The year 2020 will be known for a lot of things, not least of which is the rise of remote work.
Companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Square and Spotify are all examples of huge companies transitioning to remote work, even beyond the forced “work from home” period enforced by mandated social distancing.
Remote work, location-independent work, or working from home offers many benefits for companies and employees alike, from cutting unnecessary costs to producing happier workers.
There are also challenges that come with going remote, the thought of which make a lot of companies think twice about the decision.
These concerns are not unfounded, but can be easily overcome by investing in tools and processes, and adapting your business for a remote culture.
This post will introduce you to the concept and benefits of remote work, and guide you through overcoming common challenges to build and operate a high-performing team away from the office.
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Why Remote Work Is On The Rise
The number of remote workers has been increasing for some time now – a 44% rise in the last five years.
And remote work is projected to continue growing. A study by Upwork projects that 36.2 million Americans will be remote workers by 2025, up 87% from the number of remote workers before the pandemic.
So why is remote work becoming more popular? The pandemic is a big reason, but as the numbers indicate, more people and companies were going remote even before Covid hit. Here are some of the key reasons for the rise in location-independent work:
Forced social distancing
First, the pandemic certainly caused a rapid shift in our living and working habits. Government-mandated lockdowns took the decision to go remote out of the hands of many businesses.
While we’re all hopeful of being able to return to life as normal before long, it’s not for sure that every business will choose to return to the classic office setting. Whether it’s due to sustained vigilance on unnecessary social contact, or newfound appreciation for the benefits of remote working, you can expect a lot of businesses to stay remote, even in the post-pandemic world.
Reduced workspace costs
Remote work shines a light on one of the biggest overhead costs for non-remote businesses: office space.
Cutting the cost of renting office space, as well as filling out that space with furniture and technology, can allow many businesses to be significantly more profitable.
You’re not cutting workspace costs completely – as we’ll touch on later, you’ll need to outfit your employees with the gear they need to work from home. However, as many companies are discovering, the office can be an unnecessary financial burden.
Giving employees the freedom to work from home – or indeed, wherever they want – results in happier staff.
Instead of commuting every day to the same old office, your staff can choose where they’re most happy to work. They can spend more time with their families, work in a comfortable environment, or even travel and see new places while continuing to work.
Freedom of choice is one thing. Employees also save a significant amount of time and money by not needing to commute. On average, remote employees can save over $4,500 simply on fuel.
This all contributes to make your employees happier, which makes them more likely to produce great results for your business.
Despite common concerns that staff will be unproductive when working from home, the opposite is actually true.
Multiple studies show that remote workers end up being more productive than those bound to an office. Airtasker finds remote employees work more – an average of 1.4 days more each month than office workers.
Another study produced a 13% increase in productivity by switching to work-from-home.
Many things go into this swing. Happier employees, for one, who end up producing better work, and taking fewer days off. Cutting the commute allows people to spend more time actually working. And a switch from focusing on “time in the office” to actual results generated leads to more productivity in almost every business that goes remote.
Greater talent pool
Finally, a huge competitive advantage that remote affords you is the ability to hire from a greater pool of talent.
If you require all your employees to congregate in one place, you’ve put a huge barrier in place for talented people who may otherwise come to work for your company. Yet remote work allows you to hire anyone, no matter where in the world they may be right now.
This will become an even bigger selling point as time goes on, as more talented people will choose to only work for companies offering remote. If your company doesn’t give this choice, you may miss out on some of the greatest talent in your industry.
Challenges For Businesses Switching To Remote
While remote work is clearly growing in popularity, and presents some obvious and proven advantages in today’s world, there are some challenges for businesses (and workers) looking to make the switch.
To start with, remote work doesn’t suit every single business. Those that involve physical labor or dealing with customers in person obviously don’t have the option to go remote. It’s a solution that applies mostly to companies based around an office or cubicle environment.
Even for these businesses, there is a need to adapt, to overcome barriers in place to running a high-performing remote team. Let’s examine these challenges now.
Adapting to asynchronous communication
Asynchronous communication – “async” for short – is at the core of remote work.
To quickly explain what async means, it’s essentially any kind of communication where you don’t expect an immediate response. The opposite is synchronous communication, such as face-to-face meetings and instant messaging – which we’re more familiar with in a professional environment.
While synchronous communication is still a part of remote work – think Zoom meetings, direct message conversations on Slack – async is a key element of running a productive remote team. It allows your employees to focus more on deep work, as well as learning to communicate in a more efficient and measured way.
Async isn’t exclusive to remote work, but remote work presents a golden opportunity to adopt async in your business, by taking away the “path of least resistance” face-to-face synchronous communication style of office environments.
Fostering team culture & togetherness
Coffee breaks and watercooler conversations may seem unproductive, but in reality they are important moments for your employees to decompress and socialize with each other.
This helps build a team culture, resulting in happier and more productive staff.
One of the hardest things about running a remote business is finding a replacement for the social aspect of the office, and reducing the loneliness and isolation that can be a factor for remote workers.
Think about what kind of team building activities you can hold, in person where possible, otherwise virtually. Watercooler channels in Slack or similar apps are also effective at allowing your staff to engage in casual conversation, as would happen in the office.
Creating a good working environment at home
“Working from home” sounds like a dream to many, until it becomes a day in/day out reality.
Many remote workers soon find it a struggle to create an environment at home where they can be productive and “in the zone” for working. When your workspace blends into your leisure space, it becomes hard to switch between work mode and relax mode. That’s why it’s not ideal to work on your sofa in your pajamas.
Additionally, when creating their own workspace, remote employees often run into problems with a lack of technology or equipment – poor wifi, computer problems, uncomfortable furniture, for example. It’s your responsibility as a business owner or manager to ensure your staff have everything they need to create the right environment to be productive away from the office.
Finding the sweet spot between productivity and overwork
Businesses are often concerned about a lack of productivity if they let workers go remote, but the opposite often happens. Without the clear divide of work/home, it’s not uncommon for employees to work too much.
While this sounds good at first, it leads to long-term problems with overworked, burnt out employees. Eventually, productivity suffers, and the quality of work declines, or employees end up leaving the business.
Remote workers need to create boundaries between work life and home life, while businesses need to pay more attention to how their employees are managing their time, to prevent issues related to overwork.
How To Run A High-Performing Remote Team
There are benefits to going remote, and challenges, as the previous sections discussed. But the effort of overcoming these challenges is worth the payoff of happier staff, lower overhead costs, and overall better productivity.
Here’s how to manage your remote team to achieve the best results.
Set clear goals and KPIs
The biggest benefit of remote work is a switch from judging staff on “time in office” to result-based judgement. However, this only works if you set up clear goals and KPIs (key performance indicators).
Instead of setting an expectation that your staff are at the office for (x) hours a day/week, outline the results you want to see. This works much better than an arbitrary hours-based productivity system. It allows your staff to be more flexible with their time, and helps prevent overwork.
Communicate regularly & clearly
Communication is obviously much easier with an office environment, when everyone is in the same place. Overcoming this, and maintaining strong and clear communication is key to making the switch to remote work.
You should make sure you have the right channels of communication in place, and that it’s easy enough for people to reach out and receive the information they need to get their work done.
Be aware, regular communication doesn’t mean Zoom meetings every 15 minutes. As we talked about before, asynchronous communication is key to remote work (and is even worthwhile adopting for non-remote businesses). Take this as an opportunity to remove unnecessary face-to-face communication, allowing your staff more time for uninterrupted productive time.
Provide necessary technology for team members
Reducing overhead is certainly a plus for remote businesses. However, this doesn’t mean you can abandon tech expenses altogether.
As explained in the challenges section, productive remote work is difficult if your employees don’t have a good working environment. And as a business, you can’t expect your employees to foot the bill for the equipment they need to be productive for you.
Tech costs can include any number of things, depending how much you want to provide for your staff. These things can include:
- Wifi costs
- Office furniture (desks & chairs)
- Apps & software
- Webcams, microphones and/or headphones (for remote meetings)
- Specialized equipment for specific tasks (e.g. video production, photography)
You may think it’s not your responsibility to provide all this, but consider it an investment. A good office chair, for example, will help your staff be more productive, more comfortable, and healthier, all of which should result in better quality of work.
How you provide these things is up to you – different ways may work better or worse depending on the size of your company, the equipment your employees need, and other factors.
Some companies provide equipment on a loan basis, returned when a project is done, or when employment ends. Others have a monthly/yearly “tech spend”, which lets employees purchase necessary equipment themselves and claim back the costs.
Organize team-building activities
Finally, think of ways to replace the watercooler and break room environments in your company, and set up activities to build your team culture while working remotely.
Little things like a “watercooler” channel in Slack, or non-mandatory video meetings for coworkers to socialize can be beneficial, and take very little effort to organize.
There’s nothing like a gif or meme battle to take the edge off the stress of a workday.
However, you also want to think about larger team building activities you can put on. If your staff are all around the same location (“remote” doesn’t always mean scattered around the world), you may be able to organize regular meetups or team dinners. Many remote teams also organize company retreats at least once a year, footing the bill for everyone in the company to get together and enjoy a vacation in the same place.
Experiment with team building and find what’s right for your remote business.
The Beginner’s Guide to Remote Work – In Summary
Remote work is looking like it will define the business landscape of the 2020s. More and more companies are switching to location-independent work, be it a forced or voluntary decision. These businesses are seeing the benefits that come with it, such as lower operating costs and happier employees.
Going remote is not for every business, however, and there are challenges that come with running a business this way. If you can create a results-based culture with clear goals and KPIs, establish clear communication channels, and maintain a close-knit team while operating remotely, you may see the profitability and productivity of your business skyrocket.