Remote Workers: Yay or Nay for Small Business?
The fact that “working remotely” goes by so many different names, gives you some idea of just how commonplace it’s becoming. Here’s a sampling of different names:
- Working from home (WFH)
- Working from anywhere (WFA)
- Working remotely
- Flexible workplace
- Distributed team
- Mobile professional
- Web worker
- Digital nomad
- Location-independent professional
- Portable professional
- Virtual worker
- Even “free range” worker (which has me thinking of chickens – you too, right?)
Regardless of how you label it – does it make sense for small to mid-sized businesses to allow employees to ‘work’ somewhere other than the company’s office on a consistent basis?
There’s no question that technology makes it easy for many employees to work remotely. Here are some things to consider when trying to decide if taking the “remote workforce” plunge is worth it.
Get a Competitive Advantage
As a smaller business, you simply cannot compete with the robust benefits packages offered by larger companies. But what you can offer is flexibility. And quite honestly, the super tech-savvy millennials who are entering the workforce expect that flexibility. A ‘virtual’ world is their norm, so using virtual tools to conduct business is second nature to them.
Offering the flexibility of working from home, even on a limited basis, lets your employees know that their work/life balance is important to you. And they value that. So much so that some prioritize it even above salary. “34% of U.S. workers would take a pay cut of up to 5% in order to work remotely,” stated the OWL Labs 2019 State of Remote Work Report.
Create A Clear Policy Before You Start
Before allowing employees to work remotely, set forth clear parameters. Stories of companies sending full departments to work remotely without setting clear expectations too often end in everyone being pulled back into the office. Without clear expectations and measurements, employees could take advantage. But when clearly defined, it can work extremely well. A Harvard Business Review study found work output increased by 4.4% after transition to ‘work from home’, with no significant increase in rework. It’s easy to imagine that it’s easier to buckle down and be productive when removed from typical workplace distractions.
For many of our small to mid-sized business clients, we see a ‘working from home’ benefit as most successful when a specific number of ‘work from home’ days are established. For example, one to two days a week or three to four days a month. This generally provides a good balance: you have the benefit and flexibility of a certain number of WFH days, with the majority of your time spent in the office.
It can be challenging to keep everyone connected when employees work in different location. Communication is key. If, for example, you have an employee appreciation day in the office, be sure to do something for your remote employees so that they’re included. For employees that are 100 percent remote, many companies use tech tools as a “virtual water cooler.” You can set up a water cooler channel in Slack, which is a popular cloud-based IM platform. Skype for Business can serve the same purpose, especially when certain hours are designated as “social.” This is great way for larger teams that are geographically spread out to feel connected.
Trust Your Team
The biggest concern when allowing employees to work remotely is: “Can I trust them to get their work done?” Will they abuse the freedom? This is where the clear cut expectations come into play. Are they expected to be online a certain portion of the day? Or to clearly mark availability on their calendar? By trusting your employees with the benefit of flexibility, you may find productivity increasing. Taking commuting time out of the daily equation also adds to productive time.
Tap Into Talent from Anywhere
Just imagine: the next time you have a position to fill you’re able to choose from a large pool of talent from across the country, or even the world! If a position can work remotely, you’ve vastly increased the number of individuals who are able to apply for that job. Not only can you tap into talent from anywhere, but you don’t have to pay for relocation. When acclimating a new remote worker to your business and culture, be mindful that clear and consistent communication is essential.
There are some jobs that simply don’t lend themselves to working from home. Call center and production line employees are good examples ―or anyone whose work is collaborative in nature. It can be tricky to allow some, but not all employees, the perk of having the flexibility to work from home on occasion. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be allowed however. Be aware of the inequity and address it upfront. Perhaps those without the flexibility can earn an additional vacation day? Be creative and be sure to clearly communicate so everyone feels valued.
Keep ‘Em Happy
The WFH benefit can help to keep your employees happy. The OWL Labs 2019 State of Remote Work Report mentioned earlier found that “Remote workers say they’re happy in their jobs 29% more than on-site workers.” In 2018, OWL Labs took a global look at remote work and found that, “companies that offer remote-friendly options see 25% less turnover than those that do not.”
WFH Is Here to Stay
Statistics show telecommuting on the rise, particularly on an as-needed or part-time basis. SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, shared data in its Leave and Flexible Working Benefits 2019 Report which reflects the steady increase of telecommuting:
We are connected at all times. Cell phones. Computers. Emails. IMs. Etc. Working remotely takes advantage of that. It can also be a wonderful benefit to those employees whose jobs lend themselves to productivity outside of the office. Even in a smaller business, the same rules apply. A measure of trust is necessary, as is a clear cut set of guidelines and performance expectations. It just might be worth a try.