Telecommuting is the future, and the future is here. Recent studies show that 3.9 million Americans work from home at least part of the time. The number of employers who offer telecommuting options has grown by 40 percent in the last five years. Those numbers will only grow in the coming years. Businesses that prepare now for the remote workforce, will reap the most benefits.

A Deeper Look at The Remote Workforce

It’s not surprising that businesses are considering going fully remote. There are many pros to going this route, both for businesses and employees.

First, managers are no longer restricted to local talent: they can now get their hands on top talent from around the globe. Which means they don’t have to worry about putting together juicy package deals in case of relocation.

But it’s more than just increasing the size of your talent pool. Moving to a remote workforce means lower costs all around. Some businesses have been able to downsize office space, work in a coworking space, or even eliminate the need for a physical office altogether.

On top of savings, telecommuting, even part time, has been shown to improve employee productivity, retention and happiness.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges to tackle:

Regular 9 to 5 hours, office meetings, and cubicles have been the standards for decades, and people hate change. Integrating telecommuting into our offices means we have to reprogram how we think about work. We also could potentially need to change the whole infrastructure of our businesses.

If you’re thinking about offering telecommuting option to your employees, you need to have a plan in place before you start.

But where to start?

Ensuring Communication with the Remote Workforce

The line between the digital world and the “real” world is blurry already. Consider the distinction between your real-life friend group and your social media friends for a moment.

Which group has more of an impact on your everyday activities?

Chances are a big chunk of content you digest didn’t reach you by word of mouth or by a directed news source like CNN. Instead, you got it through a network of overwhelmingly complex digital channels.

That same impact rings true for most modern tech businesses.

Skype conference calls have long become a de facto replacement for traditional office meetings. Now, these designated meetings where employees get together under management are being upended by channels like Slack or other collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams.

The result is an office framework where manager-dictated schedules are becoming a thing of the past. Traditional management instead gives way to more fluid organizational structures.

Collaboration platform channels allow for focused work conversations. And while this isn’t based on a telecommuting structure, it’s one that promotes it.

What’s the point of even having an office space if communications are all dispersed and the need to match employees up across time zones to attend virtual meetings is negligible?

But with these changes comes a need for clear expectations and possibly new management styles.

Expectations Ensure No Backsliding

Once you’ve introduced remote work into your business model, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

With other businesses implementing work from home options, staying competitive means making telecommuting options available for your employees when possible. 97 percent of employees are interested in being a flexible worker in the long term. 41 percent of the workforce says that flexible hours are the most important perk they receive. Those numbers are huge

If other companies are offering this opportunity, you could lose out on meaningful talent if you do not follow suit.

The statistical evidence says telecommuting can increase productivity. Few people want to return to the drudgery of a 9 to 5 job or deal with the laborious commute after they’ve experienced what it’s like to work from home or on the go.

It’s easy to see the traditional top-down approach to management as the ideal way to run the business, but perhaps entrepreneurs need to recognize it for that it is: an outdated business model.

Traditional managerial oversight and in person quarterly reviews might not be the best ways to ensure accountability of the new remote workforce.

But what might these new models of management be?

Artificial Managers

We talk about how automation could take away low-level factory jobs and other menial positions. Industry leaders suggest artificial intelligence could create a more automated system to oversee efficiency in a less localized office.

No need to worry about your job safety just yet, managers.

In more complex fields, artificial intelligence assists human labor than outright replace it. With more workers outside of the office, artificial intelligence can perform more of the assessment-oriented administrative jobs of management.

AI can help with testing productivity and shifting team assignments as necessary; Determining the skill sets of employees and assigning them to the right roles; Overseeing basic tasks like recruit onboarding, schedule management, and conducting monthly, quarterly, and yearly reports.

As businesses have grown more complex, management has become more administrative, and artificial intelligence can take the burden off managers so they can focus more on developing interpersonal relationships and fostering a community of productivity within the virtual office.

Preparing for the Future Now

Whether you’re just considering the options of remote work or you’re in transition, you need to be prepared for the shifts you might not have considered.

Every business model will be different in how they should adopt these new policies and face a lot of challenges along the way.

For employees, this means adapting to a more flexible work structure.

Self-discipline is critical to the remote worker, and it’s easy to fall into bad habits without the structure of the office workday to compel you. It also means learning to adopt the technologies necessary for productive remote work.

These technological advancements are even more challenging for owners and managers to incorporate.

Checking in on an employee’s progress is no longer as simple as popping by their desk. If you don’t have streamlined channels for everything from communications to project submissions, it’s easy for employees to become like ships passing in the dark.

To Succeed, Everyone Needs to Be On Board

For both employees and employers, remote working is a challenge, but it’s one worth undertaking if both sides are responsible for it.

Both parties need to sit down and work together to make sure they reach a common understanding and to chart a path to the future that takes into consideration the trends that are looming over the horizon.