Remote working and virtual teams are in.
Employees are demanding it.
Employers are starting to see the benefits of it.
And with the recent COVID-19 outbreak, it helps everyone stay safe as we make our way through this crisis.
Remote working is not for everyone, but a lot of companies, or parts of companies, can do it.
For a lot of business owners, it isn’t immediately obvious how they can set up remote working arrangements for their staff.
As someone who recently transitioned a four-office thirty-something-person organisation over to remote working, here’s exactly how you go about it.
Who Is Remote Working For?
I’ve written this guide specifically for business owners.
If you are an employee looking to make the most out of your existing remote working arrangement, head on over here for how to stay productive while working remotely.
Almost any non-storefront small or medium-sized business can set up remote working for their employees.
In particular, this is great for:
- Any service business based on knowledge work.1Almost all of which is done on computer nowadays.2With the exception being if you really have to be on client site.
- Any online business apart from the physical inventory side.
- Any business where most of the work is done on computer.
Some common examples of businesses that can implement remote working include:
- Professionals of any sort.
- Tutors and teachers of any sort.
- Coaches except for in-person trainers.3That being said, there are plenty of online personal trainers nowadays.
- Consultants of any sort.
- Ecommerce store owners who outsource their fulfilment.
- Development teams.
Businesses with storefronts or the need to see clients face-to-face can usually set up their back offices for remote working.
Why Should I Bother With Remote Working? What Are My Benefits as a Business Owner?
1. Health issues: COVID-19
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: COVID-19.
If things go bad, you want your employees safe, happy, healthy and productive at home… not at-risk on public transport or in the office.
You also want them to continue working and producing, rather than just taking the time off.
With that out of the way, let’s look at some of the other benefits.
2. Benefits for your team
Your team will greatly benefit from remote working arrangements.
Now before you say “But that’s for them, not me” remember – when you have happy employees, they are more productive and this is better for the business.
How does remote working benefit your employees?
- They don’t have to commute, saving time and sanity for both them and you.4It’s also good for the environment.
- Remote working provides a higher degree of autonomy. Studies have shown that more work autonomy can lead to higher levels of job satisfaction, performance and creativity.
There is a bit of a magical effect that takes place when staff are able to work from home for the first time. It’s like the training wheels on their productivity have been removed, and they become incredibly efficient and productive.
3. Uncover the Slackers
One of the interesting things that happens with remote working arrangements, is you very quickly discover who has been slacking off at the office.
When you can’t use “sitting at their desk” as an indicator that someone is working, the only thing you can gauge productivity and performance on is results.
What you will find, is that some of your employees just don’t produce.
By setting up remote working arrangements, you uncover drop kick workers who needed to be replaced long ago.
4. Hire the best people
If your business can run with a virtual team of people in your own city, then why can’t your team consist of people from anywhere in the world?
Well, it can.
When you have the infrastructure and systems in place that allow for remote working, you can hire people from anywhere in the world.
This means you can hire the best consultants, the best designers, the best anything… no matter where they live and work.5You’ll also discover how truly convoluted your local employment and taxation laws are as well.
5. Your employees will work longer hours
That’s right. Your employees will work longer hours.
One of the interesting things about remote working arrangements is that work-and-life tends to blur together for employees.6And they will finally know what it feels like to be a business owner 😈.
Most of them end up putting in more hours and producing more output when they’re able to work from home.
6. Modernisation of business systems
In the process of setting up remote working arrangements, you will be forced to update any antiquated systems and processes.
File folders, fax machines, landlines and file servers… will all go.
They will be replaced by faster, cheaper and more agile technologies and platforms that are today’s best practices and you will see your business’ output skyrocket as a result.
7. Lower overhead and costs
After an initial setup expense, letting your team work remotely can actually lower your costs.
You can reduce commercial lease costs by having a smaller or less expensive office.
You will also lower other fixed costs, as your employees will pay for their own heating/air-conditioning and Internet costs at home.
I have mentioned that because your team can work from anywhere, you can hire people from anywhere. You will discover that you can tap into better talent at a lower wage cost simply because they don’t live in your particular city.
You will also be surprised at how many staff will take less pay in return for flexibility in their schedule and remote working arrangements.
8. Benefits of remote working for you
When your entire team is remote, you (as the business owner) also get to be remote.
This means that you don’t have to micromanage your staff anymore, as work will become results-based.
You’ll free up your own schedule as well, and can put the extra time towards family/freedom/whatever you want.
Most business owners will actually discover that they can do everything in half the time every week, and wonder what they were doing for all those years.
How To Set Up Remote Working In Your Business
Now that you know why you are letting your team work remotely, let’s look at how to set it all up.
1. Handle your inner game as a business owner
The first part of setting up your business for remote working is to handle your own inner game (mindset) as a business owner.
You need to make a clear decision that this is what you want to do and that while it will work… there may be a couple of hiccups along the way, and that’s OK.
Once you have done that, you need to learn to trust your staff.
“But wait Aaron, I already trust my staff.”
OK then: do you feel the need to monitor your staff while they work from home?
If you answered no, then you’re all good – jump ahead to the next section.
If you answered yes, you have some work to do.
By far the most common comment I get from clients setting up remote teams is “But I don’t have a system for monitoring my staff”.7I especially hear this a lot from Asian business owners.
You don’t need to monitor your staff.
Your staff are supposed to be responsible adults. You are supposed to assess their work, not the number of hours they sit in a chair.
You need to trust them to do their work, and be prepared to take action if they don’t deliver.
Another way to look at it is this:
A good worker is a good worker, regardless of if they are remote or not.
If an employee goes remote and after an initial adjustment period their work performance remains low… that means that they were not a good worker to begin with, and should have been let go long ago.
2. Set up your infrastructure and systems for working remotely
Onto the fun part, your systems and infrastructure.
Your business needs to be paperless or at least have everything in digital duplicate for this to work well.
You want to have as many of your systems in the cloud as possible, including:
- Project/task management.
- Email, contacts, calendars.
- Time tracking for client work.
You want to have solid communication tools set up, including:
- Team chat, for example, Slack.
- Phones for team members that need them.8For team members who don’t need an office number, they have their personal phones.
- Video conferencing technologies like Zoom.
You will also need to have your workforce on laptops as much as possible. You can also let some of them use their home computers, or let them take a machine home from the office.9Be sure to check your security, legislative and insurance requirements first.
3. Set up a hierarchy of communication
See my guide to the Business Hierarchy of Communication.
It covers what messages are to be sent over what mediums (calls, DMs, emails etc) and more importantly, why.
4. Set up your team alignment for remote working
Hopefully you have your company’s strategic plan in place already.
From this you will also have a suitable meeting rhythm set up so that you can align everyone to the company’s priorities on a regular basis.
If you don’t, then at the very minimum you should have a system of daily huddles/standups or written daily updates.
A daily huddle/standup is a brief daily call that aligns your team for the day.
Daily updates are a quick note that each staff member writes in your corporate wiki that lists:
- Their tasks.
- Who they need to get in touch with.
- Any notes.
Daily updates are great for accountability and force team members to solidify what they are doing each day by writing it down.
5. Implement remote working with your team
When all the above is in place, you need to have an in-person conversation with your team and explain the ground rules to them.
You may wish to start with a couple of trusted staff members first, and see how well they adapt.
It needs to be made clear that this is a trial arrangement and that remote working is a privilege, not a right. Not following any of the rules is grounds for dismissal.10Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. Check with your lawyer for local employment laws.
Here are some things I recommend all business owners explain and expect of their staff:
- There may be some set overlap hours, where everyone is expected to be working and online at the same time. This is to facilitate meetings, calls and workflow.
- Outside those hours, working hours are flexible. You won’t be monitoring employees anyway, so it shouldn’t really matter what hours they are working.
- Work must get done. No exceptions.
- Messages must be answered promptly during normal business hours. No exceptions.
- If they have to come to the office, they must be on time and there is to be no fuss.
- If a call has been scheduled where multiple people are dialling in, everyone must be on time.
- A certain amount of flexibility is to be given by both the business and employees, because sometimes business and life are complicated, and things happen.
- Everything must be written down in the CRM/task management system. If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.
- They’re welcome to come to the office whenever they want as per normal if that’s what they prefer.
- What people write and how they write it is super important. Tonality and meaning can get muddled over text. To avoid any misunderstandings, it is better to err on the side of being explicit.
- Read my article on how to remain productive while working remotely from home.
Common Concerns With Remote Working
Here are the most common concerns that business owners have with remote working arrangements.
How do we see clients?
As mentioned, businesses that still have to see clients face-to-face can at least set up their back offices to be remote.
Or they can have remote working arrangements where staff only come into the office for client meetings.
Remote working is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can maintain perhaps a smaller office for client meetings and spend the majority of time working remotely.
I think most business owners will also find it surprising just how many clients are comfortable with talking over a video call nowadays.
How do I know my employees are working?
Go back and read this section.
This is all in your head.
Any kind of monitoring system or always-on video system is just plain silly.11I won’t name and shame the companies that make these apps and systems.
The amazing thing about remote working is that work either gets done or it doesn’t.
If it gets done, people are working.
If it doesn’t get done, people are not working.
There is no hiding behind excuses of “Oh I got caught up in client calls all day” or “I had so many admin tasks today”.
As a business owner you care about the value that your team produces, not how many hours they sit in an office chair under fluorescent lights.
It used to be that companies going remote would consider that some staff do well under remote working arrangements and some don’t, but that isn’t the case anymore.
Let’s be honest – if someone needs someone else to look over their shoulder in order for them to work, you don’t want that person working for you.
The employment market is now competitive enough that you don’t have to accommodate people like this.12Plus you know, you can now hire people from anywhere in the world.
The fact that you are reading this article means you are a business owner who is looking to improve things for both your team and your customers.
Businesses like this are rare, and pretty awesome. You should not have to accommodate staff who don’t produce when not micromanaged.
How can we communicate quickly if we can’t talk in person?
Set up a proper hierarchy of communication and your staff will be just as accessible as they were in the office.
Isn’t all the equipment needed for this expensive?
There will be some initial expenditure, mostly in the form of laptops and phones and perhaps software if you aren’t already set up for that.
All these things represent the direction that business technology is headed in anyway, and are items you would have had to upgrade to eventually.
What about offices in different timezones or locations?
Different locations and timezones is actually less of a problem with remote working arrangements.
This is because people working from home end up working all sorts of strange hours and you usually end up with more overlap than with everyone at singular offices.
The best thing to do is to agree on some standard overlap hours between timezones if it’s required.
Does this mean I have to give everyone unlimited vacation days?
No, this is entirely up to you.
Some companies offer unlimited vacation days and I think it’s good practice, but it has nothing to do with working remote.
What To Do Next
This guide has given you enough starting points to implement remote working arrangements in your business.
You can read more about essential apps for remote work here, how remote working differs from a traditional office here, and share this work from home guide with your team here.
- Almost all of which is done on computer nowadays.
- With the exception being if you really have to be on client site.
- That being said, there are plenty of online personal trainers nowadays.
- It’s also good for the environment.
- Saragih, S. (2011). The Effects of Job Autonomy on Work Outcomes: Self Efficacy as an Intervening Variable. International Research Journal of Business Studies, 4, 203-215. doi:10.21632/irjbs.4.3.203-215
- Sia, S. K. & Appu, A. (2015). Work Autonomy and Workplace Creativity: Moderating Role of Task Complexity. Global Business Review, 16, 772-784. doi:10.1177/0972150915591435
- You’ll also discover how truly convoluted your local employment and taxation laws are as well.
- And they will finally know what it feels like to be a business owner 😈.
- I especially hear this a lot from Asian business owners.
- For team members who don’t need an office number, they have their personal phones.
- Be sure to check your security, legislative and insurance requirements first.
- Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. Check with your lawyer for local employment laws.
- I won’t name and shame the companies that make these apps and systems.
- Plus you know, you can now hire people from anywhere in the world.
Photos by KAL VISUALS and Allie Smith.