Even before lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in 2020 moved practically every business to remote operations, a large portion of the American workforce was finding ways to make working from home a viable option for its employees. After all, allowing employees the flexibility of working on their own schedule makes for a happier, more productive team, and eliminating the expense of a brick-and-mortar office location can make a big difference for your bottom line.
But as many businesses discovered when they switched to remote work at the start of the pandemic, operating like this does bring plenty of challenges.
It comes down to knowing what works and what doesn’t work when you’re running a remote business. The reality is that it’s much different from running a business where everyone is working in the same centralized location. It requires both employers and employees to make some changes to their mindset and their work style if they’re going to be successful.
Here are a few important steps employers and employees can take if they want to be part of a great remote business.
Employers should be clear about all expectations
The biggest change about working remotely is that people aren’t right there in the same place at the same time. You need to be clear about what’s expected of them. For example, you might give people the flexibility to work whatever hours they choose as long as their work gets done, but they must work at least four hours during regular 9:00-5:00 business hours every weekday. If somebody from within your team sends them an email or a message, they are expected to respond within 24 hours. Having rules like this in place will ensure everyone is able to work together effectively even if they aren’t all in the same place.
In some cases, overcommunication is the key. If you need something completed by a certain time, ask for it. On the flip side, if you need an extension on something, say so. Communicating among team members is even more important when you all are collaborating on the same projects from different places. It helps if you have a sole means of communication, such as Slack, instead of trying to juggle multiple modes of communication like email and text messages.
Employees should avoid being too casual (in other words, be as professional as you would be at the office)
Some employees might think that because they are working remotely, they can be more casual than they would be if they were in the office with someone. Let your team members know that certain behaviors are still inappropriate for a professional setting, even if that professional setting is just a Zoom call.
Remember that certain comments or topics should be off limits (don’t make any crude jokes or use any foul language). Additionally, employees might not have a dress code they need to adhere to, but they should at least be presentable when they are jumping into a virtual meeting. Wearing your pajamas or having a huge mess in the background could hurt your credibility among your team members.
Employers should cover all the expenses they normally would if they had an office
One of the benefits of having a remote company is that you save a lot of money on things like rent or other infrastructure costs. That doesn’t mean, however, that some of the expenses you would cover should be wholly absorbed by your employees. If they need a computer or a phone to do their job successfully, you might consider reimbursing them in part for these expenses. You could also consider offering a monthly allowance for small office supplies they might need (you know, the items you would typically keep in your supply cabinet, such as notepads, pens, paper clips, or sticky notes).
Employees should find a work zone that works best for them
Some people flourish working from their dining room table during typical daytime hours. Others might find that they do their best work early in the morning — when they first wake up at 4:00 AM until the sun rises at 7:00 AM. Others might do better working late at night — they get their best work done after midnight. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your routine, and as long as it isn’t inconveniencing your teammates, get the work done when it’s best for you. You can also be just as flexible with your location as you are with your hours — if you need a change of scenery in the afternoons, scoot out to a coffee shop and work from there.
Employers should find a project management platform that works for their needs
When you’re all working in an office together, it’s easy enough for your team to collaborate on projects via an office network. When you’re operating remotely, your employees will likely need a project management platform that will show them what projects are currently in the works, who is responsible for what part of the process, when each step is supposed to be completed, and important notes everyone should know. You can have the confidence of knowing where each project is in its process, and if something goes wrong, it’s easier to pinpoint where the problem occurred.
Employees should seek to create a work-life balance for themselves
When you work from home, it’s easy to let the line blur between when you’re working and when you’re living your life. This is a fast track to burnout. In other situations, it impedes your productivity simply because you keep getting distracted by personal obligations. Set designated hours for yourself and then make a point of not checking work emails or checking the status of a project for the rest of the night. If you have a friend or family member who assumes you’re always available for favors or social activities just because you work from home, communicate your office hours to them and let them know you can interrupt your work only for emergencies.