How Offering Remote Work Can Benefit Your Small Business

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Like 5.6 million other Americans, I work remotely. The remote work option is actually one of the main reasons I chose to work at Melita Group. I had offers from big tech companies with great pay, benefits, stock options, and many perks—but remote work wasn’t one of them.

Although I am a social person by nature and enjoy being around people I work with, the nightmarish traffic in the Bay Area made it difficult for me to enjoy going to work each day. And now that I am working remotely, I feel happier and less stressed. I also have more time in my day to do healthy activities like practicing yoga, going for a walk, or playing tennis.

And I’m among the majority. A full 80-90 percent of Americans would like to work remotely at least some of the time, with 32 percent naming it as their most desired perk.

Being flexible with how and where people work is a great way for smaller companies to compete against larger organizations when it comes to hiring and retaining talent.

The Benefits of Remote Work

There are many benefits of remote work, for employees, employers, and the environment, including:

  • Increased employee retention: Companies that offer remote work see 25 percent less turnover than those who do not. By 2020, it’s expected that organizations supporting flexible work arrangements will boost employee retention rates by more than 10 percent.
  • Higher productivity: Ninety one percent of people say they’re more productive when working remotely, due to things like fewer interruptions and distractions, quieter noise level, and less frequent, more efficient meetings.
  • Less stress: Eighty two percent of telecommuters report lower stress levels.
  • Increased happiness: Remote workers rate themselves an 8.10 in terms of how happy they are at work, versus a 7.42 for all workers.
  • Access to a wider talent pool: Remote work allows you to recruit diverse talent from around the world, and may be particularly appealing to some underrepresented groups. For instance, disabled and semi-retired professionals who would prefer not to deal with accessibility challenges in the workplace and during the commute.
  • Lower costs: Remote work doesn’t have to cost you anything, and could actually save you $11,000 per employee each year. Employees also save between $2,000 and $7,000 per year.
  • Less greenhouse gas: If people with compatible jobs and a desire to work from home did so half the time, the greenhouse gas reduction would be the equivalent of taking the entire New York State workforce permanently off the road.

How to create a remote work policy

Create a policy that’s thought out, fair, and documented so there’s no confusion:

1. Who is eligible for remote work?
While sixteen percent of companies are fully remote, 40 percent take a hybrid approach. If you choose the latter, determine who will be eligible for remote work.

Will you offer it to full-time and part-time employees? Permanent and temporary? Do employees need to work at your company for a specific length of time before they are eligible?

2. How often is remote work allowed?
Next, determine when employees can work remotely.

Are eligible employees allowed to work from home all the time, or should they limit remote work to a certain number of days each week? Should the team agree on specific work from home days, so they’re all in the office on the same day to sync up in person? Will you only offer remote work on an as-needed basis, to attend personal obligations like doctors appointments and school plays? Will you offer remote work to sick employees who are feeling up to working, but don’t want to spread their illness to the rest of the office?

Interestingly, Gallup found that employee engagement increases when employees work from home only 3 to 4 days a week, and spend the remainder of their time working in a location with their coworkers.

3. What’s the process for getting remote work approved?
In a hybrid model, you may want to set rules about how remote work will be approved.

For instance, should time off be logged in your Human Resources Information System (HRIS), or in a spreadsheet? Is manager approval required before taking advantage of remote work? Is there minimum notice employees must give to have remote work approved?

4. What are your expectations for remote employees?
Finally, set expectations for your remote workers.

When should they be working? Some companies allow flex hours so employees can finish work on their own timetable. This tends to work well when employees might be working from home to accommodate personal obligations. Other companies ask that remote workers all commit to a block of time that the entire company will be online. This model can help a fully remote team collaborate better.

How do you expect remote employees to communicate with colleagues? What tools will you use, and what response times do you expect on those tools? If you have a block of time you expect all employees to be online and available, it’s reasonable to expect employees to respond fairly quickly within that time frame.

How will you measure the productivity of your remote workers? Establish goals with each remote employee, just as you should do with office employees, and regularly communicate about the progress made on those goals.

What happens if employees don’t meet these expectations? For a hybrid model, you can revoke remote work privileges. Fully remote teams, on the other hand, may require written warnings that lead up to termination.

Best practices for remote work

  • Empower remote workers with the right tools: The right tools and technology make remote work productive. For instance, a real-time communication app like Slack allows employees  to communicate and share files/content more easily, while a video conferencing solution like Zoom is very effective for the one-on-one as well as team meetings. Project management software like Trello or Asana gives everyone visibility on project tasks, due dates, and completions. Other useful tools include Google Doc for sharing documents, 1Password for managing passwords.
  • Encourage plenty of communication: While tools may enable communication, it’s still up to your employees to use those tools. Encourage regular manager communications, perhaps through weekly or bi-weekly one-on-ones, as well as team communications.
  • Provide remote-specific employee onboarding: Remote work may be new to your employees, and even seasoned remote workers need to learn what remote work looks like at your organization. A strong employee onboarding program should prepare remote employees to be successful in their roles. This includes a recap of your remote work policy, and goal setting. You should try to adapt your office employee onboarding program to meet the unique needs of remote workers. For instance, making sure computers are delivered on time, introducing them to other employees, and telling them what to do for IT issues.
  • Plan for team building time: Remote work can feel isolating at times, making team building all the more important. Meet via video calls, rather than over the phone or email, to get some virtual facetime. When a new employee starts, you may ask all employees to gather on your video conference tool with their breakfast and coffee for a meet and greet. Also meet in person when you can, even if it’s just once or twice a year.

Final thoughts on remote work

It’s estimated that half of the US workforce holds a job that’s compatible with remote work, but 44 percent of companies don’t allow it. This is an enormous opportunity for smaller companies to compete against bigger companies in the war for talent.

With the advances in technology, access to high-speed internet, and the many benefits that remote work offer, there’s no reason for any company to hold back on remote work anymore. And, with so many different ways to structure your remote work policy, you’re bound to find a solution that works for you.

If you’re just starting out, perhaps you offer this perk one day a week for a finite amount of time—like this summer. Let your employees know that you’re trying it out and will expand the program if it’s successful during the pilot period. This gives you the flexibility to adjust your policy as you learn what works, and doesn’t work, for your unique organization.

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