How to phase in remote workers for small businesses

How to phase in remote workers for small businesses

Summary: Allowing employees to work from home has benefits for both the worker and the company, but it’s not without risk. Here’s how to do it right.

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Telecommuting, also referred to as working remotely, started a few years ago in a small way but has grown steadily. Having some workers based at home has benefits for both the employee and company if handled correctly.

Home office
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

While it seems a simple process to allow some employees to work at home, it's not without complications that can be minimized with proper planning. Setting remote workers up properly is vital to making the program work well.

Benefits of remote workers

Why should a small business allow some staff members to work from home? There are some tangible benefits that make it worthwhile for the company.

Make sure remote workers have the equipment they need to get the job done. You want them to do the same job at home that they'd do in the office, so equip them accordingly.

Working at home appeals to many, and offering this option to candidates can draw top talent to the small business. This is especially the case for those rock stars who've worked from home in the past. Any edge you have to hire good talent is worth the effort.

Allowing employees to work from home can save money, always a concern for small companies. It reduces the amount of expensive office space required, and that's never a bad thing.

Perhaps most importantly, if the remote work program is handled correctly, it often has a positive effect on morale. Remote workers are often happy workers, and that alone can make such a program worth it.

Testing the water

Before plunging headfirst into the remote worker pool, it's prudent to test the waters to make sure it's a good fit for your small business. A little planning goes a long way to ensure your employees are happy and have the support they need.

The small business owner has enough on his/her plate to spend a lot of time to get this right, so it's prudent to run a small test before throwing the switch. Sound out the idea of remote working with the staff, and pick one or two top candidates eager to give it a try.

Even with a small test group, give enough time for the test to iron out all the kinks of the new program, and to properly evaluate if it's working well. Six months to a year is a good length of time to make sure everything is the way it should be.

Make sure remote workers have the equipment they need to get the job done. You want them to do the same job at home that they'd do in the office, so equip them accordingly. This doesn't mean they need a lot of equipment, just the essentials. We'll look at this in detail later in this article.

Don't make the mistake of supplying a home worker with every piece of office equipment they'd have in the office. That's not cost efficient, and most of it will end up sitting idle in the home office.

In the beginning of the remote working test, it may be good to have the workers come into the office one day a week. This will ease them into full-time working at home and help them deal with the isolation that many feel in the beginning. This will also tend to lessen any alienation of the office workers with the coworker otherwise now out of sight.

A good practice to follow with home workers, especially for the test, is to schedule a teleconference weekly between the remote employees and team mates in the office. This should happen on the same day and time each week so it becomes a part of the office work ethic. 

This shrinks the barrier created between workers due to having some in the office and some at home. It reinforces the solidarity teams need to be as effective as possible, and ensures office workers see those working at home as providing an equal part of the effort.

As with any test program, any issues that arise in the home working pilot should be addressed immediately. Such issues may be peculiar to your business, and working with remote workers will help get the program working smoothly if dealt with quickly.

Next: What remote workers need

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5 comments
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  • Are you a home workers?

    If so, what did/does your company do to make it work for you? Were there any problems in the beginning you had to iron out?
    JamesKendrick
  • Elimination of commute

    Have worked on several call center projects where scheduling is very important. In large metropolitan area's having a commute from one room to another room has lots of appeal over rush hour traffic. It also makes adding additional resources when needed a lot easier and faster since all it would involve is an after hours logon instead of drive to the center.
    thekman58
  • Loneliness

    I'm located in Canada. I have had successfully (I'm defining success as - it made me good money) for nearly 20 years now remote workers in several countries around the world (Even the occasional one in the US). One of the biggest problems I have to deal with is loneliness. This seems to be a bigger problem for my female employees than my male employees, but it is still there even for the most technical 'leave me alone' males - just not as obvious. The solutions are very individualistic, harder with those whose 1st language isn't English since English is my only conversant language, but it does mean I need to allocate 'water cooler' time each day for 'trivial non-business' talk to avoid even bigger time wasters because of it.
    madmanpierre
  • Large international company

    I work for a large international company and the majority of our sales and marketing people have always headquartered from home even if they popped into a sales office from time to time. Working remote at our main site facilities has been a option for knowledge workers for the past 8 years now. Mostly this consists of working a day or two from home a week or when you are a bit under the weather we encourage people not to come into the office if they don't have to.

    Using the hybrid method allows for team cohesion and enhances communication as most misunderstandings can be avoided if the people have the occasional lunch together in the corporate cafe.

    Tech wise we use Office 365 so your primary collaboration tools are in the cloud. Almost all our knowledge workers have notebooks/ultrabooks. We have a BYOD for tablets and phones with reimbursement. We have been testing out hybrid and 2:1 Windows tablets to give our employees more flexibility. We are also looking at always on VPN to remove the "friction" of accessing corporate data anywhere at anytime. VoIP, Lync, etc.
    Rann Xeroxx
  • Remote working is not a one size fits all solution

    Remote working is not a one size fits all solution that's why I strongly agree to "test the water" first.

    And although some business allow remote working mainly for the purpose of cutting cost, it should be utilized as a business strategy.

    Yes, it can boost employee morale but as proved by madmanpierre, remote workers could feel loneliness, another factor that should be put in consideration. I wrote an article on how you can keep your remote workers balaced: http://bit.ly/1ob3zl7

    Hope this helps.
    ChrisJankulovski