Many of us are going to increasingly hire, work with, and manage people who don’t come into the office every day, or who live on the other side of the world. I am someone who works with freelancers all over the country, and I think the benefits of this are plentiful: you have greater flexibility and access to bigger pools of talent. And these days, meetings can easily be held over the phone or video conference.
Yet some businesses can be a little afraid of introducing remote work into their business structure. You might be one of them: someone who fears a decrease in productivity or imagines a lot of hassle communicating with remote employees and keeping track of their progress. That’s very natural!
However, Jason Fried, the CEO of the web design and app software company, Basecamp (previously 37Signals), has given a very interesting interview on the benefits and possibilities of remote work. Here are some of the most interesting points on how you can phase remote work into your company – without fuss!
Firstly, the Benefits of Remote Work.
Allowing yourself the ability to go remote opens doors. To put it simply, you widen your reach by thousands of miles, as you no longer need to hire people in your local area. Rather, you can work with great people everywhere.
If you are in an area where businesses are all fighting over the same employees, going remote also helps this. In Fried’s words, going remote gives you ‘the pick of the world’.
Managers might feel a little reluctant to encourage remote work, as a local workforce might feel easier to manage! However, studies have shown that people who work from home are both more productive and happier – surely the manager’s dream!
These days, the world is full of distraction – what with meetings, coffee breaks, office chatter etc – and that can mean less efficiency. Remote work might be a way to bypass these distractions, and boost your workforce’s productivity.
The benefits of remote work for the employees go beyond happiness and productivity too. As Fried notes, employees needn’t lose their job if they move to a different city. Additionally, life might just become that little bit easier, no additional time away from their families due to long commutes is just one of the advantages! If your workers are disciplined, it can mean greater freedom and a greater productivity too.
Fried stresses the fact that it is easier to cultivate a remote workforce from the birth of your business, rather than once it has already been established. But this is not to say it is impossible. It is definitely an important consideration if you are thinking about restructuring your business.
Whilst remote work can work for some, you need to establish for whom it can’t; some are comfortable working like this, but some are not. On the other hand, whilst you might find that people prefer the structure and the more sociable nature of the office environment, others might have the self-motivation to excel without the distractions of the office.
Look at job roles and responsibilities in your team. Who could do their job easily (and possibly better) working remotely? Who do you think would want to work remotely? Who would thrive working from home? Talk to you team and get feedback on the idea. Listen closely.
You might think that a remote workforce might cause issues in terms of coordination, that it might raise problems in terms of the internal alignment that we have discussed before. You might wonder how, when it is necessary, to get people together to work, brainstorm, or plan a next phase.
This is a crucial STRUCTURE consideration. Your in house processes will need to be upgraded to allow remote working to integrate into your business structure. These days, with conference calls by video and phone, holding meetings remotely is really not impossible. The same things stand that we have said before: as long as you have the structures in place to ensure everyone is on the same page, a remote team will work just as successfully as your team in-house. Apps such as Asana and Slack can aid communication between teams and play a vital role in maintaining team camaraderie and connection too.
As mentioned above, an issue that Fried raises is that it might be difficult to bring remote workers into an established local in-house team. In these instances, you might consider encouraging a few of your existing staff to work remotely certain days of the week. Support and monitor them during the first few months. The key is setting a time frame long enough for them to get through the initial transition phase and become comfortable. This will give you an excellent chance to ‘beta test’ remote working and trial all the systems and procedures you have implemented to ensure team togetherness, effective communication, and productivity. Teams need time to adapt to change.
The once ‘Scary’ unknown of remote working, becomes familiar in your business. These ‘part-time’ remote workers will then be your remote work ‘ambassadors’ and form the bridge between the full-time in office and those who are remote. So, when your remote team members start, they have tested and proven systems to work with, a team who have adapted to work with remote workers, and a few remote ‘allies’ in the team!
I ran my business remotely on and off for over eighteen months, sometimes living four hundred miles away from my main office, working from home for two weeks then back for a week if required. We had two satellite office locations to co-ordinate – in addition to the main office. I had a mixture of staff working remotely from home and in office. There were lots of moving parts but I know it is possible!
Using technology is vital. We used a combination of a shared diary, WhatsApp chats, emailing procedures, and Zoom calling to co-ordinate the team. It took work, but it was effective. The benefits included greater focus and productivity, an emphasis nurturing great relationships between staff, and effective communication.
My business was located in a rural and remote area with limited opportunities for young people. Integrating technology and remote work, allowed me to employ some incredibly talented individuals – and enable them to enjoy a fulfilling career AND live in their home town, a place that they love. A dream many of them thought would be impossible when they left school. As a business owner, was it was so rewarding to see them thrive professionally and personally too. There’s nothing better!
So, spend some time thinking about the possibilities of remote work in your business. Who from your existing team could benefit from remote work? Speak to your team and see what they say!