Top Tips for Transitioning to a Remote Workforce

Remote work emerges as a public health strategy

By: Jess Reilly

COVID19 has already changed company operations nationwide. Certainly, remote work is nothing new— over the last five years, we’ve seen companies transition to flexible or completely remote workforces by forty percent. With the pandemic sweeping our nation at an alarming rate, we’ve seen many previously non-remote businesses quickly adopt this model to avoid disruption of service.

While there has been much debate over the last decade regarding pros and cons of the remote workforce, it is important to acknowledge that studies (Stanford’s study on the 16,000 employee company Ctrip) have shown a correlation between remote work and employee productivity, decreased employee attrition and lower office costs. Many industries have successfully adopted this model, including some that might not have been obvious callouts, such as transportation and manufacturing. The chart below shows the percentage of people who worked at home by industry in 2016. [Global Workplace Analytics’ special analysis of 2016 ACS data]

However, will companies that are rapidly switching to remote work due to the pandemic enjoy the same success? Our hypothesis is that they can — if all facets of the transition are considered.

While we recognize not every business (entertainment, hospitality, etc) can adopt this model, we wanted to share some of the top resources that Rebels rely on as a remote workforce. With over twenty-five years of experience offering a flexible work from home schedule for our employees, we’ve identified some key factors in making working from home work for you and your employees. 

The Tactical Side to Managing a Remote Workforce

  • Work from Home Policy: Having a remote work policy is paramount in making sure you set expectations for your team as you navigate the transition. This should cover everything from availability and responsiveness expectations to tech support for remote workers. Work with HR to establish the parameters in which your leadership feels most comfortable managing the team. Is laundry between meetings okay? We think it is, but that’s up to you to decide.
  • A Space to Setup: Besides its being feng-shui compatible, studies point to having a dedicated workspace that makes employees more comfortable and productive throughout their day. For example, the University of Exeter performed a study in 2010 showing that simply taking ownership and control over your workspace could increase productivity by up to 32%. Providing this recommendation to your employees could help the transition greatly. Make sure your recommendations are outlined in terms of what equipment you provide in your work from home policy. 
  • Internet Connection: While it’s easy to assume everyone in the world is connected to WiFi these days, that’s not the case. Moreover, during this crisis, with so many people forced to connect from their homes, internet speeds could be a concern. Check in with your employees to see how they are set up and if they have the speed they need to operate at full capacity. If WiFi is the issue, you might also consider providing ethernet cables so your employees can connect directly to the source.  
  • IT Remote Systems: While these are often among the last questions asked, they are some of the most important. Do your team’s logins work? Can your systems handle the load if everyone is VPN-ing remotely? Are your security policies up-to-date? These considerations should be made and verified as soon as possible.
  • Cloud Operations & Backup: Physical servers and phone systems are vestigial. Ensuring you have all of your data available on cloud-based systems that your remote employees can access is imperative to avoid disruption of business. This involves everything from process documentation to creative assets. 

The Emotional Side of  Managing a Remote Workforce

  • Workday Workflow: What’s the most efficient way of establishing some semblance of normalcy? Encourage employees to consider their habits when working from home. We love this article by Bloomberg detailing tips for navigating the emotional aspects of a transition to remote life.
  • Human Interaction: As I type this I can confidently say I already miss my coworkers knowing I won’t see them this week due to the pandemic. However, as a person who leads a team, I’ve learned that office cooler talk and the conversation that can bond your team don’t have to exist solely in person. Human interaction is vital for creativity and innovation, so we’ve adopted many tools that help us connect on that level. Take these that I personally recommend, for example: 
    • Slack: We use Slack to have organized, project-based conversations. We also use slack to share funny memes, work through complicated problems, screen share with each other, and send funny “quotes of the day.” This communication tool has become the lifeblood of our remote conversations, ensuring we’re able to have those ad hoc “hallway conversations” digitally.
    • Zoom: We use Zoom as our conference call tool and we’ve recently pushed for more video calls than fewer. Why? This is such an amazing way to see how people are reacting in real-time. We also use Zoom to communicate with our clients and reap the same benefits externally.
    • G Suite (Drive, Sheet, Slides): Do you remember the chaos of managing presentations, excel sheets, and other documents without having the ability to work on them with your team in real-time? This is why we rely on Google Suite to help us work together and never worry about remembering to save (or overwriting) someone’s work.
    • Basecamp: Project management is critical to knowing what’s on our plates, as well as the status of everything. We use Basecamp to manage our work on an individual project basis to ensure we all stay on top of our workload.
    • Gitbook: Process documentation is absolutely key to a remote workforce. Letting employees have a place to refer to understand a specific “how-to” not only saves time, but also helps remote employees know the parameters of every task in real-time.   
  • Team Building: We try to do fun, rebellious activities (Nerf wars, go-kart racing, arcade playing, the list goes on) in person at least once a month. But is this possible to accomplish as a remote workforce? Yes! Take, for example, https://skribbl.io/. This is a free tool you can have your team join as individual players to guess who is drawing what. Our Advertising, Search and Analytics team has used this to keep the team fully engaged in learning industry terms in a fun way. We’ve also used Kahoot to create custom quizzes that create an online “game show” experience our entire company enjoyed.

Emerging Tech & Remote Work

What’s on the frontier for the digital work landscape? Check out these up and coming technologies:

  • Spatial.io: Spatial uses augmented reality to literally show coworkers hologram-style in front of you. Remember how we were talking about the benefits of video conferencing? This is like that, but even cooler. 
  • VirBELA: VirBELA allows you to create an avatar and mimic a physical office space. For example, if you’re in a meeting with Jim, Pam can see where your avatar is before pinging you for something she might need. 

The Potential Lasting Marketing Impacts 

Change is happening to the structure of the American business, and we anticipate learnings that answer some of the questions we’ve heard for years.

  • Conferences: “What’s the return on our investment from attending/advertising at vertical-specific conferences?” This is a question we receive routinely, about which the COVID19 outbreak is handing us a forced A/B test on, as many conferences are getting canceled across the nation. 
  • Travel Expenses: With the majority of Americans staying grounded, this is an opportunity to analyze what the lack of travel expenses is doing to your bottom line. Do you really need to work with clients face-to-face, or can you invest the cost of travel in something else that would make more of an impact?
  • Commercial Real Estate: Commercial real estate could be impacted by more companies adopting a permanent remote model.
  • Payment Models: During the last recession we saw many companies move to SaaS models because the expense was easier to swallow for struggling bottom lines. Companies will have to look at future implications of how they offer their services in terms of costs to make the investment more palpable for companies unsure about the economic standing of the future.

We know this time is tough for America, and for the world at large. We’re here to help navigate business transitions of all kinds, from technology to organizational strategy.

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