Back in February 2013, Marissa Meyer notoriously started her tenure as CEO of Yahoo! by banning home working. Now, Yahoo! is just a brand (owned by Oath). By contrast, 5.2% of U.S. workers now work entirely from home (according to American Community Survey data). An impressive 43% of U.S. workers worked from home some of the time (according to Gallup data).
The impact of COVID19
COVID19 has brought about two major changes that companies of all sizes should note. Firstly, it’s effectively forced established companies to invest in remote-working infrastructure. Secondly, it’s motivated individuals to get themselves properly set up for home working. Both of these developments have major implications for all businesses, including service industries.
Dealing with the limitations of geography
Maximizing the use of remote workers creates two big wins for companies. Firstly, it minimizes their need to pay for expensive real estate. Secondly, it allows them to hire from anywhere. This sounds like it could be bad news for service companies, but actually, it doesn’t have to be.
The chances are that companies will increasingly run everyday activities remotely. They will, however, probably still want to bring employees together from time to time. This means that there will still be a market for services. What’s more, people will probably still travel to cities for leisure and make use of the services there.
It does, however, mean that service companies may need to get smarter about how they do business. In particular, they might want to look at developing a hybrid offline/online business model. This could help them expand their reach into the remote-worker market. What’s more, using remote workers could be a way to help them do it.
Making for more efficient working systems
It’s important to be clear that remote working is not a silver bullet for all problems. You can’t just hand it to a virtual assistant and forget about it. What you can, should, and arguably must do is review your working practices to make them as efficient as possible. The way to make this happen is to look at all options and consider how they might work for you and your workers.
For example, let’s say your average business day starts off slowly and then builds up. You know that you could substantially increase productivity with a rotating shift. The problem is that you don’t have enough physical space for everyone to work together at peak times. The potential solution is to have some of your staff work remotely to free up space for the others.
Another option is to use remote workers to “fill in the gaps” in your business. This does not necessarily mean hiring employees, although it can. It can also mean taking advantage of agencies and individual freelancers to fill time- and skill-gaps. Again, however, this does not mean just handing off work and forgetting about it.
Consider the security implications
One of the major barriers to remote working was concerns about security. The most obvious concern is data security. Physical security can also be an issue. In fact, the two are often connected. For example, there’s little point in implementing robust access controls if your remote team is working from their local park.
This is a valid concern, but it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. It just means that you have to make sure that there are enforceable processes in place to protect your data. For example, if you’re directly employing remote workers, then it might be advisable for you to provide and manage all work-related IT equipment.
If you’re using agencies/freelancers, then you may need an enforceable agreement about IT standards. The key word here is “enforceable”. It’s advisable to stick with companies and individuals in locations that have a robust legal system. These are unlikely to be the lowest-priced option, but you are paying extra for meaningful protection.
Make sure you have a robust onboarding process
The remote hiring process is essentially the same as the in-person hiring process. Once you’ve hired someone, however, you need to get them up-to-speed. This is one area in which using remote workers can present challenges. That said, a lot of these challenges simply reflect working practices that need to be changed anyway.
For example, in many companies new-starters “shadow” existing employees. This often literally means sitting beside them, looking at their computer screens. There may occasionally be times when this is reasonable. Mostly, however, it’s just a sign of a company needing to modernize its business practices.
When you onboard a new team member, you should be telling them what and who they need to know. You should not be relying on new-starters figuring it out for themselves. You should certainly not be relying on people meeting spontaneously by the water cooler. This just wastes everyone’s time and you are paying for that time.
Remember that management is an ongoing process
The easiest way to deal with problems is to stop them from happening in the first place. The next easiest way is to catch them early. On a more positive note, if your team can suggest positive changes, you usually want to implement them as quickly as possible.
Effective management generally boils down to effective communication. This becomes even more important when you’re dealing with a remote team. There are plenty of tools to enable workers to keep in touch with each other even over significant physical distances. It is, however, up to you to make the most of them.
There are generally two keys to getting the most out of communications tools. The first is to limit them as much as possible. Ideally, you should be using at most two tools, one for internal communication, the other for external communication. The second is to make sure that everyone knows how to use those tools effectively and securely.
Plan for ongoing training and support
If you have direct staff work remotely, then you are responsible for organizing their training and support. It’s important to think about how this will be achieved before you hire them. In particular, you need to think about whether or not they need to come on-site for it. If they do, how often will they need to be on-site?
If you are working with agencies or remote freelancers, then they will organize their own training and support. They will, however, need guidance from you as to what you expect of them. The more effectively you keep them in the loop with your plans, the better they will be able to prepare for any changes you plan to implement.
Similarly, you have a duty of care to all employees. This means that you need to ensure remote workers know where to go for help if they need it. You do not have the same responsibility towards freelancers. It is, however, advisable to make sure that they also have a path towards resolving concerns. This can prevent you from losing valuable talent for avoidable reasons.
Keep testing and adapting
One of the great benefits of remote working is that it can make it much easier to adapt your working processes. You don’t need to think about desk space, parking space and security passes. You just need to think about what resources you need to perform what tasks.
Take advantage of this by continually testing your systems and processes. Keep checking to see what works and what doesn’t. Even if something does work, keep an open mind as to how it could be improved.
Be prepared to try adaptations, even if only on a short-term basis. As long as the implementation cost is low, you can always abandon them if they don’t work as expected.
Do you have remote workers in your business? How is it going for you?