Last week I had an 8:00 a.m. meeting that, because of traffic, took me 42 minutes to get to. This is abnormal for me because I don’t sit in traffic—almost ever. Nor do the nearly 300 people that work for us, because almost every one of us work from home. As I sat in traffic last week, I said aloud to myself, “Who does this?” Well, apparently, almost everyone.
The average commute time in the U.S. is just over 25 minutes, or 50 minutes a day. We’ll avoid the obvious extrapolation game and instead focus on the impact of this time drain on a single day. Beyond these 50 minutes, office-goers spend time at home getting ready and then “settling in” at work upon arrival. And beyond time, there are hard and soft costs as well. Hard costs include vehicle or public transit expenses and keeping a professional wardrobe. The soft cost of a stressful commute eats into productivity at the beginning of the work day, too.
It seems we’re not the only ones to figure out the toll that commuting and office environments take on productivity. In the past 10 years, there has been a 103 percent spike in virtual workforces, and 44 percent of U.S. companies say they are currently looking to increase their work-from-home staff. It’s no longer a fad but a legitimate and growing trend in the business world today. The number one question CEOs ask me about working from home is, “How do you scale it? I get it when it’s 10 people, but 100? 250?”
Here are six remote work management tips:
1. Cultural Keys
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is an often-repeated quote in the business world and speaks to culture being the single most important key to business success. It’s no different when establishing a remote workforce, but there are two specific keys to building the right remote culture. First, the CEO must not only work remotely themselves from time to time, they must encourage others to do so and appear to reward it. If the CEO is always at their desk, it will be taboo to work remotely.
Second, symbols of success in your organization cannot be related to the workplace. If promotions mean better parking spaces or bigger offices, remote workers feel left behind. Remote workforces are harder to reward with perks, but this is outweighed by the benefit of a flatter, more democratized organization.
2. For Everyone, or No One
“Bob gets to work remotely because he moved far away, and they couldn’t afford to lose him.” This concept and attitude is a cancer to a healthy remote workforce. Working remotely can’t be seen as an exception or a special case.
3. Cultural Symbols
Is the reward for a great sales month or a promotion a better parking space? A bigger office? These types of rewards that require and reward a physical presence are not motivational to remote employees. An organization needs to have perks and rewards that are equally desirable and beneficial to all employees, remote and physical.
4. Established Rules
It’s easier to establish basic work presence rules in a physical workplace. With a virtual workforce, this can be more difficult, but it’s absolutely necessary to have firm rules of conduct. For instance, working remotely is not the same as flex time nor is it a substitute for childcare. Requiring remote employees to be able to work without interruption is HR-friendly and smart.
5. The Right Tools
Providing employees with the right tools for success is of the utmost importance. There are so many software suites that allow virtual workforces to maintain and even exceed typical productivity benchmarks. For instance, our knowledge sharing occurs on platforms such as Yammer and conference calls (rarely video, actually) on Skype for Business, and Atlassian’s Confluence is home to our corporate wiki and over 10,000 pages of meeting notes, best practice documents, and product launch calendars. And a great HRIS and shared drive become even more vital when remote. Simultaneous, multi-user editing and collaboration are crucial when choosing your tools.
6. Virtual-Optimized Processes
Even if a CEO decides a remote workforce isn’t right for them, I encourage them to have three to five people work from home for a week and learn about gaps in their processes that only show up when people are out of the office. Testing, fixing, and repeating this process is a fantastic way to improve processes and close business gaps, even if your organization never adopts a virtual workforce mindset.
The majority of our industry is located in New York. We decided 10 years ago that opening an office, competing in red waters, and paying 30―50 percent more for talent wasn’t a good recipe for success. We’ve since hired employees in 36 states, often finding talent superior to what was available in a larger market that we otherwise wouldn’t have found. With our employee-initiated turnover 80 percent less than industry average and client retention above 95 percent, we think it’s working quite well.
Jay Friedman is the COO of Goodway Group