By Dale Strickland
You may have heard about the benefits of a remote workforce — higher productivity, greater employee retention rates, incredible cost savings, a diverse global talent pool, and so much more.
As a small business owner you may be interested in trying a remote workforce for yourself, However, if you aren’t prepared to manage a virtual office environment you won’t make the best use of its unique offerings. Here I’ll draw on my experiences as a remote worker to give you five great tips for adapting your business to a remote workforce.
1. Make Sure Your Business Is Remote Compatible
This sounds like a no-brainer, but there truly are some critical business functions that simply can’t be done remotely. Try not to give up at this stage — there are plenty of creative ways to maintain business continuity when transitioning to a fully-remote team.
Break down your key processes into their most basic components. Do you see any parts that you simply can’t see being remote compatible? Make note of those and do further research. There may be alternatives that you’ve not yet discovered.
- Do you have purchase orders that need signing? E-Signature apps such as HelloSign and DocuSign can help with that.
- Do your customers typically call a customer service number to reach someone in-office? Use cloud-based virtual telephones to forward calls to your remote employee and consider adding online support options.
- Does your business rely on 1:1 collaboration and discussions? Make a virtual office environment with tools such as Slack or Workplace from Facebook.
If you’ve identified something that simply won’t work for “work-from-anywhere” expectations, you need to make a change. Those processes will either need to be altered so they are remote compatible or you’ll need to have someone that is available to commute as needed.
Aside from making sure your core processes are remote compatible, you’ll also need to consider how you’ll manage the overlap. This overlap may be between your usual processes and remote-friendly alternatives if you allow both remote and on-site employees.
2. Set Clear Expectations
To effectively lead a remote workforce, you need to have excellent written communication skills. While video conferencing and phone calls can help fill the gap, you’ll be relying on asynchronous communication more often. To avoid causing confusion and bottlenecks, make sure your remote team knows exactly what is expected of them well in advance.
Here are some expectations you will define.
It’s no secret that remote workers love schedule flexibility. But if your operation relies on your employees being available for 1:1 discussions, you will need to make that clear. Define the window of time that you absolutely need to have them available for so they can plan their schedules accordingly.
What’s a reasonable response rate to answering your (or your customers!) emails, phone calls, instant messages, etc.? Is it reasonable for your employees to get back to you by the end of the day, or should responsiveness be a higher priority? This will naturally be influenced by their roles, but it’s critical that you explicitly define your expectations for responsiveness.
There’s going to be a great deal of non-traditional communication and work processes happening that you may not be comfortable with. What is a ‘no go’ for your business? Do you have stipulations about how employees handle virtual meetings, phone calls, and communication with you and their coworkers? These details may seem small, but they lay an important groundwork for communicating the culture of the company to your remote workforce.
To reduce unnecessary bottlenecks you need to define how communication is handled in your company. Are there specific platforms your employees should use for communication and collaboration? What is the best way for them to reach you and their coworkers? Is there a preferred method of communication for different use-cases (e.g. use email when it’s not urgent, use instant messaging when an urgent response is needed, etc)
Your employees that are working from home or another off-site location are going to rely far less on spur-of-the-moment communication than your average in-house worker. If your employees are doing project-based work, provide them with your desired outcomes and the exact metrics you will be using to determine whether or not they’ve performed their roles and tasks well.
3. Be Prepared to Learn Some New Technology
If you’re not already tech-savvy, you’ll be at a major disadvantage. Remote workforce management relies heavily on the creation of a digital workplace that is supported by technologies that enable communication, collaboration, project management, and other key business functions.
At the minimum you’ll need to be comfortable with using video conferencing equipment and software to facilitate virtual meetings. These platforms make it incredibly convenient to catch up with your employees, share your computer screen as part of a virtual presentation, and maintain the important social connections that contribute to the culture of your workplace.
Here are some popular remote working technology:
- Communication: Slack, Workplace from Facebook, Microsoft Teams, Zoom
- Project Management: Trello, Asana, Monday
- File Sharing: Google Drive, OneDrive, FTP Servers
Fortunately, many of these tools come with free or otherwise incredibly affordable offerings that are perfect for small businesses. The cost savings from reduced real estate, higher employee retention rates, and increased productivity counts. It will more than make up for the comparatively small investment needed to keep remote workers connected and working effectively.
4. Keep Remote Employee Morale High
Remote workers have unique morale challenges due to being isolated from the impromptu social experiences that are commonly seen in their in-house counterparts. As a small business owner, you’ll need to be mindful of how you can recreate the magic of in-person connectivity in a virtual environment.
Here are some quick tips for remote employee morale:
- Get Social: Make time for informal social experiences! Consider making the first few minutes of your weekly meeting an inviting space for informal chat, make a dedicated social channel on your team chat platform, or host small social events on company time.
- Recognition: Praise loudly and praise often! If your remote workers are doing exceptional work, they deserve to be recognized for it. In addition to 1:1 recognition, consider making announcements in your team chat platform or sending them a small token of appreciation such as a gift card to their favorite restaurant.
- Be Available: If you’re in a leadership role for your employees, they need to know that you are genuinely interested in their success. They want to know that you are committed to providing them with what they need to excel. Make sure that you’re responsive and available to their needs as much as you reasonably can be.
5. Ensure Your Remote Workers Are Secure
Cybersecurity is a big subject. The exact infrastructure you set up for keeping your remote workers secure is going to vary based on the risks associated with your employee’s roles. Obviously, anyone that is handling sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, intellectual property, or financial records will need to be set up with the appropriate safeguards.
This list isn’t the be-all-end-all of technology and best practices for the cybersecurity of a remote workforce. But these options are excellent for allowing your remote employees to stay secure when working off-site.
Virtual Private Networks (VPN)
An enterprise virtual private network encrypts network traffic and gives your remote employees a way to connect to your company’s internal network. If you maintain a database that employees will need to access remotely, a VPN will provide your remote workers with higher security access.
Be Careful with Personal Devices
“Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policies are an incredibly popular option for virtual teams as it allows remote employees to use devices they are already comfortable with while saving their employers on device management and procurement costs.
Unfortunately, personal devices are also at a higher risk of cybersecurity issues. This is due to personal web browsing, a lack of corporate monitoring capabilities, and unvetted third-party applications. Employers that allow the use of personal devices for work activities must ensure that their employees aren’t accessing any sensitive data when doing so.
Avoid Insecure Wifi Connections
Remote workers are often associated with impromptu offices set up in coffee shops with free WiFi. Unfortunately, publicly accessible WiFi networks can be a nightmare for security as unencrypted connections can be snooped on by nearby cybercriminals.
This isn’t just an issue for coffee shops — even the WiFi connections offered by hotels, airplanes, and AirBnBs aren’t guaranteed to be secure. If your employees must work while travelling, you’ll need to invest in a mobile router with a data plan. This will allow them to have a secure internet connection with them wherever they go.
There’s a lot to cover when it comes to adapting to a remote workforce. If you’re brand new to managing off-site employees there’s bound to be some growing pains while you adapt your usual workflows to accommodate a virtual environment. If there’s more you’d like to know about leveraging remote workers as a small business, check out some of the articles below.