More and more companies are moving away from the traditional nine-to-five grind at the workplace in favour of remote work.
As of 2017, 2.2 million in the UK are now working from home at least one day a week. Additionally, over 80% of employees say that they would love to work on a remote basis if given the opportunity.
Not everyone is a fan of remote working, however. Companies like Yahoo and IBM have all eliminated their telecommuting perks despite the obvious benefits of remote work. If successful companies like these feel that telecommuting doesn’t work for them, then it must follow that small businesses shouldn’t even touch remote working perhaps.
Well, not really.
It may not be the right choice for some large companies but could work really well for smaller companies. Incorporating telecommuting into a smaller and less complex business structure is a lot easier to do and can offer a number of benefits, mitigating some of the risks remote working can pose for larger businesses.
Remote Working Concepts
Remote workers currently only make up a marginal percentage of the workforce. But with studies predicting that over the next two years some 50% of workers in the United Kingdom will move to remote working, there’s never been a better time to start examining your existing infrastructure and understanding whether this is a future that’s viable for your company.
Why should you consider remote working in the first place?
Remote work isn’t just a progressive new trend for businesses to adopt, but a tried and tested strategy that can have real long term operational and cultural benefits. Remote working has been shown to increase morale, productivity and attract an increasingly younger, tech savvy workforce.
If you’re a startup with limited capital to play spend, hiring workers who already have a computer and a decent internet connection at home can negate the costs incurred with setting up a communal working space. Without having to pay for utilities, rent and other necessities and instead adopting a remote working culture, you can redirect cash to other more mission critical aspects of your business.
Remote work doesn’t have to fit into a regulated pattern. Dependent on the structure of your company, its culture and the roles and responsibilities of each staff member, you may well find that what works well for one company, doesn’t necessarily work for yours. The key to getting the remote working structure right is to experiment, whilst maintaining strong lines of communications with your remote workers. What works well for you might not work for them, affecting morale and productivity.
The Challenges of Remote Working
Understandably, the idea of letting your employees work from the comfort of their own home or local coffee shop is bound to cause some concern. Even if you are a particularly hands on manager, it’s unlikely that you’re constantly bent over each of your employees computer screens. It’s inevitable that your employees will already have a good degree of autonomy and control over their own workloads and timekeeping.
In that sense then, from a managerial point of view, remote working is not a world away from office working. The main difference comes in the lack of face to face communication but with regular catch ups and team meetings via video calling and phone, the ‘separation anxiety’ issue can easily be addressed.
The pervading concern and main bugbear against remote working is that, by allowing your employees to work remotely, whilst they are out of sight, their work may also be out of mind. Evidence exists to the contrary however, with one study finding some 65% of business managers say that remote working has improved productivity in their office.
Of course, there’s no doubt that restructuring your workforce in this way won’t come without its fair share of challenges. But, when handled correctly, many of them will prove to be only minor problems.
The Challenges of Remote Work and How to Tackle Them
What follows are the main challenges I faced when restructuring my business to engage more remotely, and how I solved them.
- Use technology to your advantage: If you find yourself having a hard time letting go of your employees, you can keep in touch through the power of technology. Nowadays, there are a lot of productivity, communication and collaboration tools out there that can help you keep track of employee productivity and project progress. These tools also make the team feel connected and united.
- Treat remote workers like real employees: When I first started with telecommuting, it was because I wanted to save money. Nowadays, I don’t cut corners when it comes to my remote workers. All benefits that are available to my in-house employees are also available for my remote workers.
- Communication is paramount: Most of my remote workers still come to the office once or twice a week for company meetings and other activities. They don’t stay there the whole day; meetings usually take a couple of hours and then they’re free to go. For workers that live far away, I always hold a video conference at the end of the week. Everyone gets a turn to speak, where they give a short summary of the things they’ve accomplished for the week and the things they’ll be working on for the next week.
- Get to know your remote workers: It’s easy to know the people you work with in the office for five days a week. After a few months, you get to know much more about them both professionally and personally. You should exercise the same level of care for your remote workers. Set reminders for their birthdays and take note of special holidays based on their culture or religion.
- Give remote workers the same chances: The reason why many remote workers see a drop in productivity is because they feel like the company is not taking them seriously. Aside from getting to know your remote workers, ensure that they have the same opportunities for growth as regular workers. Give them affirmation for a job well done, recognise their skills and if possible, give them a raise if they truly deserve it.
Throughout the years I’ve been running my own business, I’ve found that, as with most things, telecommuting only works if you do it in moderation. If you do decide to offer telecommuting benefits in your company, remember to set your limits and make some rules. Telecommuting works best if it’s not just remote working, but regular visits to the office too. If you can give your employees the freedom and flexibility that telecommuting brings, whilst also affording them the same level of attention and interaction as you do with in-house employees, then you will have a winning solution.