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5 Ways Remote Work is Shifting How Businesses Operate

In the shadow of a worldwide pandemic, remote work became more than commonplace — it became mandatory. With stay-at-home orders and social distancing expectations set across the country, business as usual — in one building, with multiple people working closely together — was impossible. Even as restrictions start to ease around the country, some businesses are still hesitant to reopen fully, or they’re doing so in stages.

According to an analysis by Flexjobs and Global Workplace Analytics, remote work has grown 44 percent over the last five years, so some companies and employees were prepared for this kind of shift. Those that weren’t, however, are finding they need to consider not only how to sell and differentiate themselves within a new remote-work business model, but also how to create a framework of success for their employees. As the months tick on, a few key areas are emerging where remote work seems to be shifting traditional business structures as we used to know them.

Technology: Keeping up with the Joneses

Creating a productive work-from-home environment for employees should be a top concern for employers, including ensuring that the team has everything they need to get their job done by keeping up with the technology that can help. Assuming employees have the proper setup to work from home can be a costly waste of time and energy. According to one study, 47 percent of companies have not offered to cover the cost of supplies that their team members need now that they are working from home. At the same time, another one found that one in four employees didn’t have the tools to succeed in their jobs even before working from home. Providing an equipment budget for remote workers is a considerable upfront cost, but fighting tech issues is frustrating, and if you consider the time that could be saved, it will likely be worth it in the end. When considering where to start, a new computer monitor and headphones top the list of employee wants at 14.67 percent and 11.50 percent, respectively.

Once employees are properly equipped, the use of new technology and applications is a secondary way to help everyone do their jobs efficiently. Although Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become household names over the past few months, more businesses are getting creative with the technology they’re using to run their businesses in a new world. Some are even taking technology that’s traditionally been used in other fields and adapting it to fit their needs. For example, DocuSign, a platform that allows people to sign legal documents online electronically, has always been popular with companies that need to get contracts out to people in different locations. Realtors trying to get the paperwork signed on a home closing during a pandemic are now finding it equally useful.

Efficiency: Measuring multiple factors in a remote work scenario

Efficiency, from a business standpoint, can be measured by two factors: time and cost. Both can be considered independently.

Time: In some cases, employers are struggling to motivate and connect with teams that are no longer working under their watchful eye. This can translate into wasted time. Fixing an issue with time efficiency involves narrowing in on the problem and allowing for flexibility to implement the new strategies necessary to fix it. For example:

  • Allowing employees to block off work-only timeframes during their day, free from calls and video conferences, might help (even though web-based meetings tend to be better planned and more apt to stay on message). Still, a little understanding can go a long way, especially in today’s stressful environment. According to one survey, employees say that peers and camaraderie are the No. 1 reason they go the extra mile, even above money. (Feeling encouraged and recognized were also high on the list.) Helping to foster those relationships within a company — especially when everyone is working separately — can go a long way to creating a cohesive and motivating environment. One other popular time tracker — software that monitors online employee activity — has seen an uptick and has been covered extensively. As you can probably guess, these systems often have the opposite effect, leaving employers feeling more stressed and less encouraged when it comes to boss/employee relationships.
  • Redirecting employee attention to a different area that draws upon their skillsets and forces them to produce a stable outcome is another way to keep employees engaged. Like with technology, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. During lulls, have employees focus on new client acquisition, market research, or new market initiatives, take a course in SEO best practices or increase their online presence. This might help employees feel empowered and creative and can also strengthen your bottom line. Case in point: 24 percent of small businesses don’t use social media as a marketing channel. Now is the perfect time to utilize your employees’ skills to make the most of that all-important (and free) lines of communication.

Cashflow: Over the past few months, savvy business owners have been paying attention to where their business may have been incurring avoidable expenses. An efficient company runs as lean as possible, without sacrificing any of the quality customers have come to expect. This could mean trimming personnel, scaling back on business travel and entertainment in the future — it could even mean ridding yourself entirely of the monetary confines of a brick and mortar business front. Coworking spaces may be “virtually empty” right now, but when the pandemic passes, they’ll offer remote employees economic options. They also seem to inspire productivity among their users: According to data from coworking company LaunchPad, their member businesses have created over 9,000 jobs and raised over $230 million in equity capital.

Talent: Forecasting the future of hiring

How the impact of COVID-19 plays out for business in the long term has yet to be determined, but one thing seems obvious: the future of recruitment will look different. According to one survey, 43 percent of respondents said they would like to work remotely more often, even after the economy reopens. This means that businesses should prepare to be more open-minded about work-from-home opportunities in the future, allowing for a deeper pool of talent from which to draw. Businesses that open themselves to remote employees are no longer at the mercy of those who live within a reasonable commute. Instead, the best people for the job can consider applying, even if they live halfway across the country. If that’s not enough incentive, research from Global Workplace Analytics estimates that each remote, full-time employee saves their company between $20,000 and $37,000 per year.

For better or for worse, COVID-19 has shifted the way that businesses operate. The small business world has been through interruptions before, though, and smart business owners are adept at bouncing back. Plus, a little flexibility and ingenuity can go a long way.

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