Table of Contents
Table of Contents
What Is Remote Work?
Remote work (commonly known as “telecommuting”) is the practice of employees working from a location that isn’t a traditional office space. Employees who work remotely often work from home, a co-working space, or anywhere away from company headquarters and fellow employees.
Remote work gained popularity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed company offices around the world in early 2020 to slow the spread of the virus. Even as companies began to open their offices again in late 2021, a majority of employees expressed continued desire to work remotely because of its many benefits.
One variation of remote work is hybrid work, which combines in-person and remote work in different ways to meet the needs of both employees and organizations.
“I enjoy coming into the office. But do I think it’s needed every single work day? No. In fact, there are days where I accomplish so much more working from home, simply because my team can’t walk over to my desk and ask me a question. I don’t think 100% remote work is the answer or needs to be offered in the recruitment process, but I do believe hybrid options are now essential.” — Abby Olson, VP of training at Crumbl Cookies HQ
Why Do People Work Remotely?
Working remotely offers a host of benefits for employees, mainly centered on job flexibility, reduced commuting costs, and even reduced living expenses.
- Job flexibility. Working from home gives employees more ownership over their schedule so they can be more attentive to family and personal matters as they arise, like taking kids to school.
- Reduced commuting cost.Working from home saves money on fuel and other transportation costs associated with a commute.
- Reduced living expenses. Remote employees enjoy the option of living in areas away from company headquarters, where the cost of living might be less.
- Safety. For many individuals, working remotely helps maintain their health and avoid illness, especially during pandemics.
Benefits of Remote Work for Employers and Employees
In addition to the reasons why employees choose to work remotely, here are some of the benefits employers and employees share.
In many ways, having a remote workforce reduces costs for both the employer and employee. While employees reduce their transportation costs associated with the commute and even their living expenses, employers may not need to pay for a large office space and in-office amenities, saving a significant amount of money for the company.
As they spend less time commuting, employees can live more productive lives. While they may still work the same schedule, employees now have added time for their personal lives (like taking those kids to school). That added time may decrease stress in general. Additionally, working remotely may provide employees with the alone time they need to complete work projects with fewer interruptions. Naturally, more productive employees mean a more productive company.
Diversity and Inclusion
Because it offers a more flexible work environment than the traditional in-office 9-to-5 workplace, remote work provides employees of different backgrounds with more opportunities to be included in the workforce. Also, job candidates who might have not applied for a position because of company location may be able to land that dream job, even if they live on the other side of the country. Having a larger candidate pool also benefits the company.
Happier, More Autonomous Employees
Many remote employees are happy with the autonomy that remote work offers them. The resulting ownership over their projects motivates many employees to offer more quality care and effort to their work because they feel trusted and respected.
Disadvantages of Remote Work for Employers and Employees
Here are some of the challenges and hurdles associated with remote work for employers and employees.
Compliance With State Laws
For remote companies with employees in multiple states, things can get very complicated for HR very quickly. While this may not impact the employee significantly, HR needs to keep up not only with employment law for each state in which they have employees, but they must also comply with payroll and income-tax-withholding laws and agencies. Companies must be compliant with each state’s laws where they have employees on the ground.
A Costly Transition
For many employers and companies that have already invested significantly into physical facilities, company infrastructure and employee amenities, the idea of transitioning to a remote or hybrid workforce may be expensive. With more employees working remotely, the return on investment for facilities may decrease significantly, thus being a greater cost to the employer.
While many employees enjoy freedom from interruptions as they work on projects, others may suffer the loneliness that comes from working remotely. Without being in the physical presence of their coworkers or managers, remote employees may feel forgotten or left out, especially if they are working on projects alone.
Poor Work/Life Balance
Many employees find it difficult to maintain a work/life balance while working from home. Instead of having a specific place of work, an individual’s work and living spaces become the same, which may lead to working too many hours and/or intrude on family time or social lives.
Tips for Managing a Remote Workforce
Here are some tips for you as you navigate implementing or managing a remote workforce.
Tip 1: Ensure Workplace Equity
For many companies that wish to implement a hybrid workplace, HR managers need to ensure that all care, benefits, and activities remain accessible to all employees, regardless of their work location. Ensuring workplace equity helps all employees feel like they are a part of the company and avoid making anyone feel left out. This is particularly difficult when some people are in the office with managers and for meetings while others are at home, feeling less connected and fearing that their value is decreasing along with their physical presence.
Tip 2: Maintain Open Communication
If your company is considering a remote or hybrid workforce, make sure you have a solid culture of communication. This means teaching employees how to use business messaging apps such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, helping people get comfortable with video meetings and software, putting norms in place as to their use, and seeking other ways to keep communication alive and well in your organization.
If you’re already using a communication app like Slack but continue to be plagued by miscommunications and poor collaboration, then you might want to add a project management tool to your communication stack as well. Apps like Asana or ClickUp make it easy for employees to communicate within the context of their projects or assignments. This ensures that to-do lists, deadlines, and other key tasks are always top of mind.
If you currently have multiple teams using different tools to communicate, start by creating at least one common denominator. There should be a way for every single person in the company to communicate with each other. Establish a primary form of contact for each communication channel (i.e. text-based, video-based, etc).
Next, decide if there are opportunities to unify or consolidate teams into a single service that could potentially save the company money. For example, if you’re currently paying to use multiple project management software products, work with your teams to see if you can get everyone using the same one. If certain departments have found that specific software tools allow them to work more productively, then consider letting those departments keep those tools.
Tip 3: Develop Effective Remote Training Programs
Remote employees need to be trained just as much as in-person employees do! If your workforce is fully or partially remote, it’s important that you set up a training program that will allow every team member to receive the development they need to do their job properly. Wondering how this plays out in real life? Here’s how Crumbl adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing a remote training program.
Abby Olson, VP of training at Crumbl Cookies HQ, said, “Prior to COVID, we were doing all of our franchise owner training in-person, hands-on in Orem, UT. When the pandemic hit, we tried to do all types of training … but one that we incorporated into our training process, that won’t ever leave, is our digital training.
One of my directors, Spencer Foote, oversees this right now. Spencer has anywhere from 40-80 participants a week attend digital training. When Spencer took on this role, her first plan of action was to create something ‘scalable.’
She used to use Google Classroom as the learning platform, but now she uses Rise. But she’s not stopping there—she’s working with our in-house engineers at Crumbl HQ to develop our own learning and development digital training platform.”
While your company might not be ready to develop your own digital training platform, you can definitely follow Crumbl’s example by finding a learning management system (LMS) that meets your digital training needs.
Tip 4: Train Managers and Leaders for Remote Work
For many of the leaders in your company, managing and maintaining a high level of productivity with a remote team will not come naturally. It’s important that you take action to help your people level up.
Remote management training can come in many different forms. You may start by reading up and learning more about remote management yourself. Familiarize yourself with the patterns, attributes, and tools that successful teams use to find success in remote settings. Learn from established publications like Harvard Business Review, Hubspot Academy, or the Society for Human Resources Management.
Next, you might invest in a consulting or training program for each of your managers. Have them watch videos, conduct exercises, and complete training to improve their understanding of remote teams and how to build a productive culture while working remotely. Consider courses, training, and products from Hone, Global Integration, Remote-How, or Pluralsight.
Tip 5: Re-Think Performance Evaluation
While working from home, employees might be able to appear very busy, but how will you know if they’re truly being productive? The best way is to tie their performance to certain goals. Let’s review the three-step process for remote performance management.
- Review goals. Start by reviewing your company’s yearly goals, along with the key performance indicators for each of your departments. By looking at the high-level goals, you should begin to get a sense of what the employees working towards these goals should be measured on.
- Communicate regularly. Ensure that managers and leaders are regularly communicating with their direct reports. It has never been more important to have managers conducting weekly or bi-weekly meetings with each of their subordinates. These 1-on-1 meetings should focus on productivity and progress towards goals. Not only should an employee be able to explain what they’re working on and how they’ve been spending their time, but they should be able to describe why their work is pushing the company forward and helping the company (or the department) achieve its goals.
- Set expectations. Be very clear with employees about what is expected of them. How can an employee excel when they do not know what success looks like? How will a company expect high performance when it’s not clearly defined? If you want to build a culture of productivity while working remotely, it is vital that employees understand expectations.
Tip 6: Provide Resources to Help Employees Thrive
Numerous studies on employment have shown that productivity and happiness are directly tied in the workplace. If you want to build a productive culture while working remotely, you need to get serious about prioritizing employee happiness. One way to do this is by offering resources and perks that aren’t directly tied to work, but improve an employee’s overall quality of life. Here are a few ideas:
- Offer a “health day” (the opposite of a sick day where employees get a day off to take care of their mental health).
- Send a care package or a fun surprise to employees in the mail.
- Grant all employees access to a mental-health or meditation app.
- Share healthy recipes for delicious meals employees can make at home.
- Pay to have your employees’ house cleaned.
Tip 7: Foster Social Connection
Working remotely has made co-worker relationships more difficult to maintain. It’s particularly difficult to get to know new employees who complete all their onboarding from home and never even step foot in the office. How are these new employees supposed to feel welcome? How are your current employees supposed to learn to trust their new colleagues? These are difficult questions to answer, but definitely worth your time to figure out.
One option is to get employees together virtually at least once a month. However you decide to do it, gathering together as a group can be powerful. It’s a reminder to everyone in the company that they are not alone. It’s an opportunity to make friends, have fun social interaction, and get to know new people. These gatherings can also help newcomers assimilate into the company’s culture and familiarize themselves with the company’s traditions.
Tip 8: Always Ask for Feedback
Remote work is a relatively new concept, and there isn’t really a manual for how to implement it. Therefore, feedback is critical to providing an excellent employee experience. This means meeting regularly with all employees and asking for their feedback on HR policies and company practices related to remote or hybrid work. This may help expose discriminatory policies or identify employees who feel forgotten or left out.
Tip 9: Use Resources and Tools
Don’t do this alone. If your company has employees in several states, don’t fret: HRIS software options like Eddy, with their accompanying payroll experts and support centers, are here to help you. They provide assistance related to payroll, employment, and labor laws in different states, as well as counsel about how to write remote work policies for your company.
Helping Remote Workers Avoid Burnout
Many of the disadvantages of remote work are directly related to the mental, social, and even physical wellbeing of employees.
As the Covid-19 pandemic lingers and many employees continue to work in isolated, remote settings, employee burnout numbers are rising dramatically. In fact, one study shows that employee burnout while working from home is up 58%, and another estimates the number to be as high as 75%. Working from home has led many employees to work longer hours, be “available” at any time of the day or night, and blur the lines between work time and family time. Because the work day never seems to end, the stresses, pressures, and anxieties of work are following employees wherever they go. Use these tips to help employees avoid burnout when working remotely:
Create Virtual Stopping Signals
Employees working at home may feel like the work day never ends because they are unable to draw clear stopping points. At home, employees do not get the benefit of visual signals that tell them when the work day is ending (like coworkers packing up to go home). They work and work and work until they don’t have any more work left to do.
As a company, you can create virtual stopping signals that replicate what an emptying office at 5 p.m. used to provide. Perhaps you send out a Slack message at a certain time, letting everyone know you’re proud of the work they accomplished today and encouraging them to have a fun evening. Maybe you discourage managers from assigning new work to their direct reports past a certain time of day. Or maybe you ban work communication in any form after 6 p.m. to let your employees truly unplug and unwind.
Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to signal to employees that they can stop working at the end of each day.
Set Expectations and Make Priorities Clear
Because employees are working more than ever before, they may be struggling to understand what is expected of them. Perhaps they don’t know what the “most important” thing they can be doing is, and therefore they treat everything as if it’s the most important.
To help avoid employee burnout, sit down with your employees and find out what tasks they’re currently juggling. Help them to see which proverbial juggling balls are important to keep in the air, and which ones can be dropped with little or no consequence. When employees know what is expected of them and what to prioritize, they’ll make better decisions. They’ll also be more focused, more productive, and happier.
Encourage Employees to Take Extended Vacations
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a heavy, unfamiliar mental burden on all of us. A great way for employees to unload some of this burden is by taking a vacation.
You may have a vacation policy already. But are your employees currently taking advantage of it? Many surveys are suggesting that employees are taking fewer vacations than normal during the COVID-19 pandemic. This may be due to the fact that vacation and travel options are limited, but it may also be due to the fact that workers feel more tied to their job than ever before. So even if your employees have vacation days available, they may not be using them.
Turning this around will require action on your part. Some companies have recently announced what they’re calling, “Mandatory Vacation Days.” In fact, Chatbooks, a 150-employee company in Utah, recently implemented a new vacation policy that mandates that employees take “five consecutive business days off every quarter.”
How Remote Work Has Influenced the Role of HR
Remote work has had a significant impact on the role of HR, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated its sudden implementation.
HR in More States
Remote work has expanded the role of HR significantly, especially for small business HR managers. Many HR managers not only need to learn the employment laws and regulations for one state, but for many if their remote workforce lives in different states.
HR as the Coworker Who Doesn’t Forget About You
Some remote employees begin to feel lonely and left out. Now more than ever, HR needs to focus on including and connecting all the humans in the company.
As the workplace changes and new issues arise related to remote work, HR managers need to continually keep up with the new laws and cultural factors that impact your company’s productivity.
Questions You’ve Asked Us About Remote Work
Chris is an HR entrepreneur. Having worked with small businesses and start-ups throughout his career, Chris is passionate about pioneering HR departments in companies where they don’t currently exist. He currently works at Skill Struck, a local Utah tech company and is striving to be an expert in all things related to small business HR departments.