Are You Ready to Take Your Office Completely Remote?

It is difficult to attract and retain top talent in the current labor market. To be successful, employers need to provide benefits that candidates find valuable, and that often includes the ability to work remotely and have a flexible schedule. In fact, since 2005, remote work has increased 159 percent, according to Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs. And that percentage is likely to increase as employees continue to request it and organizations respond to remain employers of choice.

While remote working and flex scheduling is common, having a completely remote workforce is not. There are logistics and employee relations considerations to take into account when considering a remote workforce. A remote workforce has unique management and motivation issues. Many managers and supervisors resist remote work because they are afraid that their employees will  goof off when they should be working. And if employees miss deadlines or cost the organization business, it will reflect poorly on their managers.

But for those leaders willing to be brave and trust their employees, remote work has many potential benefits. In order to realize them, leaders must first think through their expectations for remote work. Consider the following:

  • What are the overall goals of the organization and how does each member contribute to those goals?
  • What core must an employee be available?
  • What are the expectations for responding to emails and phones messages?
  • What does success look like for individual employees?

Not surprisingly, these are the same expectations  managers have for employees working in the office. In fact, many employees state that they are more productive working from home. There are no office visits to see how the weekend was or how the kids are doing. There is much less water cooler talk. If the employee has set up a good work space in their home they find that there are fewer distractions. They can be more creative. And there is no need to commute or dress up.

Another myth about remote work is that team collaboration will suffer. Current technology allows for video chats, meetings from almost anywhere, and cloud spaces to allow for real-time project updates from multiple contributors. There is software to track time, instant messaging, file sharing and project-management tools. Some of those are:

  • Slack – operates in channels. One can be set-up to be office cooler talk
  • Trello – organizes projects using virtual post-its
  • GotoMeeting – we use at Employers Council
  • Google Drive – shared documents
  • Basecamp – project management software
  • Zoho Projects – operating system with mail, CRM, accounting and a space to design
  • Yammer – project management
  • Skype – communication
  • Freshconnect – team collaboration tool
  • Acquire – customer communication tool
  • Concept Inbox – team collaboration that can also be used with external stakeholders
  • Wrike – real-time work management software including budgeting to track team member progress
  • Nimble – combines address books and social media contacts into a CRM solution

Even with these tools the team may start to underperform. Team leaders and managers need to create an environment where the team members feel emotionally and psychologically connected to one another and to the business. Even though everyone is remote there still needs to be a framework for people to connect and engage with each other. Using one of the above technology tools to create an open communication for big announcements, celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries and promotions is crucial. Volunteering is another avenue for engaging employees.   A 5k run/walk for a specific cause that is close to the heart of another employee is another example. Maybe even a retreat to hike and play board games. Your organization is probably already searching for ideas to motive and reward employees and you would just need to continue doing that.

Some of the benefits of having a remote office is that the organization will have less overhead. You will not have to pay for real estate or rent. And that could represent a massive cost savings. That extra money could be used for staff training, increased retirement contributions and possibly above market wages. Studies show that people who work from home tend to be more productive on average. Employees will not need to commute. For some employees that is a huge advantage and less wear and tear on their vehicles. And finally, an employer will have a much larger talent pool by being remote. You can attract talent from across the country.

Obviously, going completely remote will have some challenges. The biggest one is to make sure the team is cohesive, efficient and creative. That will come with great communication and the right tools. The organization will need to find the technology tools that best suits their business needs. Luckily there are several tools available to choose from. Are you ready to make that step and go completely remote?

Also, everyone is not productive at the same time. For example, I worked with a programmer on a project and found that he did his best work in the middle of the night. You could also have an employee that may need time during their day to attend to family. An example would be someone who is a caregiver for their parents.

Another thing to think about is office space and overhead expenses. Metro areas have been growing, and with that growth rent and mortgage costs are rising. For example currently the rate for space in the Denver Metro area is approximately $26.95 per square foot, and some of the new premium space downtown is going for $50 per square foot. A small space with a set of six cubicles, four offices, copy/server room and a kitchen is about 5,000 square feet, so if you do the math, it is not cheap. Do not forget the other overhead costs such as heat, power, and possibly parking. If you already offer remote work to some of your employees or let your employees work remotely a few days a week, that office space is open and not being utilized. If most of the work that your organization does is by phone, intranet, and computers, why even have an office?

  • Continue to have those weekly/every other week one-on-one meetings with managers and direct reports.