Over the last ten to fifteen years the idea of businesses utilizing a remote workforce has grown in popularity. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 has forced many business owners to adopt this model almost overnight. With such a break from the traditional business model, there are bound to be logistical issues. How do you monitor your team’s production? What’s the best way to train them? Are there ways to foster teamwork when everyone is isolated? I had the chance to talk about these subjects and more with a fellow entrepreneur that has worked with a remote workforce since 2008. Join me as I share what I’ve learned about the ins and outs of running a business with a remote workforce.
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Although working from home has been around for quite a long time, the need for social distancing amidst the coronavirus outbreak has made it much more widespread than ever before. For many small business owners, such a drastic change to their business model can be shocking. Fortunately, there are many business owners who have operated this way for years that we can learn from. From the employee’s perspective, working from home can be a very appealing idea. However, like most things, there are pros and cons to operating with a remote workforce.
In our current scenario, working remotely allows business owners, employees, and consumers the ability to avoid unnecessary interactions while trying to abide by social distancing guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic. But even when things go back to normal there are benefits. For example, Biren Patel, P.E. — whom much of this information comes from — owns an engineering firm where each of his employees works from home. A few of his team members wouldn’t have been able to remain in his employment if not for the remote workforce model. They have had to move to other cities because their spouses took jobs there.
This actually led to another unintended benefit of the remote workforce model. Biren’s company sees unusually low employee turnover due to the fact that opportunities to work from home in their industry are very few and far between. Other benefits include not having a daily commute to and from the office and a potentially lower overhead for the business owner. However, as wonderful as all of this seems, there are difficulties that come with it.
One of the more unexpected downsides to working from home is that it is difficult to leave work at work. When you work in the same place that you live, it becomes very easy to become fixated on sending that “one last email” rather than simply relaxing with your family. Likewise, it can be very easy to lose focus on your work because of the distractions that surround you at home.
Beyond the mental hurdles that can present themselves in a work from home environment, you can miss out on some of the face-to-face necessities that a traditional office provides. Training can be exponentially more difficult when you’re attempting to do so with a screen share. It just doesn’t have the same impact as it does when you’re sitting next to each other at a desk. Similarly, team building becomes an issue when everyone is isolated. So, how do we alleviate some of these problems?
In order to remedy some of the cons of working from home, there are measures that we all need to take. Keeping work and home separate is a challenge that can be alleviated by getting dressed for work each day, placing your office in the basement or another less commonly used space in your home, and even changing the decor in your office to make it look like an office. The more you can create the illusion of separation between your home office and your home, the better.
Utilize various forms of communication between you and your team. There are many different apps available to business owners that can improve your remote communications and meeting spaces without overloading your company email servers. At Heritage, we use an app called Slack but there are many others such as Microsoft Teams, Flock, Mattermost, etc,… Any of these can help connect your team for training, meetings, or even just quick messaging.
When it comes to team building, few things work better than taking annual, semi-annual, or even quarterly retreats. Get your team all in one place, work together, eat together, and fellowship with one another while engaging in fun group activities. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend doing this until after things settle down and the threat of COVID-19 has gone away.
Many business owners struggle with the idea of employee productivity when dealing with a remote workforce. After all, how can you be sure that your employees are truly giving you their best efforts if you aren’t there to manage them? This is a fair question to ask but the answer may not be exactly what you’re hoping to hear. The fact of the matter is this… You will have to trust your employees to be productive while working from home. If you don’t, then chances are, you have a trust issue with your employees, to begin with.
If you’ve got good employees, empower them, get out of their way, and trust that they’re going to put in a good day’s work for you. You’ve also got to allow your employees to feel safe so that when they do feel like they have an issue with getting distracted and aren’t producing at the level that they should, they can come to you with that. If they know they can admit to their shortcomings without being slammed for it, then they are more likely to come to you for help and guidance in improving their performance.
People inherently want to do good work. We need to feel as though we have accomplished something or contributed to the cause and your remote employees are no different. So how do you know when you’re truly getting all that you need from your team when they’re working from home?
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Since the traditional key performance indicators don’t necessarily apply in our new virus-dictated work model, we have to determine the quality and productivity of our team in new ways. In the remote workforce model, you’re still going to look at billable hours but you’re looking at them from the context of, “Do the project results align with the amount of time spent on it?” At the end of the day, if the time being billed to a project is consistent with the work product, then that’s all that matters. You want your team to consistently finish “under budget” and over perform. When you entrust and empower your team, it can be surprising how well they will perform.
Part of operating any business is making sure that you have protection from liabilities. There is no difference when operating a business that uses a remote workforce. One of the main differences you may encounter is, when speaking to your insurance agent, you will probably need to disclose every state that you have employees working in. In any regard, speak to your insurance agent and notify them of any changes that are taking place so that they can help you to find the best solution for your individual circumstances. Likewise, having the support of an attorney, a Certified Financial Planner, and a tax advisor can be invaluable to you during such a big transition and well beyond.
If you have questions about managing your team or other business strategy during this time, please reach out to us. Our team is ready to help!