The concept of the 9-5 workforce that sits at an office desk from Monday to Friday only is one that’s rapidly becoming archaic. Many small business employees will want or need to work from home, or remotely, or while travelling.
This isn’t such a bad idea per se; a mixed mode workforce potentially has a lot of flexibility when it comes to working hours and response rates.
Equally for small businesses there can be significant financial benefits if you don’t have to provide for larger scale office spaces for employees who work remotely. Of course, depending on the needs of your business, you may need to scale or account for remote employees as a nature of the work that you do.
But how do you do that without losing money, whether it’s due to employees not doing what they should, mediocre communications or the costs involved with supplying necessary tools – especially technology tools such as laptops, mobile phones or internet connectivity – and succeed?
There’s no one tried and true formula here, because the needs of small and medium sized businesses can vary depending on your industry, location and scale.
But if you’re shifting to a more mobile or remote workforce, there are steps you can take to make the most of this transition while limiting costs and maximising productivity and employee satisfaction:
1. Establish the ground rules – but trust your staff
There are technological solutions that can track staff work time down to the second while in front of laptops or on mobile phones. They do function, but in many cases you’re likely to be doing more harm to your relationship with your employees than good.
That’s because you can do much better by setting goals or expectations from every remote worker upfront, and then regularly checking in to both account for their time and provide any support or resources they might need.
A remote employee who feels as though “big brother” is staring over their shoulder every single second is going to be actively disinclined to do their best.
An employee who feels that they’re trusted and empowered to do the job to the best of their abilities is an employee who will in most cases do just that.
2. Give your employees the tools and authority they need
There is a difference between working remotely or in an office (or workplace) team for sure. One of the bigger challenges for small businesses is in working out what tools should be made available to employees working out of office, whether that’s a working-from-home arrangement, a remote office or working while travelling for the business.
Here you need to consider the mobile needs of your employees. In a traditional office setup there’s not too much of a problem with an employee having a desktop computer at their desk, but that may need to give way to a notebook if they’re working while travelling or remotely.
You may need to consider additional software licences for any applications you use, as well as the use of virtual private network software to ensure business security.
Likewise, while you shouldn’t overdo it in terms of employee monitoring – or at least make it entirely transparent that it’s in place if genuinely needed – you may also need to look into remote computer management to ensure business machines are properly updated and protected from malware.
The last thing you want is a ransomware attack where the vector came from an offsite employee’s laptop that wasn’t properly secured!
Geeks2U’s Cyber Security Health Check service can be of use here to ensure that any system that connects to your business is properly secured.
3. Don’t overuse video meetings
It’s very simple these days to set up a video conference call across a wide range of software packages – tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, for example – and they do have their uses, whether you need a one-on-one chat with a single sales manager, or you need an all-hands-on-deck meeting to discuss upcoming business challenges.
However, just like too many real-world meetings can drain the time of anyone, too many video meetings can do just the same – and worse. Video meeting fatigue presents itself as a more challenging prospect, as many people find the idea of being “on camera” a lot more challenging than being “in person”, especially in a working from home environment.
Again, you can do a lot to make this a more comfortable environment by setting expectations, whether that’s to ensure all meetings are done with employees appropriately dressed – nobody wants a business forecast from anyone in their pyjamas – or by setting strict time limits on video meetings to minimise the prospect of meeting burnouts. For some businesses what works well here is setting specific “no meetings” days, so that employees know they have a block of time set aside when they can get practical work done without distractions.
4. Make remote working a plus to your business success with time fluidity
Many small business owners fret that if they allow their staff to work from home or remotely, they’ll simply slack off while racking up the billable hours.
That can happen – and well defined goals and expectations can do a lot to minimise it – but you can and should also consider the benefits of employees who aren’t onsite all of the time.
Specifically, where it aligns with your business needs, you can offer a more flexible workspace that works around your employees lives, making them happier and more willing to go that extra mile for you when needs must.
Instead of a stressed-out employee who knows they’ve got to dash to collect the kids from school and then back to the office, an employee who knows they’re trusted to manage the school pickup and get back to work is more likely to then put in the extra effort in those additional hours.
Equally, employees who don’t have to fret about the costs of the daily commute – whether that’s by driving themselves or catching public transport – may be available both earlier and later to get into the working day, upping their productivity in time spaces that were previously inaccessible to you. What’s more, they’re likely to be much happier with their reduced commuting costs, stress over finding carpark spaces or needs to escape the office for lunch. Again, there’s a balancing act in play here and there can be big benefits to making time to have those employees in the office when practical.
5. Make remote employees feel like part of the team
If an employee isn’t in the office any more – or all that often – it can be very easy for them to start to feel disconnected from your workforce, and as a result less enthused about the work at hand.
It’s important from a management side to ensure that this doesn’t happen, although the ways you can handle that will vary depending on your business circumstances, size and location.
For some employees, especially if you have a dispersed workforce across many sites, having a simple (but short!) end of week catchup video meeting may be all you need to keep your company’s culture alive while productivity grows, because it’ll let all your staff feel like part of the business on a regular basis.
For other employees, making sure that you schedule regular one on one video chats, or having an open email “suggestion box” might be the right approach to keeping your employees happy and productive. In some cases, this may involve a disciplinary approach if an employee truly isn’t making the grade for whatever reason as well.
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