There’s been a lot of talk in business circles about the pros and cons of “remote work.” Phrased in that way, the discussion is nearly moot. Employees who work beyond the confines of company headquarters should not feel remote or removed from the work that happens on site, particularly now that so many technology tools are available to encourage collaboration across geographies. Cloud-based solutions for customer relationship and project management, video conferencing, instant messaging and more mean that colleagues should be able to effectively collaborate with each other whether they are 10 feet or 10,000 miles apart.
With small, midsize and large businesses realizing that their options for hiring talented employees expand enormously when they remove location requirements, it’s time to rethink the way companies manage workers without borders. Doing so takes a combination of technological tools and basic communications skills. A good first step is to exorcise the myths about what remote work really means.
If the best programmer for the job lives in Florida and you happen to operate out of California, should you opt for an inferior candidate just because that person can sit next to you every day? Most business owners would say, “no,” or perhaps, “no, but…” The “but” usually centers on fears about communication and collaboration. In fact, working with colleagues, partners and customers across geographies has never been easier, and the tools that help companies foster that communication and collaboration have the added benefit of creating a trail of ideas, contacts and action items that can be tracked to improve productivity, sales and customer experiences.
Let’s say you decide to hire the best person for the job, even if that person cannot work at your headquarters. How can you set the stage for success and defy the myths around remote work? Consider the following options:
- Videoconferencing: Not every conversation needs to take place via video, but it’s nice for employees to see one another occasionally, and video can foster closer relationships between colleagues. Videoconferencing is now available at modest cost or even for free via companies such as Google Hangouts.
- Instant messaging: Everybody needs to walk away from his desk once in awhile, but the time spent repeatedly visiting people across the office throughout the day can add up to a significant chunk of working hours. Instant messaging provides a quick, convenient way for colleagues to keep in touch and protect productivity, whether they’re in the same building or across the globe.
- Cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM): Web-based CRM is popular because it can save SMBs time and money, but it also delivers anywhere-anytime functionality. For workers located elsewhere or for those who are often on the road, web-based CRM creates easy access to notes, documents and updates. Added bonus: these cloud tools can deliver cost savings up to $5,000 per month as compared to traditional on-premise CRM.
- Occasional site visits: We have workers in several different states, and technology allows them to collaborate closely with our on-site team, but once a quarter, we make sure to get the whole team together. This is beneficial not only for generating new ideas and moving projects forward, but also for building the camaraderie that keeps people attached to their work and to the mission of the company.
- Web-based project management: If you’ve ever tried to drill down into a project detail hidden in a long, unwieldy email thread, then you know that email is not the best way to manage collaboration, regardless of where your staff works. Web-based project management streamlines this process, so that all employees can see ongoing and new activity and the status of projects. By eliminating email disorganization, time is no longer wasted sorting through archives to find past conversations or files. Plus, everything is tagged and sorted, so updates are easy to find. These tools can boost productivity by as much as 20 percent.
The word “remote” holds negative connotations that don’t hold true for today’s dispersed workforce. With affordable technology readily available, SMBs can bring their teams together for effective collaboration, regardless of whether employees share the same office space or not.