The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work
Remote is the future – but are you ready for it?
In 2020, remote workers are operating from everywhere you can imagine, including coffee shops, libraries, co-working spaces, and home offices. The choices are endless, which is scary and empowering for both organizations and employees.
There’s no doubt navigating this new world can be tricky, so I’ll give you everything you need to know about remote work in this ultimate guide.
What is remote work?
Remote work is any form of work where workers are not confined to working from a single office space during working hours. For this reason, remote work is also known as telecommuting, telework, or working from home.
Remote work is no new concept, nor are all remote workers digital employees. Workers have been working from home for centuries, with the first corporate-office building constructed in 1560. However, “remote work” has taken on a new meaning in the digital age, after being popularized by NASA physicist Jack Niles in 1973.
Inspired by NASA, IBM chose to experiment with 2,000 work from home digital employees in 1979. As a result, digital remote work began to gain traction in America. By 1987, America had over 1.5 million telecommuting employees. That’s four years before WiFi was invented.
Today, 3.4% of the American population work a remote job, accounting for 4.7 million people. From 2005 to 2017, the remote workforce increased by 159%. With numbers like this, it’s safe to say remote work is here to stay.
Types of remote teams
The world of remote work is evolving so quickly that experts cannot predict where we will be in fifty years – but I’d argue that’s a positive. Remote work culture is continually developing, with innovations in productivity launched every month.
In 2020, there are three primary forms of remote work, which I’ve summarised below. Each form of remote work has different advantages and disadvantages, making them suitable for different organizations and industries.
Fully remote teams
Organizations that have no central office space operate with fully remote teams. This means that every employee is a remote worker – whether they are computer-based or not. Fully remote teams may be staffed by workers in a single geographic area, or they may be staffed by employees in different countries.
While we may assume all fully remote teams work at funky technology companies, that simply isn’t true. Some of your local tradespeople are likely remote workers, while most digital workers operate from an office.
Here are just some of the advantages and disadvantages of fully remote teams:
- The company can recruit employees from any location.
- Employees can avoid a commute and the woes of an unproductive office.
- Organizations can reduce their overhead costs.
- It is difficult for employees to form meaningful relationships in large teams.
- Remote workers will need to store company equipment at home, which may increase the price of insurance.
- Managers who are used to an office environment may find it challenging to adapt to managing a remote team.
- Image via MyManagementGuide
Distributed remote teams
Organizations that are spread over several small offices often operate with distributed remote teams. These organizations usually have a central office, with several other offices spread nationally or internationally. Employees may run out of their area’s office, or fully remotely. There are three primary forms of distributed remote teams, including:
- Satellite teams. Satellite teams are managed with a top-down management approach. Work is delegated from the head office to each branch, or example, your local fast food outlet.
- Local ownership. Local ownership teams are managed by several branch managers, with head office overseeing all work. Think Dunder Mifflin.
- True partnership. True partnership teams manage themselves, with collaborations between branches.
Naturally, there are many advantages and disadvantages to distributed remote teams.Advantages
- The company can recruit employees from several locations.
- Branches can be strategically placed in different locations and can serve a wide range of customers.
- Operating several smaller locations can be cheaper than operating a large, central office space long term.
- Branches may work in different time zones and climates.
- Travel between branches can increase the company’s overhead costs.
- Managing remote employees in remote locations can be a juggling act for senior management.
Flexible remote teams
Organizations with flexible remote teams have a mixture of in-office and fully remote employees. This includes organizations that allow their employees to work from home regularly and organizations with fully remote employees.
Over 43% of American workplaces offer some form of remote working in 2020 – making them prime examples of flexible remote teams. Before settling on a flexible remote team for your business, here are some advantages and disadvantages to consider.
- Workers in flexible remote teams develop excellent self-management and time-management skills and can manage family-life better.
- Flexible remote teams reduce the cost of office space, as 50% less office space is required for flexible teams.
- Flexible working options are great for the economy – as it increases the number of jobs available for working parents, partially-retired people, and workers with disabilities.
- Tracking the progress of both in-office and fully-remote employees simultaneously requires a talented manager.
- Every employee will have a slightly different working schedule, making it difficult to schedule meetings with the whole team.
- Employees who shift between remote-work and office-work may find it difficult to operate out of two offices.
Why remote work is the future
Remote work has grown ten times faster than the rest of the workforce, growing 140% since 2005. Employees are also increasingly drawn to remote work, with 80% of employees expressing an interest in remote work.
Remote work is the future. Let’s talk about why.
Staffing your business with remote workers won’t just give you a flexible and adaptable workforce. It will provide you with all that and a reduced overhead cost on your end of the financial year balance sheet.
According to Global Workplace Analytics’s (GWA) 2020 report, organizations with remote workers save an average of $11,000 on overhead costs per employee. This includes the cost of office space, utilities, office supplies, and absenteeism. Remote employees are also happier, which reduces employee turnover (and it’s associated costs) by 16%.
Image via Owl Labs
Take computer powerhouse Dell as an example. Dell has allowed their US employees to telecommute on a flexible basis since 2014. In return, the company saved $39.6 million in overhead costs in six years. Employees also benefited. Together, they saved $12 million in fuel costs each year, which averaged $350 each.
Remote work employees at every company also save money on their cost of living. Employees in regional areas can live comfortably on a shoestring budget. Remote employees are also eligible for home-office tax breaks, and they save money on gas and food.
These savings can also have great tangible benefits for every business. Many organizations choose to reinvest this back into their workforce, offering employees ‘work from home’ compensation. Other organizations reinvest these savings back into technology and organizational growth.
Either way, remote work is the best cost-cutting initiative of the 21st century.
Image via 15five.com
Every great team is diverse. People from different backgrounds bring together unique strengths, making a diverse team a game-changer for every organization. Remote work promotes workplace diversity.
Remote workers can come from any country, any city, and any walk of life. This allows your business to hire the best person for the job, not the best person within a 30-mile range. You can work with developers from Iceland, designers from Australia, and marketers from Canada – without leaving your comfortable home office.
Remote workplaces are also an excellent opportunity for differently-abled employees. Employees can work around their health needs in a safe environment that has already been designed for their mobility level.
Telecommuting is also great for the planet. Each remote worker saves their company an average of 4,400 kWh of electricity each year. If every remote worker in the US right now were to return to office-based work, we’d need to plant 91 million trees to offset the resulting emissions.
GWA’s report also gives us some significant data on the environmental benefits of telecommuting. If people with remote work-compatible jobs worked from home 50% of the time, it would lead to yearly savings of:
- $20 million in gas
- 54 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions
- 640 million barrels of oil
- 119 billion miles of highway driving
Those numbers aren’t just great for your workplace or the children of your employees. Your business is part of an interconnected global community of modern workers paving the way for the digital generation of green-living. Hats off to you!
Remote work myths debunked
Although remote work has been a staple of life for centuries, there are many persistent (and incorrect!) myths about remote work. These nagging insecurities get into everyone’s heads – so let’s debunk them together.
Myth #1: Remote workers are isolated
While it’s true that remote workers don’t spend large amounts of time with their colleagues, it’s a myth that remote workers are isolated. According to Flexjobs, 38% of remote workers listed “avoid office politics and distractions” as a benefit of remote work. A further 45% listed ‘family’ as a reason to seek flexible work.
An overwhelming 75% believed that remote work gives them better work-life balance, which paints a pretty clear picture. Remote workers aren’t isolated. They work in solitude, but they spend their social time with the people who matter most to them – their family.
Image via Flexjobs
Myth #2: There are more chances for miscommunication
In the world of web 3.0 and instant messaging chat apps, no one with an internet connection is ever truly isolated – but what does that mean for miscommunication?
Miscommunication is often cited as one of the key disadvantages of remote work, and sure, balancing cross-cultural communication can be tricky – but miscommunication is hardly rampant.
Remote workers rely on written communication, which removes all non-verbal language (eye contact, movement, gestures, etc.). Instead, employees are forced to use explicit communication. Cross-culturally, this is both easier to understand and easier to clarify.
Myth #3: Remote workers slack off
Another common myth is that remote workers are more prone to slacking off when actually, the opposite is true. A federal report into flexible work notes that organizations who change to remote work notice a 63% reduction in unscheduled absences per remote worker.
The same report also found that remote workers are 27% more productive when working from home, as their primary distraction (i.e. coworkers) is removed.
Myth #4: Company culture will suffer
Bad company culture is the result of one thing: employee suffering. According to the experts at Bamboohr, employee suffering is caused by three things:
- A lack of work/ life balance.
- Bad workplace communication.
- A lack of employee recognition.
To keep your top talent and a winning company culture, focus on your employees and not your beloved office space.
Image via Toptal
Myth #5: Remote workers are available 24/7
Another prevalent myth is that remote workers are available 24/7. While it’s true that remote workers can work 24/7, so can in-office employees (technically). The majority of remote workers have set office hours and a dedicated working space to leave at ‘quitting time.’
Pro tip: Remote workers are not available 24/7, but chatbots are. Get your business some reliable AI and outsource your social media customer service to a robot.
Tips to go remote
Transitioning an organization from in-office to remote can be tricky – but it isn’t impossible. If you’re looking at going remote, here are my best tips to get you started.
Have established rules and procedures
Without physical communication and an in-office culture, employees will need some clear rules to help them adapt to remote work. Here are some ideas:
- Set operating hours. Remote workers still need a separation between their work and their home lives.
- Set standards for professional conduct.
- Set guidelines on the appropriate use of company technology.
- A set onboarding procedure. Over 60% of new hires experience problems on the first day. Establish a dedicated onboarding procedure, with a ‘buddy’ assigned to help new employees adapt to your company.
Time management is key
Embracing excellent time and project management is essential for remote workers. The best way to manage time is to use concept maps to track your team’s progress. Roadmaps allow you to track the productivity of multiple employees simultaneously while visualizing how close you are to achieving your goals. Here are some examples:
- Gantt charts
- Workflow charts
- Product maps
- Flow charts
You can see a great roadmap below. Roadmaps don’t need to be aesthetically pleasing, but they need to be easily readable for employees instantly.
Image via Venngage
Keep company culture thriving
Maintaining healthy company culture is important for every business, including businesses with remote workers. You can keep the company culture thriving through:
Remote work social events
Remote social events that allow your team some time to relax and destress together. These are great opportunities for bonding as a team, as well as growing your peer-to-peer relationships.
When planning a remote event, make sure you plan something fun, set clear expectations, and ask your employees to set aside time to attend. Always ensure you schedule your event inside work hours.
When your employees work from home, scheduling after-work drinks may be great for your single employees, but it will place undue stress on workers with families. If your team is located within a single city, you may also want to consider in-person social events – like an escape room.
Town halls are regular team meetings that are wholly optional to attend. Town halls are designed to give employees who want to raise concerns or seek feedback a chance to speak with their coworkers and management.
Town halls are great for addressing workplace problems or allowing employees with new ideas to speak freely outside of their regular team environment. Try it – you won’t be disappointed.
Create a dedicated workspace
You don’t need a physical office to have a dedicated space for employees. A dedicated space is essential – even if it is virtual. I frequently recommend workspaces like Slack, as it gives everyone the ability to:
- Message small groups of coworkers.
- Schedule meetings.
- Sort discussions by ‘channel.’
- Share pictures, files, and polls with the team.
- Individually message people.
It is vital to ensure all coworkers use the same software, as this keeps everyone on a level playing field.
Check-in regularly with your team
We’ve already spoken about town halls, but about regular team check-ins? Scheduling regular check-ins are essential for keeping good communication within your team. I recommend two forms of regular meetings, including:
Standups (often called ‘team huddles’) are short meetings that take place several times a week. During a standup, everyone in the team can share what they are currently working on. This allows employees to celebrate their wins and workshop their challenges together.
To keep your standups productive, limit them to under fifteen minutes.
A Friday catch-up is a fantastic way to strengthen your team’s communication without taking employees out of the working environment. Catch-up meetings are not a forum for discussing work. Instead, they are a dedicated time for your team to blow off steam and bond.
The best catch-up events last thirty minutes or less and are scheduled the last thing on a Friday.
Tools to boost remote working
No team is expected to adapt to remote work seamlessly, so using the right remote work tools is essential. Here are some tools to consider for your team.
Communicate effectively with chat tools
All employees need access to constant communication with every member of their team, which is why chat tools are essential. The best chat tools have the following functions:
- Reaction icons
- Instant-message capacity
- File and photo sharing
- Meeting organization functionality
- App add-ons
There are many fantastic and affordable chat tools, including Chatwork, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and Facebook Workplace. Test them all out, and figure out which is best for your team.
Partner through collaboration tools
Collaboration tools are an essential part of project management, but they are also crucial for keeping team morale high. You don’t want your team members to feel like hamsters on a wheel, so keep everyone focused through goal-driven collaboration tools.
The right collaboration tool for your team is going to depend on a few factors, including the tool’s file capacity, cloud-hosted or localized structure, and free functions. It’s also important to consider the size of your team (especially if you are considering a multi-user tool that updates live).
Document workflows and tasks
Project collaboration tools are a great way to document your team’s workflow now, but what about the future? Long term documentation is essential for both managers and new employees.
I recommend stepping up your collaboration tools with a ‘knowledgebase.’ A knowledgebase sets out standard work procedures as well as helping employees troubleshoot their problems.
Manage your tasks effectively
Finally, you’ll want to manage your time effectively. Research into the science of productivity shows that 54% of employees are distracted by socializing with colleagues and other employees, so turn your ‘do not disturb’ on during times when you need to focus on tasks like writing.
I also recommend calendar blocking or to increase your productivity and hold yourself accountable.
Succeed with Remote Work
Adapting to a remote work environment is tricky for everyone – but it’s well worth it. Remote work is an excellent way for organizations to hire a diverse range of staff while cutting the overhead costs associated with managing an office.
For employees, remote work is the best way to stay productive while maintaining a great work-life balance.
Remote work is the way of the future. Whether you choose to embrace flexible remote work and keep your office space or jump into fully remote, you’ll feel the benefits in no time.