Small businesses have struggled with working at home for a long time. There are pros and cons for business owners and team members.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdown and social distancing orders, organizations tried it out. They allowed people to work off site for personal reasons, on special projects or during the summer — but it never really took off.
Forced closings because of the coronavirus pandemic made many people work from home (wfh) for the first time.
It’s likely that after the COVID-19 crisis ends, some aspects of wfh will continue. Answering these questions will help you decide whether you should create a work at home policy. They’ll also help you develop rules so it‘s effective for your business and team members.
1. How much time do employees spend commuting?
If your employees spend a lot of time in transit, allowing them to work at home could benefit your team members and business.
Team members: They’ll appreciate the extra time they have for work and the impact improved work life balance has on their mental health and well-being. Plus, they’ll save money on commuting.
Business owner: Your business will become more productive because remote workers don’t waste time on commuting problems.
The rule: If you allow remote working, set expectations for what you want people to do and when you expect them to get it done. Hold them accountable.
2. What’s the best work environment for your employees?
Depending on the business type and workplace conditions, wfh is more productive for employees doing certain jobs. If focus is important, and your workplace isn’t conducive to it, it’s just common sense to allow remote work.
Team members: They’ll enjoy working effectively in a supportive environment.
Business owner: You’ll enjoy the benefits of efficient employees doing good work.
The rule: Set expectations about what people should accomplish at home. Require them to be in the office when needed.
3. Do you want to retain more employees?
Even with the high unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s difficult and expensive to find and train new workers. Working at home is a popular benefit which could help you retain more employees.
Team members: They’ll appreciate the wfh benefit, making them less likely to jump ship.
Business owner: You’ll spend less on recruiting and training and maintain an edge if workers don’t move to competitors.
The rule: Regularly do an analysis to see if your home policy is improving employee retention rates. If not, make changes.
4. What do workers value?
Different people care about different workplace benefits. Some respond to the possibility of earning more. Others want freedom to spend with family members. If some employees prefer freedom and flexibility, it makes common sense to let them spend their workday at home.
Team members: Working how and where they prefer keeps workers happy.
Business owner: Happy workers are more productive.
The rule: Learn what benefits your employees value. When they meet expectations, reward them in meaningful ways, including letting them work remotely.
5. Do you have the right tools?
One of the biggest barriers to working at home was connectivity. It seemed impossible to recreate the workplace experience offsite.
By necessity, COVID-19 social distancing forced businesses to find solutions like videoconferencing, google hangouts and slack that keep employees connected together and with clients.
Team members: They appreciate investments in software and equipment to support things like video chat that help them work better.
Business owners: An investment in remote working tools and technology will pay off in higher employee productivity.
The rule: When considering a wfh program, figure out how the cost of investing in remote technology compares with the benefits of allowing people to work from home. A small investment in technology could pay off many times over.
6. Do you spend too much on real estate?
Real estate is one of the biggest expenses for most businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic proved it’s also one of the greatest vulnerabilities for many small business owners. They still have to pay rent on unused real estate.
How much space do you really need? It could be a lot less if you allow remote working.
Team members: If you spend less on real estate, you can pay employees more.
Business owners: Lower real estate costs will make you more competitive.
The rule: Do a cost benefit analysis. Figure out how much you could save on real estate costs by letting people work from home. Revisit it after you implement a wfh policy to ensure its paying off as intended.
7. Are your office expenses too high?
How much do you spend on office supplies, wifi and coffee? How much could you save by allowing people to work offsite? It could be a LOT.
Team members: They won’t miss free coffee and donuts if they’re working in the comfort of their own homes.
Business owner: Depending on the size of your operation, you could save hundreds or thousands of dollars a month.
The rule: Make sure people don’t take too much from the workplace for their home office. Supply them with a home office kit that includes everything needed to work remotely. Then lock the supply closet.
8. Do you spend too much time meeting face-to face?
How often has your team met since the COVID-19 pandemic? How often did you meet before? Meetings are more likely to happen only as needed when people work remotely.
Team members: They’ll appreciate having more time to do “real” work.
Business owner: You’ll appreciate gaining control over your time.
The rule: Check in on long distance employees to make sure they have adequate opportunities to catch up with coworkers. Don’t let remote working to become too remote.
9. Can you find the talent you need?
Can you recruit all the people you want in your local area? Even with the high unemployment caused by COVID-19, the answer is probably NO. It may be time to hire more virtual workers. (Spend any time on Linkedin and you’ll see this is a growing trend.)
Team members: People who prefer — or need to — work remotely will appreciate that you provide an opportunity to do so.
Business owner: You’ll gain a competitive edge if you can hire the best people, virtually, anywhere.
The rule: Before hiring virtual employees, have your legal counsel develop agreements that define the relationship and your expectations.
10. How will your customers respond?
Will your customers receive the same — or better — service? If the answer is YES, allowing remote work could make sense. If it jeopardizes your service, it could put your business at risk.
Team members AND business owners: Anything that enhances customer service is a win-win.
The rule: Monitor sales, customer feedback and ratings and reviews. Anything that points to a reduction in customer service must be fixed right away.