The digital revolution will continue to transform the way we work. It’s brought people closer together, and it’s made it far easier for businesses to understand themselves and their target audiences. And it’s also helped usher in a new era where remote and freelance work are now mainstream.
And it appears this shift towards working out of the office is going to continue. There has been a 115 percent increase in the amount of people telecommuting since 2015, and 90 percent of the people currently working remotely plan to do so for the rest of their careers.
But while remote work has a lot of benefits, it’s not a guarantee you’ll be able to enjoy them. There are some challenges, and understanding them is the first step to overcoming them. So let’s explore the benefits and challenges of remote work so that you can learn how to incorporate this exciting trend into your business.
A business thrives in environments where there is a challenge. If everyone comes from the same background, and if everyone sees the world in basically the same way, then your company can become a hotbed for groupthink—the psychological phenomena that occurs when people fear speaking out against the group for fear of disrupting harmony.
And while it’s certainly possible to put together a diverse team in a traditional office setting, you’ll always be limited by geographic location. However, when you incorporate remote teams into your business, you can give your company a quick injection of diversity. And hiring people remotely means you can not only hire people from other parts of the country, but you can also bring in people from different parts of the world.
This range of experiences, beliefs and ideas will make your company culture more dynamic, which can only bring good things.
Improved Engagement and Productivity
A study from the Harvard Business Review found that remote workers tend to be more engaged than in-office employees. This seems counterintuitive, but when you think about it for a minute, it makes sense. Remote workers have the ability to be fully present at all times. When there’s a meeting, they’re 100 percent there. And when they’re working, it’s because they’ve identified that point in the day as a productive opportunity and are therefore fully focused on work.
By nature, we don’t work on fixed schedules, so “forcing” someone to work when they aren’t in the mood for it is going to make them feel like they’re wasting their time, and when people feel this way, they get angry and resentful, two emotions that will cause them to disengage from work.
Remote work allows people to organize their days around the times when they feel most productive, which can dramatically improve the overall effectiveness of your workforce. Plus, remote work is seen as a great perk. The flexibility it provides is unparalleled, and this causes people to work harder to try and keep it.
A Focus on Innovation
One of the best things about remote teams is how they break down traditional organizational structures. When communicating through a screen, hierarchies seem less intense, and this encourages people to speak up a bit more when they feel something is wrong.
Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, it’s in remote workers’ best interest to actively try and optimize the business. Remote workers are all about efficiency; if they can get the same task done in one hour instead of two, and they get paid the same, why wouldn’t they want to get better?
This sense of control over what happens with the business is empowering, and it will make you better. Getting feedback from all directions helps you keep track of what is going well and what needs to be improved, making it easier to decide where your energy and resources will be most useful.
Okay, now time for the other side of the debate. It’s true that using remote teams isn’t a silver bullet solution, so here are some of the challenges and how to overcome them.
Payroll and HR
Hiring employees from different parts of the world can be a logistical nightmare. Different laws apply depending on where the person lives, and your obligations will change according to the nature of the hire, i.e. if it’s an independent contractor or if the person is a full-fledged employee.
The solution: automate and outsource. Payroll software, such as Intuit, Gusto, Xero, etc. can all be set up to accommodate international hires, and they will make sure you and your employees are compliant with all relevant tax laws and regulations.
Building a sense of camaraderie and togetherness is important for your business, but it can be difficult when dealing with remote teams. You lose out on the opportunity to do team building exercises, and you also miss the informal, day-to-day interactions that help people feel closer to one another.
But again, you can work around this. In all the businesses I’ve run, we’ve had designated Slack channels called “water cooler” and “virtual high five.” These are fun spaces for people to interact and share a bit about themselves without feeling like they’re taking up work time.
Another good thing to do is to make meetings about something besides work. At the beginning of each session, take some time to ask people about their lives. Get to know them a bit, and encourage employees to try to get to know one another. Doing this helps make the relationships feel less dominated by work and a little more comfortable. So while it’s true you can never fully replace the feeling of talking to someone face-to-face, technology and a different approach can get you pretty close.
Communication changes in the digital space. Things that are normal in an office setting, such as walking to someone’s desk to check in, will be viewed differently online. For example, the digital version of this—sending a message each day asking for a status update—could be interpreted by someone as micromanagement and an intrusion into their autonomy. You’ll need to adapt to each person and most likely learn to back off a bit, trusting people to meet deadlines and to reach out when they have an issue.
Also, you must adapt to the fact that communication is not immediate, especially when people are in different time zones. For this, simply learn to plan ahead. And you’ll also want to make sure both in-office and remote workers have the best possible broadband internet connection, which may mean helping people to change providers if necessary.
Another thing to do to help facilitate communication is to ask people to check in when they sign on to work. This way you’ll have an idea when they can be reached, helping you coordinate workflow and collaboration.
Start Embracing Remote Work. It’s Here to Stay.
As a startup, you are at a unique moment in your business’ cultural development. Norms are not yet set in stone, and people are more open to change. Implementing remote teams now can help you build a dynamic and innovated company culture, as long as you know the challenges they face and how to overcome them.