Boon or Bane? Switching to a Remote Workforce

Boon or Bane? Switching to a Remote Workforce

By Karla Jo Helms

Running a successful business with a remote workforce takes guts, analytics and flexibility – but the rewards can be significant.

New businesses are starting up every week, with new and disruptive ideas that set out to shake up their respective markets. If only the “business” of running a business didn’t get in the way of them doing it! Savvy owners are looking for ideas to make a shift in the market to get an edge over their competitors. One way that start-ups and tenured businesses alike are experimenting with is embracing a telecommuting workforce, AKA “working from home.”

They’re trading in the walls of the office for the comfort of their own home and getting more done because of it.

One of the biggest benefits of telecommuting is flexibility. This is exercised differently from company to company. Where one company might give their workers flexible hours, allowing for the night owl to work all night and sleep all day while the early bird can get his or her work done by 2 pm; the other company might still stress a 9-5pm work schedule but still allow freedom on the job in other ways.

Flexibility is something that a staff rarely has with their lives. This is just how it is when you work at a set location. A “full-timer” must be somewhere at a certain time for 40 hours a week. With a telecommuting workforce, employees are allowed much more elasticity in how they spend their lunches, breaks and have the added benefit of time saved by not sitting in traffic. Flexibility = happiness in many cases and happiness = better production. Ergo, does telecommuting help increase production? Yes, it does.

There are money-saving benefits to a remote workforce that would help start-ups spend less cash on office expenses and more on technology or other improvements to their product or service. American Express reported that it is saving $10-15 million annually on transferring certain functions of their company to a remote workforce. On a smaller scale, companies save an average of $11,000 per year according to Global Workplace Analytics (link).

Other than saving money, a telecommuting staff can help with reducing employee turnover. It’s no mystery that when someone leaves their position it puts a financial burden on a company trying to replace that person. While working from home doesn’t solve every issue one might have with productivity, a remote workforce has been proven to raise efficiency and productivity. Stanford University ran a study on the subject of telecommuting and found that job attrition rates fell by over 50% (link).

Real long-term results

The proof is in the pudding, as I always say. You must do your own measurements to ensure that a remote workforce is workable for your business. Nothing is perfect, but is it workable? We measure productivity by gross income divided by the number of staff. New employees usually lower productivity numbers unless there is an efficient onboarding, training and apprenticeship process within your company. And ongoing continuing education is vital to better efficiency, especially with a remote staff. My firm’s production efficiency has increased from 20 to 40 percent since we “went remote.” After the initial adjustment hump, productivity rose incrementally and stably – and continues to do so today.

Overall, my employees are happier with the arrangement – they tell me all the time. There’s little to no office politics or drama, employees talk continuously about their quality of life improvement without that long commute – and we’ve seen an overall 49 percent growth rate since 2014. To me, that is workable. We measure growth rate by annual revenues year over year; our first full year of being remote, we grew 66 percent.

Tips for remote workforce success

Here are some pointers to keep in mind when thinking about switching to a telecommuting workforce:

  • Become “one” with video messaging as it will be your way to visually communicate with your work force. Visual is key here.
  • Set up first-in-the-morning meetings with your departments to 1) make sure everyone is present and 2) promote what is on the agenda for each member.
  • Purchase a reliable cloud-based file sharing system so nothing is lost in an email inbox or inside a computer if it fails.
  • Incorporated into your cloud system processes, set up a quick and easy-to-use invoice system for Finance Teams such as the one provided by Inuit’s QuickBooks for easy transactions.
  • Keep a physical address for mail, branding and SEO purposes.
  • Lastly, and this one is important, have departments in your company set up monthly meet-ups to ensure that team bonding can still occur.

The transition from a physical location to a “digital” one is tricky and extensive but in the long run, will keep you on the track to efficiency and happiness with your staff. As technology grows and gets better, this process will become easier and allow more companies to do more with less. It’s a form of “future-proofing” for your company and an investment into the happiness and well-being of your staff.

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