Evolution loves change. It’s universally true that all evolutionary processes, no matter what their subject is, trigger fundamental adjustments.
Just a few decades ago life was quite different.
People would call a taxi, not an Uber, if didn’t have their own car; they would actually go to a shop when they needed to buy stuff; video chatting only happened if you paid someone a visit and spoke face-to-face (over tea or coffee, not even one raspberry-infused frappuccino with a touch of lime in sight) and emoji only meant rolling your physical eyes at something or someone.
That’s how the normal looked back then.
But normality is a mental construct – one we, subconsciously or not, accept as common rule. And this usually happens when we’re not really prepared to move forward or we fear the resulting consequences.
When the Internet entered our lives everything changed. As a testament to its ‘world wide web’ creation purpose, it gradually grew to become the main facilitator of so many aspects of human existence.
Our perspectives on life, work and leisure possibilities have shifted to a different pole. These days we don’t need to spend hours on end shopping, go to a cinema to see a movie or wander aimlessly before finding an unfamiliar address; just one click and all is made available in a matter of seconds.
This is evolution in action and the ball keeps rolling as we speak. But such change means we now have to deal with issues we’ve never had before and some of them relate to the working space.
The traditional perspective assumes that people need to be placed in a physically defined space when at work. Although no longer valid, the idea still holds its intrinsic value.
Surgeons cannot fully perform their job unless they are in direct contact with the patient (in the surgery room), people who build houses obviously need to be on-location to execute the construction; manufacturers need to be able to manually handle the pieces they assemble along the production line; heavy-machinery operators need to push buttons and maneuver levers in order to make everything work properly. And the examples can go on.
The concept of having a brick-and-mortar working space has been the norm for all business types, for a long time but nothing ever stays the same and there’s reason why we call old things the “past”.
Mainstream opinions on what the working place should be or look like are far from reaching a consensus. Those who are pro the traditional working place, argue that it:
Supporters of the remote business model believe it to be the future of work and maintain that it:
That being said, remote business owners know it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Things can get really complicated and troublesome if you don’t do the proper ‘legwork’ before you shut down your office and hit the remote operations button.
Let’s have a look at some of the ‘must-haves’ you should consider when mind-mapping the set up process of going remote.
Start with the basics: study the flow of a standard work day. Piece it together by observing such aspects as: the office arrival time of your employees (vs. the official schedule), time lapses before they actually start to work, the number of breaks they take during the day and their duration, office chatter frequency, the type of background noise that interferes with job performance, any other disrupting factors that might affect the workflow.
Make sure you identify the perks that get eliminated by switching to remote and assess their importance as job motivators as accurately as possible. There are things you can do to counterbalance their absence (if you deem it necessary) but that’s irrelevant if you don’t know what they are.
Cost cutting is no doubt attractive; you won’t be spending money on monthly rent(s), utilities, office furniture and supplies, etc.
But don’t go slashing those operating expenses budget lines just yet – you may need to consolidate your virtual communication and reporting infrastructure; that could require additional funding.
Also, if the business is not a start-up but a traditionally founded one, that operated as such for a long period of time, your investors might be interested to find out if they’re pioneering this change in working patterns or if similar companies have implemented it as well.
This is not competition surveillance but more of an updating on new, trending initiatives. If there are other companies that chose to go remote, then this solution reflects the way the market self regulates a recurrent, industry-specific problem.
No two leaves are alike, obviously – but keeping an eye on what happens with the same-niche players is always good business planning. You can preview potential transition hiccups (in real-time) and get a concrete idea on the available solutions.
Going remote is serious business, especially in a traditional-to-remote type of situation.
A functional, (new) needs-adapted infrastructure is crucial to ensuring a successful transition and business continuity – leave nothing to chance. Test everything and value concrete data over unverified assumptions at all times.
Running trails is a sure way to identify potential weak points in the operational cycle, troubleshoot the most frequent issues and get a clear idea of what needs to be fixed.
Here are some pointers to help you get started:
Whether you go 100% remote or only partially, you should know exactly what you aim at by means of the trial test.
Is it to understand how productivity is related to a working-from-home environment? Are you trying to get a grip on how to handle having team members working from locations in different time zones? Need to figure out how to (restructure training programs for supervisors and/ or managers who are in charge of remote teams? Or how to adjust & adapt in case of emergencies (i.e. natural disasters or accidents) or unforeseen job-abandonment occurrences, that would directly impact daily operations and workload distribution?
Whatever your objective, formulate it clearly and discuss it with your staff before you initiate the trial.
We all know how to use a messenger/chat tool right? Wrong!
Don’t assume, test.
See where your employees’ abilities stand at and proceed accordingly. If additional training is required arrange for it.
When you start remote operations all remote team members should be able to efficiently use company tools to fulfill their assigned tasks, respect deadlines, attend meetings and stay in sync with colleagues and management despite the distance and diverse time zones.
There are a lot of tools to help you out here, from time tracking to platforms like Asana or Basecamp for remote collaboration.
Even in traditional setting meetings can miss their purpose and turn futile, imagine having to keep the discussion from going sideways when participants only have an Internet connection to carry their voice and input on group related topics.
Unless there’s a specific structure to guarantee that virtual meetings stay the course, they will only be time wasters. Appoint a Moderator to help keep the meeting relevant and productive, ensure ‘mic time’ for each remote worker and trim off-point conversations from the meeting timeline.
We are creatures of habit, it’s an undeniable truth. It’s also a tool you can use to set a specific rhythm to remote work patterns.
You could promote activity schedules similar to the traditional ones as a way of encourage a healthy working hours routine.
Having structure is instrumental to maintaining productivity and avoiding a sense of isolation that some remote workers might end up experiencing.
The trial results will lose part of their usefulness if you’re not able to accurately evaluate them, so plan ahead of time.
Research assessment templates that fit your core objective/s (there are a lot of ready-to-use resources out there) and put together a system that matches your particular scenario.
Use it to organize and process all the data you obtain at the end of the test; this is how you can be sure to reach an even-handed conclusion about the success of the trial.
Whether we’re talking about a pure blood remote start-up or a traditional company transitioning to the new model, the three essential W-s are just as important.
Make certain, really certain that everyone knows what their tasks are, what the desired results should be and when they should be delivered.
Marketing and Sales will usually adapt to the transition easier, however that might not be the case for all departments.
Business owners need to be aware of the fact that going remote doesn’t diminish the financial requirements (i.e. issuing invoices, keeping clear records, dealing with domestic/ international taxation etc.) legally imposed on businesses and maintaining close contact with Accounting and IT, throughout the transition, is highly recommended.
You could choose to outsource some or all of the administrative functions. No more going back and forth on financial reporting paperwork or dealing with makeshift IT solutions that turn a 30 minutes task into a mental endurance test.
Find the right provider(s) and you’re back to smooth operations. Of course that means inserting another line in your operational expenses budget, but you now have accountable professionals to take care of it.
They say perfection is in the details – one would find this hard to argue against. However business ventures are sure to stray far from perfection if their owners get lost in the details.
But fear not! Technology comes to your help, yet again: consider using project monitoring or team collaboration software. You’ll have an ideal tool to help you tend three major components of the eye-in-the-sky perspective you need to maintain (on your business) at all times:
All your business relevant data will be stored in the cloud for safekeeping, use and review. You can set up different accessing rights, for different players, therefore ensuring an appropriate information sharing circuit.
Having everything available in a single, virtual repository is going to prove useful not only for administrative purposes but also for specific business decision making processes.
You could have the best automation tools available out there or the highest, pure-gold potential in terms of business niche, it means very little if your employees constantly drop the ball.
No amount of tech upgrades, investors’ financial support or bank-sourced working capital will make a real difference on the long run if your team’s work is sloppy and deadlines defiant.
Being incapable of getting the job done in a professional and timely manner, can quickly incapacitate a company, especially a start-up.
So, in order to safeguard against failure, make sure you don’t skip the fine-tuning step when creating the recruiting process and ideal candidate profile.
Building up on this, Ryan O’Connor, Lead UX Designer at GobySavvy, believes that people ‘’with an independent, entrepreneurial mindset, who strive to solve problems and come up with solutions on their own’’ make the best recruits for remote roles.
Poor work quality has a lot to do with employees’ expertise and capabilities; unless you acknowledge this fact, you might end up with workers who constantly need additional explanations to fully understand what’s required of them, or dismiss remote tasks attribution, or are simply not aware that a loose bolt will mess up with the entire mechanism.
What you can do:
Make sure that each employee understands exactly how they contribute to the success, or fiasco, of the entire team (detail consequences for both scenarios!).
Schedule recurring on-the-job or off-the job training sessions if you believe this will prevent future issues. Figure out whether personal development courses could motivate work quality improvement.
Establish a reliable, transparent and fair-play compensation schedule based on a time vs. results monitoring system.
If the company hires newbies, expect an adjustment period; even more experienced employees might find the monitoring feature off-putting, it’s a natural reaction.
Nonetheless, remember that consistency is extremely important in a remote business environment, so keep at it.
Don’t shy away from using proficient time tracking and productivity software that will help you stay on top of things day in day out.
Hiring new (remote) staff is not without risks and ramifications, but there are now tools that give a certain degree of control over them, so get busy researching – as the saying goes: better safe than sorry.
Identify features that contribute to your overall business etiquette and, where it makes sense, switch them to auto-pilot mode.
For instance: if your marketing team is routinely running marketing campaigns, analyze how autoresponder email apps can upgrade your team’s game, while saving time and brain power for non-automatable functions.
To sum up: be aware of the fact that your company’s most expensive, yet most lucrative asset is the human resource.
As already stated, all business owners struggle (at some point or another) to maintain control over their investment, be it material or otherwise.
For just such situations there’s an all-size fits one guideline: significant financial commitments should deliver equally significant outcomes.
As far as the (remote) human capital is concerned this guideline translates in preemptive strategies such as real-time activity monitoring and progress tracking assessments, to ensure a positive return on investment.
Productivity is an always-relevant, always-present item in any company’s operating strategy.
When it turns into a (chronic) sore point – thereby directly affecting profitability – traditional companies are able to use on-location options as part of their productivity-boosting scheme.
For online companies things follow the beat of a different drum and having well-defined, explicit and quantifiable productivity goals should be a zero-ground priority for any remote business owner.
Monitor sales calls, observe the average amount of time each team member takes to complete a task, request periodic reports and, if possible, compare employees’ self-imposed To-Do lists against their actual results.
This is how you’ll be able to spot productivity fluctuation patterns and their causes and evaluate training needs that should be addressed.
Regulate what happens if agreed-upon productivity goals are not met. The more documented the whole process, the better – that’s going to make both progress tracking and problem fixing easier and less biased.
Focusing on productivity will also present you with a great opportunity to build on the potential of best-in-class employees and encourage company loyalty.
George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote – ‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.’ – couldn’t be more on target than it is today.
Human beings are ‘notorious’ for their inability to decipher an interlocutor’s message without filtering it through an exclusively personal (therefore subjective) similar experience.
This single habit is responsible for misinterpretations even in direct, non-intermediated conversations; imagine the added difficulty level inherent to remote interactions.
If you want to be understood, clarity, especially inner clarity, is something you can’t do without, even more so when you initiate business related communication processes.
So always make this your starting point: formulate clear, explicit and logical statements and request the same in return. Information feed is the first step toward goal completion, therefore avoid vague or confusing discourse at all costs.
Availability is yet another important attribute for a successful employer-employee communication. Being able to contact their manager whenever critical situations arise is of significant consequence to remote workers, who place great value on real-time support. For them it’s a much-needed mental buffer, for you a way to stay ahead of future complications.
Also keep in mind that, in remote business environments, communication takes on a part of the social ‘meeting place’ role that brick-and-mortar offices usually play. We are group-bound creatures, which is something that we project and practice in any kind of environment.
Don’t restrict the communication between members of remote teams to business-only themes, but rather find the ‘sweet spot’ between chatter and serious matters.
Ultimately, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy… as they say. There will be the occasional bad-mouthing the boss but, on the bright side, that could produce a relieving effect (in employees) or act as a frustration vent hole, which is eventually a morale prop to consider.
Social feature aside, keeping remote workers engaged in constant (virtual) communication is instrumental to maintaining individual presence. When asked by Proven about the most distinctive feature of accomplished remote employees, Brian Patterson, Partner & Co-Founder at Go Fish Digital, had this to say:
‘’To be successful in a remote role, you must stay visible. The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” definitely applies to remote work, especially if you are remote but there are others working in an office together. You can be visible by taking advantage of video chats, collaborating often using your project management software (we use Basecamp), sharing lessons learned and new information in your team portal (we use Slack), and setting up recurring meetings with management to discuss your projects. You want to make sure your work is continually seen and valued.’’
So, don’t underestimate the power of ‘good job!’ Feeling appreciated is a strong motivator for the majority of people, in both professional and personal contexts.
Explicit appreciation typically forms the base of positive, repetitive behavior which, in a business setting, can lead to improved productivity and job satisfaction – two birds, one stone!
There are of course two sides to any coin; an excessively permissive approach can overpower strategic rules and undermine your authority as leader. That’s a harsh place to be in when you run a remote business (or any type of business really) and recovery is uselessly irritating and counter-productive.
Spare yourself the trouble of restoring a healthy balance to working relations by making sure you don’t upset it in the first place. You are the primary decision maker in the company and, as such, you are expected to accurately perceive, understand and interpret the inner and outer environment in which the business operates.
This is a make-or-break ability that applies to human resources strategies as well.
Just a decade ago, setting up a remote company was intimidating, to say the least. But advancements in tech tools, the rise of IoT (the internet of things) and the cultural shift towards disruption and entrepreneurship have turned the tables on tradition.
Nowadays giants like Amazon, Alibaba, Alphabet Inc. or Salesforce.com are definite proof of that the global marketplace outgrew its former definition.
It’s hard to see how remote work trends will continue to branch off, predict exactly what the ‘minimum job skills’ toolbox will look like for the workforce of tomorrow or get a head start on how new team mechanics will manage to synchronize resources scattered across a multitude of locations and time zone but, one thing is sure.
We’re on our way to a future of work that embraces job flexibility, innovation and location independence like never before.
About the Author:
Philip Piletic focuses primarily on the fusion of technology, small business, and marketing. He is an editor, writer, marketing consultant and guest author at several authority websites. In love with startups, latest tech trends and helping others get their ideas off the ground. Philip would like to thank MBA Strategy which offer GMAT prep classes.