Retaining Your Top Virtual Workers

Kevin Sheridan

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt about retaining your top virtual workers from Kevin Sheridan's most recent book, The Virtual Manager:

Remote workers have a 60 percent higher intent to stay than em­ployees in a traditional office setting. 1Because of this, employers should establish a virtual work policy in order to retain their best team members. It costs less to retain employees than it does to train new hires, with train­ing and hiring costs amounting to 150 to 200 percent of an individual’s salary. 2The bottom line is reduced, and greater business success results from retaining top talent.

One reason many employees choose to leave their jobs is burnout, which results from team members becoming overburdened and disillu­sioned, either from too much work or from not accomplishing their de­sired goals. But employees who work virtually are less likely to get burnt out from their jobs. According to one study conducted at Brigham Young University, virtual workers and flextime employees work an additional 19 hours (more than two days!) per week before feeling overwhelmed. 3The ability to work additional hours is likely due to a greater work/life balance and the reduction in stress that results from working virtually. With remote work strategies in place, employees are less likely to feel overloaded and thus are more likely to remain with an organization.

The reduction in stress afforded by remote work policies contributes to retention beyond burnout as well. A large cause of stress among em­ployees is attributed to commuter stress, which can be greatly reduced or completely eliminated with the establishment of virtual work policies.

According to research by David Lewis, commuters actually experience more stress than policemen and fighter pilots. 4Doesn’t that seem a bit extreme? These high levels of stress are largely attributed to the lack of control commuters have over their circumstances. I know I’ve left the house many days with plenty of time to spare, only to arrive 15 minutes late to work because of traffic, something I cannot control. Even disregarding lateness, employees may not have time to decompress before they have to jump right into work following a stressful commute. Frustration from commuting often carries over into the workplace, affecting productivity, interactions with coworkers and management, and positive feelings about the organization and an employee’s job.

Remote work policies also contribute to retention through the reduc­tion in forced turnover. By this I do not mean termination; rather, I am referring to those employees who would like to remain at a job, but due to personal obligations, must resign. When virtual work policies are estab­lished, individuals can stay with an aging parent or child recovering from surgery and still contribute to their job duties. They do not have to quit working in order to do so. As the number of individuals with caregiving re­sponsibilities is increasing 5managers would do well to implement virtual work policies to retain talented employees who would otherwise need to leave. Allowing employees to work outside the office will contribute to a balance between personal caregiving responsibilities and job obligations.

Talented employees who must move out of state for various reasons can also be retained if allowed to work virtually. Consider a skilled em­ployee whose wife just obtained her dream job in another state. A virtual work policy would allow this employee to remain with his organization while still allowing his wife to do what she loves. Additionally, the organi­zation benefits from retaining a highly skilled and dedicated employee who puts forth discretionary effort for better business outcomes. Virtual work policies are a win-win in these situations: Employers are able to retain not just top talent, but proven talents and producers, as these employees have shown themselves to be beneficial and engaged in the organization. More than 59 percent of employees who leave an organization do so within six months to a year, and of those who stay, another 50 percent leave before two years of employment. Thus, 79.5 percent of your employees never make it beyond the two-year mark. 6Virtual Managers will benefit greatly from retaining those employees they know are already invested, dedicated, and in it for the long haul.

Workplace flexibility also allows organizations to retain top talent by avoiding the "Brain Drain" effect, which occurs when a large cohort of skilled individuals leaves a location for a multitude of reasons. For ex­ample, as Baby Boomers reach retirement, the skills and knowledge these individuals offer will be removed in a short period of time. The effects of a mass exodus could be reduced through remote work possibilities. Indeed, 75 percent of retirees would prefer to continue to work, but want the flexibility that can be offered through virtual work policies. 7Allowing em­ployees to work remotely will lessen the impact when individuals within a generation retire at similar times.

Virtual managers can thus leverage distance working to retain the em­ployees they do not want to lose.

[1]Amelia Forczak, "Working From Home: Benefits for the Employer," HR Solutions eNews, March 2011, www

[2] Dana E. Friedman, "Workplace Flexibility: A Guide for Companies," Families and Work Institute, www.familiesandwork .org/3w/tips/downloads/companies.pdf.

[3] Ted Samson, "Research: Telecommuters With Flex Time Can Handle 50 Percent More Work," InfoWorld, June 3, 2010, www

[4] Ed Frauenheim, "Commute Stress out of Control?," CNET News, December 1, 2004,

[5] Kristin Smith and Reagan Baughman, "Caring for America’s Aging Population: A Profile of the Direct-Care Workforce," Monthly Labor Review, September 2007, 20-26, opub/mlr/2007/09/art3full.pdf.

[6] GreenBiz Staff, "Flex-Time Workers Add Two Days to Their Workweek,", June 4, 2010, flex-time-workers-add-two-days-their-workweek.

[7] "Pros and Cons," Telework Research Network, www