Before COVID, remote work was often viewed as a perk and full-time remote work was common in only a narrow set of industries and roles. Many small business owners were thrust into remote work by the coronavirus pandemic and it has become the new normal. Some small business owners have learned that remote work is well suited for their business and have learned that their employees are just as productive outside of the office environment. Other companies can’t wait to get into the office for in-person interactions and collaboration opportunities, finding remote working to be cumbersome and inefficient. An analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas suggested that ~40% of US workers could do their jobs remotely.
It is likely that your small business or startup has explored remote working in some form during the pandemic and you may be wondering if setting up remote teams or an entirely remote company is something you can implement long term with your employees.
Certain industries are better suited for remote work
According to Vault, the top 3 industries best suited to remote work are Information Technology, Sales, and Healthcare. Ian Sells, CEO of RebateKey, says that companies in the digital realm are the most well suited for remote work, “Because our arena is in the digital realm, it’s a given that we operate digitally…it is more cost-effective and efficient to work remotely. All the roles, including app development, website development, marketing, CSR, getting clients and sellers, can all be done online.”
To ensure remote working is successful at your business, invest in quality collaboration tools and communication tools to promote the most seamless employee interactions
Gone are the days of the dial-in and conference phone calls. Employees working remotely need to be able to communicate and collaborate quickly on video calls with minimal tech hiccups. Different video conference and written communication (i.e. instant messaging) software exist and you can explore which is most well suited to your company’s needs to check-in and collaborate. While they aren’t quite the same as face-to-face, many tools are quite advanced and allow options like digital whiteboarding and integrations with file storage systems. You’ve likely heard of Zoom and Slack but there are many alternative providers that could potentially suit your needs for video conferencing and communication. You might also wish to invest in a project management tool like Asana or Trello to help workers collaboratively track tasks. You may wish to survey your employees on their preferences – they might have tools they are already using.
Remote working can save your company money and help your bottom line
When shifting to remote work, you’ll have significant cost savings such as no or low utilities and lower or no cost for office space or real estate. These can add up tremendously and your cost per employee is likely high for the costs of maintaining a workplace. Kristen, founder at SecurityNerd, says that telecommuting has saved her business money: “Running remotely means fewer business expenses in a lot of ways. You don’t have to worry about food, cleaning services, or rent for an in-person office building or facility, for example. “
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Remote workplaces can result in happier employees with greater balance in their lives
According to the American Psychological Association, “Telework can improve employee productivity, creativity, and morale.” Employees that work remotely don’t just save money on commuting. They save precious time, which they can use for leisure, personal life, family, or even additional work. This can promote increased employee morale and work-life balance which can help with retention and engagement.
Remote first workplaces can have a competitive edge when recruiting talent
Remote working also increases your talent pool to hire from. If your small business advertises remote jobs, you have talent from the entire world available to you, as opposed to just those people in your geographic area (or who are willing to move to your area). Wesley Exon, CEO at BestValueSchools.org believes that remote work gives him a competitive edge when recruiting talent, “We are no longer limited to finding talent from our geographic area or hoping to entice potential candidates to move. This opens up opportunities both for us an employer and also for job seekers, as they can now expand their search beyond wherever they’re living at the moment.” Talia Boone, CEO at Postal Petals, also agrees, “Working with remote talent opens us up to a vast pool of talent across the country and around the world. Tapping into a distributed workforce allows us to fill our staffing needs in creative and effective ways.” There are some pros and cons to this democratized talent search however – you’ll have a wider pool of talent but you’ll have to compete with other companies that were previously restricted in geography and now can also recruit the world. You may also find that your employees get recruited away from you more quickly with the added flexibility of remote work creating more competition for talent.
Explore remote working policies, remote monitoring, and data security tools to keep your company’s information secure
Be sure to update your company’s policies so your remote employees know what is expected of them while remote working. Put policies on paper and hold training, onboarding, or town halls so that all employees can be on the same page about what you expect. Be sure to specify if any job responsibilities will change, if any equipment is needed for their home office or if employees are expected to provide their own, and if any changes to employee schedules apply (e.g. work start and end times). Also, be sure to look into the tax implications of having employees based in different states or countries.
Be sure to protect your company’s data with strict data security policies including two-factor authentication, VPNs, cloud backup, and strong password policies. Working from home has the potential to cause additional security breaches since your data is spending more time outside of a controlled work environment, and there is the possible use of unsecured wifi (such as those in coffee shops) and unapproved tools.
William Cohen, of My GRE Exam Preparation, went through some growing pains in the shift to remote work. “We suffered at first because we did not have a clear policy for our personnel…some of our remote workers became permissive. This predicament has compelled us to implement explicit policies in our work-from-home setup. We chose against using a time monitoring technology since it instills distrust in our staff. Instead, we’ve asked for as much communication with them as possible. We also requested daily progress reports on their tasks.”
Give your team members in-person opportunities to collaborate and bond
Even if your team is entirely remote, consider bringing them together a few times a year to connect in person and build camaraderie. There are even companies that cater to hosting remote team retreats with facilitated team-building activities and built-in opportunities to collaborate on work projects.
There are many forms of remote working including one-off, hybrid, or entirely remote
You need not feel that you have to take your company remotely in one-fell swoop. Before COVID, it was common for select employees to work remotely or for some employees to work remotely a few days a week. It’s ok to ease into remote work to make sure it is suitable for your company. Keep in mind that if some of your employees are remote and attending in-person meetings, you’ll want to invest in tools and team norms that promote parity in collaboration and access to information.