While the coronavirus pandemic accelerated many businesses' telecommuting capabilities, the workforce was already moving in that direction. As of January, remote work had increased by 400% in the past decade, according to a GetApp report.
SEE: Top 250+ tips for managing remote workers and working remotely (TechRepublic Premium)
"As millions of employees in the US continue to telecommute in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are eyeing the long-term potential of maintaining this infrastructure for the long haul," said Chris Jackson, national sales director of POPin, an enterprise crowdsourcing organization.
"The infrastructure powering a virtual workforce has matured to the point that it can support normal business operations and guarantee continuity in uncertain times," Jackson said. "The benefits to employees are vast -- returning power to individuals by giving them the tools they need to be productive and nimble in response to changing conditions."
Major companies including Amazon, UnitedHealth Group, Intuit, Dell, VMware, and Red Hat all feature remote employees; however, this working style is not reserved for large organizations.
Aspects of remote work can be extremely beneficial for small business owners in particular, whether it be through saving money, boosting productivity, or improving work/life balance, said Heather Paunet, vice president of product management at Untangle, a network security provider for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
4 benefits of remote work for small businesses
Telecommuting can be a huge penny saver for small businesses, said Rebecca Rogers Tijerino, president of Spherion, a recruiting and staffing provider.
"When running a small business, every dollar counts," Tijerino said. "By allowing employees to work remotely, small business owners can significantly lower their operating costs by removing rent, utilities, and office equipment and materials from their overhead."
By removing commutes to the office, which can be extensive depending on where employees live, team members also reduce their time and money it takes to get to the office, Jackson added.
One of the largest perks of remote work is a larger talent pool, said Christopher Akritidis, COO at Netdata, a distributed systems health monitoring and performance troubleshooting provider.
"The biggest benefit is access to a global, affordable talent pool that could not be sourced locally, especially by a small, unknown company," Akritidis said. With remote work, distance and location are no longer a factor in hiring.
"A recurring input from many of our job candidates was that their main motivation to apply to Netdata was the ability to work from their home," he added.
"Remote work [brings] flexible schedules, no daily commuting, a relaxed dress code, and additional time that can be invested back into the day to spend with loved ones and getting things outside of work done -- all of which contribute to a better work-life balance with the right set up and structure in place," Tijerino said.
Through telecommuting, employees are able to be more goal-oriented while also managing their personal lives, helping find a better balance, Jackson added.
"This is especially true today as many employees are managing more than just their normal workload," Jackson said. "They are navigating, in many cases, major challenges regarding changing public health regulations, distance learning for children, and new struggles that have upended simple everyday activities."
"Telecommuting acknowledges all of the obligations that individuals are facing and creates a system to manage through their personal lives, and ultimately perform more effectively at work," Jackson continued.
In smaller companies, productivity can be even more crucial, since every single role is accounted for and directly contributes to the success of the organization, Tijerino said.
And, having a better work-life balance helps employees be more productive, Jackson said.
"The freedom of remote work lets employees decide how they will be most productive, giving them the option to choose their method of balancing personal and work responsibilities," Jackson said. "The freedom to schedule work when employees feel more productive also ensures that they produce their best work with the minimum required time."
Tips for telecommuting in small businesses
Remote work offers a bevy of benefits for organizations, but successfully executing a remote workstyle can be tricky.
Above all, communication is key, Paunet said. "Telecommuting for small businesses works when teams, leadership, and employees are practising constant communication and transparency," she said.
"Communication creates a culture and sense of belonging with any company, large or small," Paunet said. "Video conferencing, network chats, team meetings, check-ins, all contribute to the balance of keeping everyone moving forward on the same projects while simultaneously keeping team members in sync."
Security was another crucial piece of advice Paunet offered. Small companies must ensure they have the right security infrastructure in place for remote employees.
"This means ensuring that the corporate VPN (virtual private network) is in place, with proper instruction and employee training, providing layers of security for employees at home, similar to what they would get from working on the corporate network in the office," Paunet said.
"Software and hardware should be monitored for upgrades or patched to minimize vulnerabilities, and employees should be trained in proper cyber hygiene practices, such as password maintenance and phishing identification, on a quarterly basis," Paunet added.
For more, check out How remote work is changing CIO priorities on TechRepublic.