computer or IT industry. Three to four years of experience are under the belt of a good 86% of them. Millennials dominate the scene with 38% of freelancers belonging to the 18-34 age group. About a third or 34% are between the ages of 35 and 44.
Companies Who Hire Freelancers
Many well-known companies have telecommute-friendly policies. Leading the way are business process outsourcing and technology giants. These include Teletech, Convergys, Sutherland Global Services, Amazon, Kelly Services, Kaplan, First data, IBM, SAP and Westat. Outside of this top 10, other highly virtual companies include online media outfit Upworthy, social media management firm Buffer, and Firefox developer Mozilla. Their involvement in this change is bringing more credibility to freelancing as others see that it can and does work for successful businesses.
Managing a Virtual Team
Hiring freelancers proceed in a slightly different way compared to the conventional way primarily because people are scattered all across the US. Many are even located in different countries. Freelancing sites such as oDesk, Elance and Guru bring them all together in a convenient platform. Employers can post jobs and wait for applicants to show their interest. Their resumes can be filtered and assessed to find the right candidates. Reviews and work histories provide additional information. Shortlisted candidates may be interviewed via Skype or chat. Provide small tasks to test their skills before hiring them for large projects. Monitor their progress over time.
Great Applications for Collaboration and Communication
Employers can use a number of applications to manage and communicate with their virtual team. Google Docs is a good tool for document collaboration with the files stored in the cloud and available 24/7. It’s free for personal use but it might be worth paying for a business account to get all the premium features. Dropbox cannot be used to create files but it is excellent for storage and sharing different file formats. Evernote is a handy app for project management, file sharing, billing and collaboration. Basecamp is another powerful project management program that can handle file-sharing duties. Buffer, WorldClock, Trello and Sqwiggle are worth a look as well.
The Future of Telecommuting
Business leaders are bullish about the future of telecommuting. As much as 34% of them believe that the majority of their full-time workforce may be using this set-up by the start of the next decade. This bold prediction is based on the rapid advancements in technology that are making information access and collaboration easier than ever.
Benefits for All
Everyone benefits from increased telecommuting. Companies enjoy significant savings thanks to reduced overhead costs and higher employee productivity. Workers, on the other hand, are happy to have hours that are more flexible, greater control of their future, and further opportunities for challenges.
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