“Flexible” is a buzzword that’s used a lot nowadays – not least of all in business. According to research by IWG plc, 70 percent of professionals work remotely – a concept commonly known as telecommuting – at least one day a week, while 53 percent work remotely for at least half of the week.
Flexible working (including remote working) is a growing trend that has rooted itself firmly in business culture. Researchers even predict that by 2020, 50% of the US workforce will be remote. But how can company leaders build close-knit teams when everyone is working in different places?
Anyone who’s thinking about setting up a remote company will be reassured to hear that it’s do-able. This article will explore the ways in which founders can manage remote employees and make flexible working “work” for everyone – including their business’ bottom line.
What is a virtual company?
A virtual company is a viable option for entrepreneurs who want to run a business with minimal upfront expenditure and risk. Instead of being based in an office space, most operate remotely, for instance from a home office.
Some remote business founders and entrepreneurs even choose to run their businesses on the move (these people are often referred to as “digital nomads”).
Many virtual companies utilize the services that a virtual office provides, such as a business address and access to physical meeting spaces. This enables them to build credibility and access services such as hot desks and meeting rooms when needed.
Benefits for businesses
People choose to set up remote businesses for a number of reasons. One of the main motivators is to do with expenses – or lack of. Acquiring and paying the rent on an office space can be pricey, but remote businesses can operate from home.
Of course, having access to a physical space does have its benefits, and that’s where a virtual office comes in. Many virtual offices allow members to rent desk space on an ad hoc basis as and when they need (otherwise known as hotdesking). A change of scene can do wonders for productivity and creativity.
There are lots of services that make setting up a remote business easy, from easy-to-use accounting software to branding agencies that specialise in creating marketing collateral for small businesses. “Gig” websites like Upwork also make it easy for remote founders to find freelancers for one-off jobs.
Having less capital expenditure can also makes scaling that bit easier.
Benefits for employees
Research shows that offering flexible options such as remote working to employees can significantly improve well-being and productivity. It enables workers to spend more time with family and operate in a way that is more aligned with their preferences (we’re not all built for the 9-5 after all). They’re also likely to have more autonomy over their work.
It also makes sense from an economic perspective, as employees don’t have to waste time and money on commuting. Unlike freelancers, remote employees can still access the same benefits as in-house ones, such as sick pay and holiday leave.
Remote freelancers can often end up earning more than they would do in-house by working for multiple businesses. Eventually, they might decide to set up their own business, for example a freelance customer services executive might start up an agency.
It can be harder to hold onto talent as the head of a remote team, but with conscious effort and hard work, it is definitely feasible.
Managing and engaging remote employees
Firstly, it is important to set clear expectations and boundaries in relation to work hours and communicability. Some founders might need their remote employees to be on call between the usual office hours of 9-5, whereas others will be happy for their team to work whenever they want as long as the job gets done.
Communication is also key, as is staying connected with everyone and being responsive. Channels like Slack make chatting online easy, and project management platforms like Asana make collaborating with different people slicker than managing everything over email. (Similarly, Google Docs allows multiple people to work on the same doc at once.)
Checking in with individuals and the team as a whole is another must. Skype For Business or one of the numerous alternatives makes it easy to check in on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. To succeed in their role, people need context; they should be aware of what’s going on in their own department and the company as a whole.
Holding regular remote meetings also helps to alleviate the loneliness all remote workers can feel from time to time – especially if their role doesn’t involve speaking or directly collaborating with others.
Remote managers should provide their team with the resources and tools they need to thrive in their role. This could be their first remote position, and they might lack the technical knowhow. When setting deadlines or scheduling calls, time differences should also be taken into consideration.
Meetups and in-person special events
Physical meetups are not mandatory, but they are a good idea – especially if employees live in the same city or state and have access to transport. When arranging meetups and events, remote companies should always pay travel expenses.
Events and social gatherings with colleagues is something remote workers often miss out on, so throwing summer or festive party will definitely help in the bonding process. For more formal meetups and training sessions, coworking spaces or virtual offices come in very handy. Conference rooms in these flexible space solutions can usually be booked on an hourly or daily basis.
Although building a close-knit team in a fully remote companies can be challenging, it’s certainly not impossible. With the right level of communication and support, it can be rewarding for both the business and its employees.