Remote work options for employees have been a growing trend in many industries over the past decade. But the coronavirus outbreak has forced many businesses to take action before they were ready to fully embrace it. Whether you had some preliminary protocols in place or had consciously avoided any discussion on the topic, it’s likely that you are now trying to do many of your business functions via technology.
They say that “necessity is the mother of invention.” And this crisis will definitely help America’s small businesses forge a new path with remote work technology. But we can expect a bumpy and confusing ride.
“With the recent growth of COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus, many companies are asking their staff to work from home and avoid all nonessential traffic,” says Johnny Warström, a business communication expert. “This includes companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, and SquareFoot. For companies new to or unfamiliar with remote working, this can pose a challenge, especially on a shortened time frame. Part of this challenge is that effective remote working is not merely a technology problem; it is about building a dependable culture to enable your remote and office employees to feel connected and empowered together.”
The Essential Tools of the Remote Trade
Letting your employees work remotely is a major transition that needs to be supported with the right technology and resources. It’s important to set your team up for success, which inevitably requires a financial investment on your part.
“The push for companies to move their tech infrastructure into the 21st century isn’t a new one and has been a consistent bugbear for many businesses over the past decade,” says a Forbes report on remote work strategies. “However, the old saying ‘you need to spend money to make money’ has never been more true.”
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the areas you should focus on while striving to prepare your employees to work from home effectively.
This tool is great for keeping your people on the same page. You can quickly share files, while the chat feature is clearly organized and makes it easier to locate key messages.
Teams provides quality video and audio, enabling everything from small team collaborations to major events with thousands of attendees. You can even record the sessions and make them available to those who couldn’t make it.
Because Teams is a Microsoft product, it effortlessly syncs with Office 365. And it’s possible that once your calendar has synced, you won’t feel the need to venture into your Office app anymore.
With robust features and excellent design, Slack is one of the darlings of the tech world right now. Communicating while remote can be tricky in many situations, and Slack simplifies the process with instant messaging, real-time commenting, video chat, and more.
As you may already know, messages pile up fast when your team is using a platform like Slack. But the search functionality helps you to effortlessly find specific information when needed.
This platform is ideal for businesses with lots of technical processes. You can record messages for teammates and even share your screen when it’s beneficial to the discussion. It’s simple to make annotations such as check marks, circles, or underlines in this screen-share mode.
Once you’ve finished, your recording or screenshot is saved to your CloudApp account. Whenever you need to share it with someone, simply attach it to the message and click send.
When teams are communicating from a variety of different devices, video platforms like Appear.in really shine. The host creates a custom link and sends it out to attendees who can join in the conversation without any type of registration or software download.
Here’s a basic approach to managing your team’s workload. At its heart, Todoist is a to-do list. There are no bells and few whistles, but that can be nice when your team is trying to figure out the complexities of working from remote sites.
Whoever is managing projects can create tasks with priority levels, due dates, and commentary, then let the team do the rest. As the work progresses, it’s easy to share updates, create reminders, and track the completion.
Many companies consider Trello to be the gold standard in management software. It delivers robust features with an interface that’s accessible enough for even your less tech-savvy employees.
Tracking projects in Trello uses its unique system of boards, lists, and cards. Sharing progress and reviewing work is a breeze.
As the name suggests, this software features Gantt chart-based planning. But this software also offers a full array of benefits beyond the project illustration elements. Tracking is optimized with ample communication features and the ability to keep timelines agile.
This feature-laden management app is ideal for teams with more experience working with technology. You can view project timelines in a multitude of ways and even use time-saving templates as you set up projects.
By bringing in a strong communication element, Basecamp makes it easier to share ideas and have conversations throughout the life of a project. Beyond this primary function, there aren’t many ancillary benefits. But if your team runs efficiently and doesn’t require a lot of additional features, Basecamp could be a solid option.
Not only does this platform make it easy to share documents, but you can also see who interacts with them. OneHub’s organization and collaboration features are excellent. On top of that, the software’s data encryption is among the best available.
One advantage of DropBox is that so many of your employees are likely familiar with it. Even your tech-averse employees have probably used it at one time or another.
The basic platform allows you to quickly upload, share, and download a variety of files. When larger files and more features are needed, you should consider upgrading to Dropbox Business.
This service is another ubiquitous option for small businesses that don’t have a rich history of technology. You get a proven cloud storage solution that works as a hub for your various files. Because the platform is so easy to sync with, your teammates can use it from just about any device and location.
Here’s a sharing option that is perfect for small businesses already using other Microsoft products. Syncing and sharing are surprisingly simple, and the security features are top notch. Given its impressive pedigree, it’s no wonder that OneDrive is one of the most effective ways to share diverse file types.
The user-friendly interface ensures employee training isn’t difficult for OneDrive. In fact, it’s possible that many of your people are already using the platform for personal use.
With your employees working from locations near and far, it can be harder to keep tabs on how they’re spending their time. For small business owners who like being heavily involved in their team’s workdays, an app like Time Doctor is extremely helpful. Even if you’re a more hands-off manager, it’s important to know where inefficiencies lie so you can help your people be more effective.
Time Doctor can be used on just about any device. It lets you conveniently track each employee’s time throughout the week. When necessary, you can even send alerts to help certain employees stay on task.
Here’s a time tracking solution that takes reporting to the next level. Your people check in every workday, providing updates on their progress on various projects. This functionality makes it simpler for you to watch projects unfold without needing to interrupt your people with questions.
Given the structure of this software, it works best with proactive teams that don’t mind inputting daily updates. When it’s fully embraced by your people, iDoneThis may actually reduce the number of meetings required, as you’ll already be apprised of the situation and will have given feedback where necessary.
This time management tool is ideal for teams that need to track their hours in order to be paid. Each project gets its own custom report, which can then be exported to nearly any file you could want. The sleek interface makes invoicing a breeze.
As you break down daily work hours with this type of app, you’ll likely find that your team’s productivity improves.
This software is loaded with advanced features and isn’t a good match for novices. But if you know your way around time management tools, you’ll love the scheduling features, screen recording options, timesheets, payroll tools, and budgeting resources.
If it becomes necessary, Hubstaff also lets you monitor your employees’ actions throughout the day. You can even activate GPS tracking, if that’s something you are concerned about.
The Benefits of Remote Work Arrangements
Remote work is undoubtedly the wave of the future. So if you have employees under the age of 35, or hope to hire one someday, you’ll probably need to have it as an offering.
It’s important to note that remote work isn’t a scenario where small business owners are making a sacrifice just to appease employees’ desire to work from home. The benefits of remote work can be immense.
Any time an employee works from home, your office has lower expenses. At a minimum, you’re saving money on the electricity, water, and coffee the employee would’ve consumed. Big picture, you can save much more if you’re able to downsize to a more efficient space because you won’t need to house all of your employees at the same time.
Imagine a workday where your employees don’t have to sit around in cars, buses, and trains while commuting to your office. The average round-trip business commute time in America is almost 1 hour. That time is a black hole for productivity and morale.
It doesn’t matter if your remote employees use their noncommuting time on additional work for your company or simply doing a hobby that makes them happy. Either way, you’ll benefit from a more efficient and satisfied employee.
Better Adoption of Technology
Implementing and understanding remote working technology involves a learning curve. But the nature of the arrangement forces everyone to put in the effort and get things figured out.
On top of that, your people will need to master your company’s existing technology. You’d be surprised by how many people never learn to use technology when they’re working in an office environment, as there are many ways to get around it. But from home, everyone has to step up and stay updated.
If you’re afraid that remote employees will just sit around all day watching Netflix, think again. Research shows that we’re actually more productive when working from home. Why is this? For starters, you aren’t interrupted by pesky office noises or tempted to chat for an hour by the water cooler with your buddies.
As your employees learn to use all the technology resources provided, productivity will rise even more. Many of the aspects of their jobs will likely become easier and faster.
Better Schedule Management
Every employee has optimal work hours. You might be an early riser who accomplishes your best work by lunchtime, but others on your team could thrive in the evening hours. Sure, everyone needs to be available for meetings, but it’s beneficial to make your work hours less one-size-fits-all.
Working from home allows your team more freedom to work when they’re at their best. There’s no commute to cut into their most productive times, helping them contribute more fully.
There’s a bit of a paradox related to this point. First, working alone at home can be isolating to some of your employees. But this challenge will probably spur them to use your chat and conferencing resources to stay connected.
As your team proactively reaches out to each other from the comfort of their homes, morale can improve. In many ways, it gives them the best of both worlds.
As mentioned earlier, younger workers are keen on flexibility. If your business doesn’t offer remote work as an option, you’ll likely be snubbed by some of the millennial generation’s top talent. This trend will become more pronounced every year, as older workers are gradually replaced by individuals who are less willing to compromise their priorities for a job.
Additionally, remote work allows you to hire from all locations. If the best candidate for your position lives out of state, they would no longer need to move to your city to be considered. Using a wider net in the hiring process always yields better options.
This benefit isn’t quite as common as those mentioned above, but it’s worth noting that 34% of American workers would take a pay cut in exchange for the opportunity to work remotely.
If you were to implement remote working in your business, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that you’d need to cut pay or discontinue pay raises. But the option is another perk you’re offering employees that can keep them satisfied and less focused on more expensive forms of compensation.
Your company probably won’t see every one of these benefits with your people working remotely. But even if 4–5 of them came to fruition, you’d be better off for it.
One interesting survey looked at 1,000 full-time workers nationwide to understand the experience for those who work exclusively in the office versus those who work remotely (the respondents were split 50/50).
The goal was to find out whether remote workers miss out on opportunities by working from home. Likewise, if these workers were indeed being neglected, would that translate into negative factors for their employers?
“It turns out, thanks to tech tools and supportive managers, remote workers are not only being treated equally, they’re truly thriving,” explains a recap published by the administers of the survey. “In fact, overall, remote workers report higher overall job satisfaction than in-office workers—88% of remote workers agree or strongly agree that they are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 78% of in-office employees. Remote workers are more likely to be forging personal connections at work, more likely to leverage HR for help or proactive solutions, and more likely to feel like there’s room for career growth within their current roles.”
Given the diverse benefits of remote work, you should definitely consider it for your small business if you haven’t already done so. Start by talking to your employees. Find out which aspects of the arrangement make them most excited and what concerns they might have. By enlisting your team’s insights early, you can prepare accordingly and find the best ways to support them throughout the process.