Are You Overlooking One of the Biggest Work Trends of Our Times?
One of the universal tenets of running a successful business is “change with the times.” And no era seems more vulnerable to change than the present, as companies of all sizes wrestle with everything from minor culture tweaks to total transformations. In fact, the entire business model for the 21st century treads on ground barely explored before.
You see it in our communications, with ever changing mobile devices, apps and social platforms, and in services like cloud accounting, cable satellite feeds and more. Even the traditional business environment has metamorphosed…from a dress code of suits, ties, dresses and high heels, to jeans and tennis shoes, and from brick and mortar buildings to virtual offices that can pop up almost anywhere. In fact, it’s estimated that roughly 50 million Americans currently work away from the office. The London Business School has projected that by 2020, at least 50% of all workers will be working remotely a majority of the time.
These employees will not only be working from home, but also during their commute, in restaurants, coffee shops and hotel rooms, at parks, beaches and vacation retreats. With the progression of smart phones, mobile devices and tablets, the limitations to working remotely have been largely removed.
Learning to Survive and Thrive with Remote Workers
You would think that companies would be preparing for these new workplace realities, installing systems and practices that could facilitate and enhance remote work environments. Surprisingly, however, very few firms are moving forward to accommodate these new logistics. They seem ambivalent at best when it comes to quantifying their return on investment for flexible work scheduling and non-traditional workplace arrangements. A recent survey highlighted this fact, showing that only 3% of the responding organizations were actually taking positive steps to simplify the transition. Clearly, the vast majority of companies have no formal process in place to track the value and impact of remote work.
Why is it that so many companies seem to be, if not resistant, at least conflicted about spreading the work out to varied remote locations? Well, some jobs are just not as conducive to flexible hours or remote locales. Part-time schedules can also make the transitioning task more complex. It’s true, as well, that some employees still enjoy the camaraderie and organized setting of a central office place.
Certainly, some companies fear that having their employees work in an unsupervised setting, tempted by TV, household chores and other distractions, could reduce productivity. But these incidentals pale in comparison with the many interruptions of an office environment, such as incessant phone calls, meetings, colleagues, noise and other work preventers.
So the advantages of a remote workforce should not be overlooked. These benefits are both short- and long-term in nature. For instance, companies can reduce their office space rents dramatically, lower their utility costs, travel costs and back-office overhead.
There are other benefits not simply limited to cost reductions. This newfound flexibility also allows companies to pursue top quality talent, regardless of market rates or geography. If you do not have a deep pool of candidates in your local area, it becomes much easier to attract top-caliber personnel if they are not forced to drive long distances for a commute or uproot their families from a town or neighborhood that they love. Firms also report lower absenteeism and less turnover in situations where the workers conduct their business remotely.
It’s safe to say that companies able to tap into a remote working arrangement such as this can set up many more different avenues for building, growing and stabilizing their organizations.
Is Your Company the Right Fit?
Though the enticements for developing remote work arrangements are there, success in this realm is not a slam dunk. In fact, as a company considering this type of scenario, you must ask yourself several key questions.
First of all, is your business truly ready? If your company is relatively new or it is going through internal communication struggles, maybe the time is not right. You have to also consider your line of work and the types of jobs that are more accommodating to work outside of the traditional office space. For instance, fields such as graphic design, copywriting or phone contact positions lend themselves more readily to telecommuting than those requiring face-to-face contact or access to various materials and equipment.
Another question arises as to how often your staff should work offsite. Because there is something to be said for face-to-face encounters, you may not want to lose firsthand contact altogether. In-person interactions are good for morale and help to spark creative production. So at first you might consider limiting the out-of-office experience to one or two days per week. See how the process flows before expanding the remote hours, and encourage your offsite people to make office visits on a regular basis.
Staff members working offsite will invariably need critical tools such as a laptop with a wireless adapter, reliable Internet access, secure remote access to your company’s internal network if applicable, a mobile phone (which even 10-year-olds have these days) and access to voicemail, email and the like.
One of the keys to a successful transition will be your mode for staying in touch. By using collaboration tools such as Skype, Calliflower, instant messaging, file sharing, a centralized calendar and similar apps and devices, you can accurately mimic the office environment. Real time chat rooms like HipChat or Campfire are ideal for impromptu discussions or team problem-solving. It’s not that rare for a colleague to post a problem on a company chat room and have a solution on hand within minutes, provided by a co-worker.
Software such as Basecamp can be easily implemented to create a highly collaborative environment, whereby workers on a team in multiple remote locations can come together to share ideas, images and word files. Remote or not, communication continues to be the key ingredient of a successful operation. Consequently, those working offsite should still keep regular hours. In other words, companies should set a time window in which members of a project team are all present at their desks. This way, even if each person isn’t physically in the same place, they can still collaborate and discuss different issues in real time.
Setting Up Your Ideal Space
Equally important is that those working from their home environment should have a quiet space that is separate from the daily diversions of family life. If your remote staff workers are laboring away at the dining room table or the kitchen counter, surrounded by the distractions of children running about, spouses cooking a meal or other time- and thought-consuming matters, work will most assuredly suffer. Only if these individuals are working from a room devoted exclusively to their job, separated from other areas of the home by walls or even a door, will they maintain their sense of focus. So this should be discussed beforehand, to make sure that your remote workers have the proper home office setup.
Most experts believe that it’s also important for remote staff to get dressed for work each day, even if they’re just stepping over the cat to walk 10 feet into an adjacent room. It’s fine to be casual if the day is to be spent working in the house alone, but doing so in pajamas or gym shorts is often counterproductive because it effectively takes the person out of work mode. So every worker should at least sit down to eat a good breakfast, shower and change into clothes that would be appropriate outside of the home.
Ultimately, your remote staff members will find a comfort zone that works for them, a routine that allows them a degree of autonomy yet also enables them to stay focused and productive. At first, though, it doesn’t hurt to offer them suggestions about how to plan their work days. For example, many experts recommend that the remote worker start his or her day about 30 minutes before actually working. This gives them time to review their schedule for the day, surf the Internet or read the local newspaper, handle any non-work related phone business and generally ease their way into the business at hand. This reduces the chance of going back to these items and chores in the middle of the day and interrupting the work flow.
Those who do work from home should close the door to their office at the end of the day. This maintains that fine line between office tasks and home pursuits. It also keeps your personnel from working into the wee hours of the night and further compromising their productivity during normal work hours.
Identifying the Best Candidates
Interestingly, a recent study debunked a universal misconception regarding remote workers. It has been commonly believed that introverted personalities are better suited for this type of working environment, away from the busy office environment. But the study, conducted by Pearn Kandola, a business psychology consultancy, showed that extroverts are in fact more adaptable for remote work. That’s because extroverts get their motivation and energy from interacting with other people, meeting with clients and generally keeping in touch with others. They seem to appreciate being trusted to work by themselves and they enjoy the flexibility that comes with such an arrangement. An introvert, on the other hand, would be less likely to stay connected with those back at the office.
In any case, should you decide to follow this particular path for your own company, remember that it’s best to lay out all of the ground rules clearly. Let your employees know what is required of them, how the scheduling will work and
how often they will be asked to come into the office for staff meetings or internal briefings. They must understand that you expect the same amount of hard work and commitment as before. This type of arrangement is only effective if both sides can see benefits and the guidelines are unmistakable to all parties.
The world is a different place than it was 50 years earlier…even 10 years ago, for that matter. Creative solutions are required from companies who hope to stay at the forefront of their industries. Whether that means utilizing innovative cloud accounting software like ZarMoney, applying new connectivity solutions or modifying your office paradigm through a remote staff setup, you must remain agile enough to catch lightning in a bottle ahead of all the noisy thunder. Staying ahead of the curve remains the best way to ensure success now and in the future.