Remote work has been on the rise for several years, and the trend has shown no signs of slowing down.
Back in 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 19% of employees completed some or all of their work from home. That figure rose to 22% in 2016. This growth points to a desire for freedom. Sixty percent of participants in the 2015 PGi Global Telework Survey said they would leave their current job for a comparable position that enabled them to work from home on a full-time basis.
While some industries don’t naturally mesh with remote work—healthcare, construction, and manufacturing generally require hands-on care—plenty of businesses can use remote workers for noncore functions like marketing, billing, legal, and bookkeeping. In truth, using remote workers for some of these duties could significantly lower costs.
Industries with local and international clients, such as publishers and public relations firms, are particularly well-equipped for remote workers. Their employees handle the bulk of their business via the Internet and email, so geographic location becomes less of a hindrance.
Making the Most of Remote Work
Any company that doesn’t rely on face-to-face interactions with customers—and even a few that do—should definitely give telecommuting a try. But before you can fully embrace this remote work future, it’s important to keep a few elements in mind:
Work in the cloud. Accessibility of work files is paramount for remote employees and their managers. Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft Office Online, Citrix, and other cloud-based tools must become core components of your everyday operations.
Using the cloud to retrieve and share all of your files can be more difficult for some industries, but proper instruction can go a long way. Provide employees with context and training on security implications and the applications themselves.
Provide several ways for employees to interact. People communicate in different ways. Face time is big for some employees, while others would much rather use email for all communications. Managers at your home office and remote workers should be able to communicate in the ways that work best for them.
To narrow down your potential platforms, talk with your employees. Ask them which apps they use to communicate with family and friends, and then test those services out around the office. Discuss how and why employees should use specific platforms for certain situations. At Paro, for example, we use Slack for quick questions and email for more complex deliverables.
Use freelancers to do a practice run. Not sure your team is ready to work remotely? Test things out by farming out a few noncore functions or projects to freelancers.
Encourage your onsite team to engage with these freelancers using your new communication platforms, and set clear expectations for freelancers about responsiveness, job duties, and work hours. Track what works well (and what doesn’t), and use those lessons to inform future freelance partnerships.
Show remote workers some love. It’s easy for remote employees to feel removed from the home team, particularly from bonding events that organically happen in an office. They might be on a video call for important team meetings, but they miss out on day-to-day camaraderie.
Look for ways to create a water-cooler environment for remote employees so that everyone feels like a valued part of the team. Do you have the Cubs game on in the background? Have remote workers turn it on at home, and create a Slack channel to talk about what’s happening. Are you having cake for someone’s birthday? Invite remote employees to video conference in for the celebration. When their birthdays roll around, send thoughtful gifts from the entire team. There are plenty of ways to engage remote talent—it just takes a little forethought.
There’s no shortage of statistics to show the inescapable rise of remote work. Even if your business is focused on manual labor or patient care, you can still use remote work to cover noncore functions such as accounting, social media, and content creation. To help your remote experimentation be a success, you’ll want to work from the cloud, provide multiple ways to communicate, and test out your setup extensively.
Virtual teams face some unique challenges. Managers must develop the competencies of a virtual leader to enhance the productivity of their team.