The coronavirus crisis has forced many to work from home. But remote work has been popular for many years, for many reasons. Can you and your employees work remotely successfully through COVID-19 and should you continue afterward?
Are remote employees more productive, inexpensive, and knowledgeable for your business or do they create more challenges that you may not have the resources to handle?
Benefit: Broadening Your Recruitment Pool and Attracting Talent
Remote workers can provide businesses with the opportunity to increase their recruitment radius, hire more diverse employees, and attract talent that isn’t limited by distance to the office. As the Forbes Technology Council highlighted, “Instead of taking the mediocre candidate in your area, you can hire the superstar who lives on the other side of the country. Limiting yourself to hiring within your locality restricts you to a small talent pool.”
Concerns about remote workers’ productivity are common. More than three-quarters of employers believe their employees do personal tasks while on the clock, according to a survey by TSheets by QuickBooks conducted in January 2019. But just over half of responding employers believe their employees are “highly productive,” while the rest believe their employees “could be more productive” (41%) or are “not very productive” (5%).
However, remote employees responded positively to these same questions, with a plurality of surveyed employees (30%) stating they only spent about 30 minutes on personal tasks while clocked in, and 96% of employees stating their productivity was “above average” or “average.”
Perhaps the best solution to the productivity debate is to test it out with your own staff, and for managers to have regular check-ins with their team to ensure everyone’s on schedule.
Benefit: Retaining Top Talent
Forbes Technology Council notes that remote policies can help retain skilled workers, especially those that may be considering a move. If someone’s spouse is offered a job in another state or an employee moves to be closer to family, the business will be less likely to lose the talent. Those employees’ institutional knowledge can be retained as they will be able to still work for the company, no matter their location.
Decreasing employee turnover rates is always good for business. High turnover can easily ruin a business’ reputation as an employer, and replacing employees can cost significantly more money than retaining existing skilled talent.
Concern: Complying with Labor Laws
Hiring remote workers means that bookkeepers or accountants may face additional hurdles with paying out-of-state employees. With the different federal and state labor laws in place, it can be overwhelming to try to parse through them all, determine how your employees should be paid, and decide what laws they are subject to.
If employees work in a different state from the business’s location, then they are subject to their state’s overtime, minimum wage, and other labor laws. Additionally, when running payroll, accountants have to withhold that employee’s state taxes—primarily income tax, although some states may also require unemployment tax as well.
Where to Start: Building a Community
If you find the benefits outweigh the challenges of utilizing remote workers, then you will need to make some adjustments to ensure your remote workers fit with your business strategy.
Often the biggest complaint made by remote workers is the lack of community they feel with those in the office. Some companies may increasingly use “in-the-office” days to combat remote worker loneliness, Forbes contributor Abdullahi Muhammed has predicted. This would require workers to come into the office at least once a week or month, but it could help them feel more connected with their co-workers and more engaged in collaborative projects.
Additionally, as Abdullahi highlights, coworking spaces are becoming increasingly popular across the country. While some employees may use these spaces to travel while still staying connected with the office, others may find this also increases their opportunities to socialize face-to-face with others in their community or industry. This can create further opportunities for brainstorming, networking, and creating lasting partnerships, both for individual employees as well as their employer.
Maintaining a Remote Workforce: Revamping Communication
Your business’ communication style and methods are essential to consider when first beginning to work with a remote workforce. A few steps businesses can take to improve their communication processes include:
- Leaders should become active listeners and provide opportunities for feedback through performance feedback tools or anonymous surveys.
- Important documents should be easily accessible so remote employees can access them outside the office.
- Utilize free or low-cost internal communication networks (or instant messaging services) that can help all employees directly contact their co-workers or managers.
Do Remote Workers Fit in Your Business’s Future?
The pros and cons of remote workers are something businesses should consider. Luckily, there are some solutions that may work even for small businesses on a tight budget.
If you can’t go big with hiring employees from another state, a small business may be able to hire employees from other towns around the state, which still widens the net of recruitment for skilled workers. Additionally, as coworking spaces become increasingly popular, employees may find a new sense of community as well as new ideas that can further develop their employers’ company culture.
Whether remote employees work for your business right now, it is a growing trend that is here to stay. If you’ve been eager to modernize your business, making the adjustments necessary to include remote employees in your workforce may prove to be an investment worth making.
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.