Are Remote Teams the Future of Work?

The global unemployment rate rose by 4.2 million in 2012 to 197 million. Around 35 percent of unemployed youth in advanced economies have been jobless for 6 months or longer. There were 3.7 million vacant jobs in the US in January; do the math and you'll see the cause for concern.

The lack of relevant job openings in localities outside of metropolises points to a hot current debate in the workforce: hiring remote workers. Although virtual work isn't a new trend, (Microsoft has been employing remote workers for at least a decade) Yahoo caused an uproar among both job applicants and advocates as the stance on a virtual workforce is limiting for efficient collaboration and fosters low productivity.

Great Talent Doesn't Live Next Door

While hiring remote workers doesn't work for every company or business model, the advantages are seemingly endless for a large section of the job market- namely in the science and technology industry. In fact, STEM-related jobs that are going months unfilled have created a growing opportunity for highly-skilled international candidates with relevant experience.

Hiring remote workers keeps your talent pool wide open, allowing you to employ the best in your industry regardless of location. If you only hire local candidates, you are limiting the potential of your business from over 99 percent of top available talent who live elsewhere in the world, for whatever reason -- their families, cultural roots, desire to live in an exotic place, or their place of education.

Remote Workers Are Easier on the Budget

If your company is in a big city, hiring locally puts you in the position to match regional salary expectations, often inflated in metropolitan areas. Take for example, a growing trend in Silicon Valley where software engineers are hiring agents to negotiate their rates as high as $300 an hour. These outrageous rates for talent could afford you at least four equally talented employees elsewhere.

If you're concerned about efficient collaboration between in-house and remote workers, there are a number of affordable tools that can help and will allow virtual teams to be more productive. "Physical proximity does not guarantee collaboration. It's your company processes and values that decide that," says Dan Martell, CEO and Founder of Clarity.

Not to mention you'll save on overhead costs such as office space, broadband, and utilities to name a few.

Autonomy Increases Productivity and Employee Retention

A recent study by Staples Advantage debunks the myth that hiring remote workers is dangerous, confirming remote workers are actually more productive than their in-office counterparts. At least 37 percent of businesses with remote workers programs report less absenteeism, (people who work from home are way more likely to log on, engage, and be productive), and 75 percent of bosses report happier employees.

Technical-related work requires minimal distractions, and a remote environment could provide more value to the company in less time than a 40+ hour work week of distracted work.

"Developers and designers often need long, uninterrupted periods of time to get meaningful work done," explains Chad Halvorson, CEO of thisCLICKS. On the other hand, in-office employees take face-to-face communication for granted, and can become complacent at work. Just because an employee is working in an office doesn't necessarily mean they are more productive. They could take twice as long to complete a project than a remote employee who isn't inundated with meetings, side conversations and manager inquisitions.

Jason Fried, founder of 37signals is a huge advocate for the remote workforce. He addresses the concern of trust for employers who are reluctant to hire virtual workers, "A big part of it comes down to trust--we've found that companies that work remotely trust their employees more. And what's interesting about that is that when you're trusted more as an employee, you work better." He asserts that giant companies like Aetna, Deloitte and Intel allow a large percentage of employees to work remotely, and it has been working quite well for them.

Hiring remote employees makes you a better leader according to Scott Edinger of Edinger Consulting Group. Leaders who work with virtual teams are more attentive, and have more meaningful conversations with each employee. Communicating via technology offers them the opportunity to develop more technical skills and test new tools to be more efficient. Like their employees, working with remote workers causes leaders to be more productive with their time.

Do you have remote workers? How did you recruit them and how do you manage them?