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Last month, IBM — once the steward for remote working — offered its employees an ultimatum: Get back in the office, or leave your job. No more telecommuting.

IBM is not the first to make this move. Many companies have been trying to rein in remote working in an effort to refuel productivity and innovation in the office. But the reality — to the dismay of Big Blue and its “back-to-the-office” predecessors like Yahoo! and Hewlett-Packard — is that the remote working ship has sailed. But that doesn’t mean productivity has left the shores with it.

In the last four years, remote working increased from 39 percent to 49 percent, according to Gallup. And this trend will only continue to grow.

The benefits of remote working are plentiful. Hard-working employees receive the much-needed flexibility and work-life balance, and given the global nature of today’s business world, it’s impractical, not to mention wildly expensive, to get all talent to come together in one location on a consistent basis.

Accept the new workforce reality

Some feel that creativity is only bred in-house, but not promoting remote working is a step backwards — plain and simple. In cases like IBM’s ultimatum, blame is often put on telecommuting for declining revenues. However, companies can manage remote workers more efficiently to avoid falling into this trap. The first step is to acknowledge that remote working is a key part of today’s workforce and to understand that there’s a reason for its growing popularity.

Flexible working arrangements are not just a privilege anymore; they are an expectation. Gallup found that millennials in particular are keen on this benefit, with half of millennial respondents saying that the ability to work remotely — even part time — would incentivize them to join a company. Remote working has become expected for a variety of reasons, chief among them work-life balance. Daily commutes keep employees on the road now more than ever before. In fact, an average American spends 25.4 minutes traveling each way to work. This means almost an hour a day lost that could be spent accomplishing other things — using quiet time for a work project, being present at the family dinner or even exercising — which also makes for happier employees.

Use technology to bridge the gap

Revoking telecommuting privileges shouldn’t be the go-to response to any dispersed workforce woes you may have. Know that the right technologies — such as video collaboration, tablets and cloud computing — can help bridge the gap between employees and offices, and increase productivity, while maintaining the flexibility that remote working affords employees. By extension, video conferencing also reduces travel expenses a company would otherwise incur.

A recent Lifesize survey showed that video conferencing can help increase both productivity and engagement — two areas of concern for companies with a dispersed workforce.

  • Productivity: On average, 75 percent of remote workers who use video conferencing feel it increased their productivity. Remote workers cite benefits like being less likely to multitask on video than on an audio call, reduced time to complete a project or task and an increased ability to get their points across accurately.
  • Engagement: Around 98 percent of surveyed video users feel that video conferencing helps build relationships inside and outside of the company.

Build trust in the new way of work

Accepting that remote working is here to stay and then equipping your team with the right technology are two elements of a successful remote working practice. Establishing trust is also crucial to its success.

Remote working can be daunting for managers and direct reports alike. Reluctance can come from fear that not physically seeing work being done means that it is not being done. Video conferencing helps improve the one thing that can be the real threat of remote working: communication. When done correctly, video can help accelerate communication with anywhere-anytime access and bring you face-to-face with employees, customers and partners that you’d otherwise need to connect with on an audio call.

Remote working doesn’t need to be a hindrance to productivity and engagement, but it is only successful if managed carefully and supported with technologies that help enable collaboration, trust and communication. If your company is considering following in Yahoo! and IBM’s footsteps, take a moment to consider other options. Remote working is seen as a benefit for employees, and it can help attract and retain the best talent, too.