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Remote working – making it work for your small business

The modern workplace is full of incentives for employees; wellness initiatives, cycle to work schemes and free breakfasts are now becoming as common as pensions schemes and dress-down Fridays. But what about if you didn’t have to come into the office, at all?


Remote working can be a viable option for micro-businesses and those with a firm grasp on the digital sector. Actively proven to reduce employee stress and lower overheads, working from home can also offer employees additional perks not found in the regular office – for example the ability to take a power-nap at lunchtime, or grab a healthy, brain-fuelling lunch instead of supermarket packaged sandwiches and canteen grub.


A survey by Virgin Media Business predicted that by 2022 nearly 60% of office-based employees will regularly work from home. Further to this, Office Angels research found that a third of employees reckon we’ll be saying bye-bye to commuting entirely by 2036. Get ahead of the curve and brush up on how remote working can benefit your business.


What is remote working?


Put simply, remote working allows an employee to work from a different location to the local office. This could be from a nearby coworking space, or even a different town, city or country entirely. The employee communicates with the company as though they were in the office – using email, Skype and other communication tools such as Slack to effectively stay in touch with their colleagues and management.


With technological advances such as remote administration, online project management and video conferencing, working remotely is much more feasible for everyday employees than it was just a few years ago.


Why should I allow remote working?


Research by Stanford University has found that remote workers are 13% more productive, take fewer sick days and enjoy a quieter working environment than their commuting colleagues. Omitting the daily slog back and forth from the office could also mean happier employees, and according to the Office for National Statistics:


“Commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non- commuters.”


Giving employees the option to work remotely shows that you have trust in the individual. They don’t need to be micromanaged and handheld throughout the working day – and if they do whilst they’re in the office, are they the ideal employee for the job in the first instance? Giving staff the option to work away from the office empowers the employee, another key factor to employee happiness.


Allowing employees to work remotely actively promotes a forward thinking environment within the office and gives an opportunity for different departments to collaborate more closely, for example HR working with marketing to ensure a smooth transition from on-site employee to remote worker.


Perhaps most importantly, remote working in the micro-business and SME sector could save your business money. Having one less person in the office will mean your business saves on overheads and rent space – why bring all your employees into a workspace when some of them could do the same job but from elsewhere?


A study by Oxford Economics found that replacing an employee can cost upwards of £30,000. Remote employees naturally have better longevity in job roles, mainly down to employee satisfaction and the fact that should life changes occur – for example a spouse needs to relocate for their job – the employee doesn’t have to leave their position.


Ctrip, a Chinese travel company tested out remote working on their employees. The business gave half of their call-centre staff the option to work from home for a month and the other half stayed in-house. Initially, Ctrip thought that they would only save money on office overheads, but as Professor Nicholas Bloom, who worked on the study explains:


“We found that people working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did—meaning that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them. They also quit at half the rate of people in the office—way beyond what we anticipated. And predictably, at-home workers reported much higher job satisfaction.”


What are remote working best practices?


Convinced remote working can help your business save money and want to implement it? Here are some things to bear in mind.


Trust


Can you really trust the employee to work out of the office? No one wants their productivity monitored by their boss, and if that’s even something you have to consider, you might want to rethink your remote working policy. Putting your faith in the employee to deliver the goods is paramount to working remotely and its success.


Scheduling


Organise an effective work schedule with the employee. It might be the case that you need them online and available at certain times of the day, or that they must attend monthly meetings – either in person or via video communication. Having a structure will help the employee still feel connected to the office and the business.


Keep in touch


Ensure you touch base with the remote employee and consider a weekly or at least bi-monthly video call. Words said (or typed) only account for 7% of our communication, with the other 93% coming from non-verbal cues and body language. You can get much more done in a quick Skype session than on a lengthy email thread.


Is it for everyone?


A recent study found that 59% of businesses now offer remote working, alongside the option of flexible working hours, or an option to go part time. Whilst many might think that the idea of working from home is as close to perfection as you can get, others might enjoy the office environment. It’s purely down to the individual, some may be more productive at home and where others might chronically miss those all-important water cooler moments.


Letting employees work remotely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer banned remote working, with her HR manager stating that:


“People are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.”


Remote working isn’t the end of office culture. However, it does allow for a modern, more fluid alternative to the traditional ways of working, managing and leading, not to mention potentially saving your business money on overheads and staffing costs. Could this be something your business should consider in 2016?

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