In 1913, Ford Motor Company revolutionized manufacturing with the introduction of the assembly line. Henry Ford realized that, with an efficient assembly line, an owner could quantify—with relatively high precision—how much work a single laborer could perform in an hour.
Tweaking production became a simple function of “Number of Employees x Number of Hours Worked.” Want to dial down production? Reduce your workforce, their hours, or both. Want to kick it up a notch? Hire and start doling out the overtime.
The system was a resounding success for industry and made the automobile an accessible, and essential, commodity. The time clock, capable of practically counting and tracking production itself, emerged as the emblem of industrial efficiency.
It didn’t take long for the time clock to find a home in the office environment as well, and assembly-line thinking came with it. But to say that the model didn’t translate perfectly to the office would be an understatement.
The paradigm—and even the time clock itself—has persisted into the 21st century. Despite new technologies making non-traditional staffing options viable, assembly-line thinking still haunts the halls of corporate offices around the world.
Like all old customs, assembly-line thinking has since met its demise.
Research shows that an employee’s presence in the office does not positively correlate with his and her productivity. A number of studies have shown the opposite to be true, with remote employees proving to be more efficient than their in-office counterparts.
And they’re happier, too. Work-life satisfaction, psychological well-being, and productivity are consistently higher among remote employees than traditional in-house employees.
That’s not to say that remote employment is perfect. Successful CEOs understand that remote isn’t always ideal, and not every position can be contracted. Certain employees and certain positions are better kept in-house, but this decision largely depends on the organization and its goals.
But the options of full-time, part-time, contracted, remote, and in-office are not mutually exclusive. Organizations are realizing that and embracing the idea of a blended workforce—the merging of all those different types of employment into a single team.
A blended workforce allows companies to be flexible. If a particular area of an organization’s operations requires more focus and investment, a full-time employee might be needed. Depending on the nature of the operations, an employer can decide whether that position should be in-office or remote. If another area doesn’t require quite so much attention, a virtual employee can be contracted on an as-need basis.
The option of a virtual team is also advantageous when a company is looking to grow. Startups and well-established organizations alike can limit their financial exposure and reduce risk by using a virtual team to expand.
Mounting an aggressive hiring campaign only to find that the expected demand isn’t there can break a company. Making the wrong full-time hire, even when business is thriving, can be a disaster. All the time, money, and energy required by the recruitment process can be wasted in a blink of an eye if the wrong individual is brought on board.
But, nothing is perfect. Employing a blended workforce does present some unique challenges that CEOs need to be aware of before making the jump.
Some contractors are perfectly happy receiving payment on their invoices and calling it a day. They don’t feel the need to be invested in your organization and don’t care to create meaningful relationships with your team. While these types of relationships can fulfill an organization’s needs, they can sometimes result in work that is less than ideal.
These types of professionals don’t represent the majority. Most workers—whether they’re employees or virtual contractors—desire a connection with their employers and their work.
Many CEOs find it challenging to fulfill that desire with remote and virtual teams. Distance, different time zones, and the lack of face-to-face interaction can make team members feel alienated. Research has shown that remote employees are more likely to feel lonely and disconnected from their coworkers.
The goal of every CEO with a blended workforce should be to make the world smaller. Thankfully, modern technology is making it easier to do that. Video conferencing, instant messaging programs, and social media groups can be highly effective ways to bring your blended team together.
Being able to see your colleague’s face, or contact them immediately via IM, helps to erase some of the distance between remote employees.
Cohesion also requires a clear and compelling vision. While everyone needs a paycheck, true motivation requires meaning. Communicating and promoting one’s vision is essential no matter what your staffing model.
But the need for meaning becomes even greater when employing a blended workforce. Even if they’re a thousand miles away from your office, a worker will feel like part of a team if they’re invested in the company’s vision.
With remote employees, CEOs also run the risk of unwittingly creating “classes” of employees. If your in-house team is consistently two steps ahead of your remote employees, the latter will start to feel unappreciated and “less-than.”
It’s better to err on the side of caution and over communicate with your remote team than it is to leave them in the dark. Provide updates as frequently as possible and work to cultivate an equal playing field for everyone. Activities like video-conferenced happy hours can go a long way.
The challenges that come with a blended workforce are surmountable. And the model provides enough benefits—to workers and employers alike—that those challenges are being readily accepted by more companies and professionals.
Technology has allowed us to redefine the way we work and the way we staff our companies. Just as past technologies inspired the industrial revolution, new technologies are inspiring a sea change of their own.
Although the time clock still looms in many a corporate office, the demise of assembly-line thinking is already well underway.
After experiencing the virtual assistant (VA) model for themselves, Bryan and Shannon Miles were inspired to start their own business providing virtual support to busy leaders. The couple founded Miles Advisory Group (MAG) in response. Within two months, they had signed four contracts with leaders in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and Wyoming, generating a wave of momentum that continues to this day.
MAG expanded the horizons of their VA service model in eaHELP to include MAG Bookkeeping, copywriting services, and web support services. In January 2017, the Miles AG suite (eaHELP, MAG Bookkeeping, Render and Ellipsis) came together under one name – BELAY. This name has a great deal of significance to our leaders because of its core meaning: To belay is to provide the support a climber needs to ascend…And that is precisely what we do for our clients.