We’re All Remote. Now What?
As COVID-19 continues to affect companies world-wide, working remotely has gained momentum among many businesses. While there are still many factors to consider, a shift toward a remote workforce may be a wise choice for many companies.
To begin, let’s establish what a remote business is-
A remote business is a business that has their employees working from an environment away from a traditional company office. This includes working from home, a rented workspace, or even a coffee shop. While we are currently all working from home due to the pandemic, once businesses begin opening up again, we may see an increase in people working from a community coffee shop or a shared work space.
This poses the question- can businesses continue to thrive through a remote culture after the pandemic?
Cost of a Remote Workforce
Creating a remote business can offer cost-effective remedies for a business altogether. Growing a business in a traditional work environment typically necessitates expenses such as office leases, office supplies, technology devices, break-room supplies and janitorial services. This can amount to over $5,000/month in office space leasing alone, before adding in all the other miscellaneous costs. Remote businesses can eliminate most of those expenses by having employees use their own home offices and devices.
While cost-saving efforts favor a remote workforce, there are outlier expenses to keep in mind. Although employees have the leeway to work from home, certain states, such as New York, impose taxes on remote employees, which could present itself as a challenge when administering payroll and tax forms.
Despite the obvious cost savings of a remote business, employers remain accountable for upholding federal, state, and local requirements. Employers are responsible for providing essential resources for employees to perform their jobs. This includes necessary office supplies and hardware or software an employee may need. If an employer were to require an engineer, for example, to deliver a project using a specific software, it would be the responsibility of the employer to provide the software, as they would in a traditional office environment.
An allowance policy for employees using personal electronic devices should also be explored to provide employees the resources they require, as well as to contribute to an increase in employee satisfaction. In fact, California and other states require employers to provide a personal device allowance or reimbursement to employees using their mobile and personal devices for business use. When deciding whether a remote workforce is right for you, keep in mind the smaller costs of doing business, as they may not be as obvious.
Managing Time and Attendance
Although employees are not reporting for work in the traditional sense, employers must still continue to comply with federal and state regulations, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under the FLSA, employees are entitled to fair wages and working conditions. Under certain state laws, employees are still expected to be given proper meal and rest breaks and receive correct pay for overtime hours worked, if eligible.
Giving employees the autonomy to create their schedules may be convenient for employers that have a majority of exempt employees or project-based jobs. Skewing away from a traditional 9-5 routine can also help in creating more flexibility and in turn, a better work-life balance. However, this can become an issue for employers with non-exempt employees. Businesses in this dilemma can explore a time-tracking software as an option. This software can not only track what employees are doing while online, but it can also help streamline time and attendance tracking instead of using traditional spreadsheets or emails. It is important to make sure correct hours are tracked for qualifying employees, even during a remote set-up.
Technology as a Means of Communication
Communicating with employees also remains a critical factor in a remote business. Employees want to feel as though they can still access their supervisor when needed, or other team members in an efficient and productive way. Luckily, there are an abundance of software and programs out there to make it so everyone is just a quick video call or instant message away. Providing employees with a means of communication helps the team feel connected, even from miles apart.
Also, as the employer, you still have the responsibility to ensure important policies are accessible to employees as easily as they would be in a traditional office. This includes providing a common space for employees to access employer-required labor law notices and company policies. In this case, businesses should explore online company portals for employees to access policies, procedures, notices, important contacts, and submit inquiries.
In the current age of technology, remote businesses must take precautions to protect their company data. Telecommuting policies can be helpful to businesses in order to establish consistent rules and expectations of employees regarding security and privacy. All businesses must retain sensitive employee documents, whether that be I-9 verification documentation and payroll data or company trade secrets. With more and more cases of data breaches, even among large corporations, data security is a priority for remote work forces.
To avoid opening up your business to a data breach, there are methods to consider that would increase data security. One method to increase security for a remote business is to create a VPN – Virtual Private Network, where only employees and authorized personnel can have access to company information. Consulting with an IT expert would be ideal when launching a remote business, as they would have a better understanding of where the potential gaps in security lie.
Flexibility remains an advantage in launching a remote business and is becoming more prevalent today as businesses are creating a positive work-life balance, which in turn, increases employee satisfaction.
While creating an engaging workforce is ideal in any business, remote businesses may have the challenge of engaging employees virtually, as opposed to in-person social interactions. Employers must come up with creative ways to promote team building and create an environment where employees are not succumbing to common cases of loneliness. Existing remote businesses have been known to create team-building events such as virtual mysteries (similar to escape rooms), where employees must work together to crack codes to solve a mystery. Allowing time for employees to interact establishes a fundamental sense of comfort and confidence for relationships to be built.
Another factor to consider in creating a thriving workforce is the chance of employees becoming overworked. If an employee does not have a set schedule or feels they never really “leave the office,” it can become more challenging to separate work time from the home environment. Though there is generally flexibility with a remote workforce, it would benefit an employer to create a culture where employees are not feeling overworked and still have a healthy balance between work and personal life.
So, is a Remote Business For Your Business?
Although we are in an unprecedented time, many remote businesses are continuing to grow under the conditions of a world-wide pandemic. By offering cost-saving benefits and a flexible work culture, a remote workforce can be ideal for many businesses. Once a business can consider factors such as data security, employee engagement, and most importantly, complying with laws and regulations, a solid foundation for a remote business can be developed. Your business and employees could benefit in continuing remote operations long after our world opens up again.