Remote Workers: Challenges and Rewards
It’s 2022 and with more and more businesses allowing work from home, both the challenges and rewards of remote workers have been made clear.
Many of us have a healthy fear of change, and new best practices in any industry are often slow to be adopted. Especially since the pandemic, there’s been a real uptick in remote working, but it’s still something many shy away from. This is despite the fact that studies, polls, surveys, etc report increased efficiency, work performance, profits, etc.
There’s clearly much to be gained from remote workers, but there are a couple of challenges too. We’ll cover the most prominent issues in this article, hopefully helping you get a clearer image of how a remote business set-up can work for you and what you stand to gain.
Things to Consider Before Going Remote
A business can be run remotely or from home permanently, and the decision and subsequent success have little relation to time elapsed. Rather, there are two major considerations to be made.
Firstly, you must look with a critical but unbiased eye at your own strengths, weaknesses, and character. It takes a particular type of person to be self-motivated enough to keep going no matter what. The loneliness, pressure, and repeated failures of business can lead to depression or mental health issues. I’d even go so far as to say that you need to be a bit maniacal and obsessed with your project. These are qualities you need as a business owner even if you’re not remote, but with the added potential for distraction and isolation, they become even more critical.
Secondly, is the business itself definitely suited to being run without an official office, studio or warehouse? Many businesses would simply find a remote set-up impossible and never allow staff working from home, let alone not having a central physical hub. Can’t see it happening anytime soon with a café, for example.
But apart from the exceedingly obvious such as in the case of eateries, some obstacles in this situation could be legal impediments (e.g. health and safety), an element of physical work (e.g. checking stock) needing to be done, or credibility with clients or customers.
For some businesses, a solution may be found by creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be created and having them be followed by remote subcontractors. For example, if you sell products online, could they be manufactured, warehoused and fulfilled by a third party?
Everyone considering the remote path needs to think objectively about these things. If their personality, character, or business isn’t suitable, they’ll be in for a harrowing lesson.
Rewards of Remote Workers in a Small Business
Lower Overheads (Higher Profits!)
If you’re a small business that works on tight margins, paying the steep lease prices on city-centre or business-park offices, or even warehouse spaces, can make the difference between generating profit or accumulating losses.
Even if you have more of a budget to play with and can easily afford moving into somewhere swanky, at the end of the day, money saved is money saved. The cash spent not only on rent but all of the other costs that go into running a business space such as heating, electricity, equipment, consumable amenities, etc, can seriously add up.
A remote team means that that money can be spent on more worthwhile things, such as better software that might make the work process more efficient, marketing, or better yet, bonuses for employees to keep them motivated and attract top talent.
By having a remote business, you can enjoy more flexibility and agility in the way you run, which means higher resiliency in the face of problems, and being able to budget more carefully.
Without having to fill certain office roles such as cleaners, you have more control over hiring and can expand or contract on a person-by-person basis. Whatever job you need to hire for, you can now consider candidates from anywhere, including those from countries with lower expected wages, cutting costs further.
Optimized Business Environment
When fully remote, a business can adopt a more dynamic culture where every practice can be analyzed and optimized. If we don’t need a centralized office, what else don’t we need? Where’s the waste in the workflow? Where are the missed opportunities? Every team member can start to focus on what’s truly essential to drive the business forward and discard the relics of tradition.
Furthermore, in most physical offices, a lot of time slips through the cracks in a general workday. People idly chatting to each other, getting distracted by what coworkers are up to, maintaining communal spaces, arriving a bit late because of traffic, etc. For the most part, these cease to be issues with remote working, so you ‘optimize’ the hourly wage you pay in that regard too.
For a long time now, it’s been the dream of many to be able to work from home and earn a living without having to step out of their front door. And why not? The home environment is not only more comfortable and familiar, but means avoiding the daily hell of getting stuck in traffic, wasting time and money on public transport, being cornered off in a grim office cubicle, and facing odious bosses and co-workers.
Offering remote work often means that you’ll have more content employees and, in all likelihood, attract a far higher standard of talent. Remote positions are hot property due to all of the quality-of-life benefits they offer!
Most people need the structure and discipline of an office, and they get into a flow state while interacting with others. The office suits alpha types, who enjoy leading and controlling, and betas who need to be led and controlled.
A third personality type which is often overlooked (alphas usually get all the limelight) is called gamma; they don’t like to rule or be ruled! They excel if left to do their own thing and get into a flow state where they can make magic happen. Imagine the mad scientist down in his lab, or the eccentric author that goes to write on their own in the forest – these people work wonders and would not do so in an office.
The main pro of running a virtual office is pulling a team of brilliant people who will do better work for you than they would in an office and require less managing to boot. You also open up access to new groups of people from over the world and potentially superb candidates such as those with mobility issues who would not be able to get to an office otherwise.
The main con is that your business might fall apart if you mistakenly employ the wrong people, but that’s true of traditional workers too!
Challenges of Working with Remote Employees
I’ve worked remotely for nearly a decade as a freelancer and now as a small business owner. Every choice in life involves a compromise; very few things are ‘all good’, especially concerning work.
Overall, the negatives of remote work (bouts of loneliness, overwork, neurosis, etcetera) as preferable compared to the alternatives. Office work can often mean lengthy commutes, energy-sucking politics, and working directly with sociopaths and bullies.
Working remotely, it often feels that opposing challenges can be solved because we’re ultimately in charge of our day and workflow. In an office, unless you’re at the top of the pecking order, you have to suffer the negatives perpetually. That element of personal control and empowerment is the real differentiator.
We all have routines and best practices that we follow in the office, but some of them don’t translate so well to remote work. One example is the 9-5 workday, which actually suits relatively few people. We tend to find that we’re either morning or evening people, and there’s some interesting studies showing that genetics back that up.
I struggle with sharpness in the morning, regardless of how early I’ve gone to bed or how well I’ve slept, so I end up doing some of my best work in the late evening. Equally, I know people that prefer to get up at dawn and get a couple of hours of high-level creative work done before breakfast.
With remote work, cultural norms can be examined and adjusted. This applies not only to work hours and breaks, but also clothing and snacks. Workers can fine-tune their work processes to enable more peak mental flow states and better efficiency.
Communicating with Remote Employees
Using remote employees can offer tremendous rewards for small businesses as already mentioned, but you can quickly cut into your potential savings and increased efficiency through miscommunication.
In a worst-case scenario, the time it takes to re-explain and re-do incorrect work makes the task more expensive than having had a specialized freelancer do it. Delays and mistakes can even lead to lost clients.
It’s good practice to always work on the assumption that there is a high chance of misunderstanding. With this in mind, you can get in front of the problem before it occurs.
Create a standard operating procedure and document for every task that is likely to be carried out more than once in the future. Do this before allocating labour to the remote employee. You can then verbally go over the task through Zoom or similar and send the instructions over after.
These documents should be stored safely so that, over time, every routine operation procedure gets documented. That will pay dividends when hiring new staff (external or remote) as well.
One of the biggest challenges in working remotely is in managing time. In an office, we know when we should be working, when break time happens, and when we finish. Bosses know if people are working because they can see them. We rarely audit how long individual tasks take. One person might be twice as productive as someone else on the same day, but managers might not know.
When working remotely, things are a bit more opaque. Start, finish and break times blur, and leaders can’t see what’s happening. To avoid awkward accusations or unnecessary productivity-anxiety, allocate times for everyday tasks and schedule them. Doubt and fear will be reduced if the schedule is agreed upon and broken down.