Is Remote Work Right for Your Business?

Kathy Simpson

Yahoo’s recent ban brought headline attention to the question of remote workers. Would remote working help or hinder your small business?

Remote work is a controversial subject. Most employees love the idea. Many employers aren’t so sure. When Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer nixed remote work for her entire company earlier this year, that dichotomy was highlighted. The coveted, growing trend of working whenever from wherever was up for renewed scrutiny.

Remote working arrangements aren’t for every business or everybody. They hold pros and cons for business owners and employees alike. But there are as many good reasons to consider remote work as there are variations for introducing it to your workplace. There are also low-risk ways to give it a trial run.

Remote Working Benefits

About one third of Americans who aren’t self-employed work from home during normal business hours, according to a 2013 Harris Poll. Of those who do, 9% said they work primarily or exclusively from home, 8% half the time and 17% less than half. Sixty-four percent believe remote work improves their productivity. Studies have also shown that telecommuting seems to decrease absenteeism and increase employee retention.*

Remote working benefits include many things employees value: savings on the cost of transportation, clothing and childcare; savings on the time one would normally spend on a daily commute; and a working lifestyle that offers greater autonomy and flexibility, fewer disruptions, less stress and the opportunity for an improved work-life balance, especially for those in caregiving roles.

“Because of ubiquitous technology that allows people to conduct business anytime and anywhere, work-life flexibility is no longer considered a luxury,” said career expert Lindsey Pollak in her Tomorrow @Work Trend Forecast. “Workers of all ages – but particularly Millennials (those born approximately 1980 or later) – expect some form of integration across all industries and from day one of an entry-level job.”

Remote working benefits extend to small business owners, too. If you’re competing for talent in your industry, it can make your business more attractive to potential candidates. It also removes geographical limitations and thereby expands your reach for good employees. On the practical side, remote workers can help reduce your need for office space and minimize overhead costs.

What’s Suitable Work?

Remote working arrangements aren’t suitable for all occupations. For instance, manufacturing, maintenance, security and retail are among the lines of work that require an employee’s on-site presence. But many other occupations have full- or part-time remote work potential. Programmers with their universal programming languages are famous for their ability to serve all corners of the world from a remote place. Writers, accountants, public relations specialists and graphic designers are other professions that lend themselves readily to 100 percent remote working arrangements.

Other occupations have portable tasks – such as research, analysis, data entry or preparing documents of any kind – that can be completed from home as easily as they can from the office, and probably with greater efficiency.

With the technologies available today, remote work need not be limited to tasks that are completed in solo, according to Meghana Reo, director of The Hartford’s remote work program and a remote worker herself. A phone and computer with web conferencing and text messaging can facilitate employee collaboration and sharing of information and ideas from anywhere. It’s up to individual employers to decide what works for their business and how far to extend the remote work option.

“There are drawbacks for employees,” Meghana said. “You don’t have your hallway conversations. You miss out on networking meetings, team lunches. You just have to work a little harder at building connection.”

5 Steps to Remote Work in Your Workplace

If remote work is a potential for your small business, you may be grappling with a question many business owners share: “How will I know they’re actually working?” Indeed, remote work raises the question of trust. These remote working guidelines can help you test the waters:

  1. Be selective. Offer remote work to employees who have earned your trust and who present a clear rationale for it.
  2. Start gradually. Offer remote work on an ad-hoc basis or on an optional day or two each week. Set aside other days when everyone is required to be present so you can schedule meetings. Experience will help you build the right formula for your business and for each of your employees.
  3. Establish day-to-day work expectations and communicate them clearly. Define specific work schedules with each employee, including times when employees are to be available by phone and computer.
  4. Build in communication at regular intervals. Hold daily or weekly meetings to review work completed, issues, next steps and any questions or issues relating to the remote work arrangement.
  5. Use technology. Examples are Skype for teleconferencing, Dropbox for sharing files, and Google Calendar for sharing schedules. Other software applications such as Hivedesk and MySammy provide the means to manage remote workers online and track their activities. Just be sure to comply with any legal requirements about providing notice to or obtaining consent of your employees.

*“The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown about Telecommuting,” American Psychological Association, 2007

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