The Future of Remote Work, after COVID-19 Pandemic

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By: Laurie Ersch | VP of Customer Success |

Earth Class Mail

Published June 26, 2020

If you jump into a discussion about the future of remote work after COVID-19, someone is sure to say, The cat’s out of the bag. 

They wouldn’t be wrong. At the height of the pandemic, Gallup polled people who were working remotely about their plans for the future. Only a quarter said they want to return to an office or workspace. Half of the respondents said that if it were up to them, they would continue to work from home. If employees have anything to say about it, remote work is here to stay.

The rapid transition to remote work opened a window into a possible workplace future that many employees wanted but few employers were ready to embrace. The 2019 State of Remote Work report by OWL Labs found that 81% of on-site employees want or may want to work remotely. And now, the cat is definitely out of the bag: remote work didn’t destroy organizations. Employees didn’t sit at home all day and play video games. In fact, in the midst of extraordinarily unconducive circumstances, they did the work that needed to be done

So what happens next?

Companies, government agencies, non-profit organizations—and even individuals—will all have to grapple with how remote work will factor into their new workplace. Because even for organizations that want to return to the office, there is no going back to the way it was. 

Will remote work become the norm?

Before the pandemic, about 30% of employees in the United States worked remotely full-time. Those lucky few enjoyed flexibility coveted by many, especially those in the millennial workforce. Websites and companies sprung up focused entirely on helping people find remote work. People wanted the flexibility to travel, stay home with their kids, go to the gym in the middle of the day, or work in their pajamas. 

In many organizations, working remotely was a privilege afforded to those who reached a certain seniority level or adequately justified their need to work elsewhere. 

COVID-19 turned this system on its head. Since the beginning of the pandemic, employers and employees have had to provide justification for having people not work remotely. Gartner estimates that almost half of employees will continue working remotely after businesses fully reopen. 

Of course, many jobs can’t be done remotely, especially those in the service industries. While the conversation around remote work can sound like a discussion about the future of all work, that’s not the case. No matter how many jobs go (or stay) remote in the coming months and years, there will always be positions that must remain in an office setting or an otherwise physical location. 

However, there may be far fewer of those positions than many employers had initially believed. 

Overcoming barriers

In the last few months, both employers and employees have pushed through any resistance they had to remote work. 

Historically, one of the primary barriers for employers has been discomfort with the lack of oversight. Many employers worried about employee productivity in settings without managerial supervision. Being forced into a remote work situation has shown many employers that their employees can get results working from home. Perhaps they learned what many studies have shown: remote workers are often more productive than their in-office counterparts. A 2020 Gartner study showed that remote workers show higher levels of discretionary effort and higher enterprise contribution, meaning they not only perform their tasks but also contribute to others’ performance. 

Managers that were concerned about their ability to encourage collaboration, monitor employee productivity, and maintain a connection to their team have found ways to do all three. By using cloud-based tools and implementing remote work best practices, some have realized improvements in their productivity and relationships with employees. 

Companies that have long been creating services for remote workforces have stepped into the current situation ready to provide support—from video conferencing and whiteboard collaboration to virtual addresses and home-based ergonomic workstations

Organizations that envisioned remote work somewhere in the distant future now see the immediate possibilities, regardless of a pandemic. 

Health concerns about returning to office environments

According to Gallup’s poll, even employees who would be interested in returning to an office environment are hesitant to do so because of continued concerns about the novel coronavirus—or any future pandemic. Employees aren’t alone in their worries. A company’s ability to handle a suddenly remote workforce is very different from its ability to handle a sick and highly contagious one. 

Experts are already weighing in about the increased danger of open-concept offices, still highly popular in many office buildings. Even issues like elevators, shared kitchen spaces, and ventilation systems may need to be addressed. For some companies, creating a safe office environment may prove more challenging than transitioning to a remote workforce.

How organizations will capitalize on remote work after COVID

Even organizations that were previously resistant to remote work are beginning to see how it might provide value to their bottom line and their employees. 

  • Take advantage of cost savings from reduced office space. Allowing employees to work from home can reduce or eliminate the expense of office space, creating significant cost savings. Employers are exploring many different options, from closing down the office entirely to reducing workspace and scheduling alternating “in-office” days. One employer is considering designating one day a week as a company-wide in-office day so that people can have meetings and do things that may need to be done in person. In this arrangement, a company could maintain a significantly smaller space and still have physical headquarters. 
  • Access broader talent pools. Once companies get over the hump of remote work resistance, they realize that employing remote workers significantly increases their talent pool. Depending on an organization’s geographic location, hiring in other areas could also reduce payroll expenses. For instance, companies in New York City could offer salaries that someone in a less expensive community would happily accept but would be insufficient for an employee attempting to rent a New York City apartment. 
  • Reduce employee attrition and develop more productive workforces. According to Owl Lab’s 2019 Report on Remote Work, “workers who work remotely, at least some of the time, are happier, feel more trusted, less stressed, are more inclined to recommend their employer to a friend, and are less likely to leave than their [office-bound] colleagues.” On-site workers report working longer hours because it’s required, and more remote workers say they’re doing so because they enjoy their work.

How employees will capitalize on remote work after COVID

The conversation around the future of remote work from an employee perspective has centered around work-life balance. That’s a frequently-cited benefit, but survey data suggests that there’s a lot to like about being a remote employee. 

  • Enjoy both geographic and temporal flexibility. Remote workers can often work where they want and sometimes even when they want. This isn’t just about the digital nomad lifestyle where a remote worker is logging onto their email from a hut on the beach (although that’s certainly one element of it). Remote work allows someone who can’t afford to live in New York City to take a job with a major publishing company. A marketing executive who needs to move back to her hometown to care for aging parents isn’t limited by the job opportunities there. 
  • Reduce commuting time. One of the most-cited reasons for wanting to work remotely is eliminating a daily commute. The average American spends almost an hour commuting to and from work every day, over 200 hours commuting each year. During the pandemic, people have been able to use those hours of returned time to get more work done, hang out with their families, take up new hobbies, or get a bit more sleep. 
  • Reduce friction between work and home responsibilities. Someone who works from home can take a few minutes after a conference call to pop a load of laundry into the washing machine. They can walk the dog while they’re on a client call. Especially for working parents, the ability to intersperse the workday with quick tasks can make evenings with kids more relaxed and enjoyable.  

Transitioning to remote work post-COVID

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, organizations and their employees have learned on the job—how to use cloud-based file-sharing programs, collaborate with colleagues over video calls, manage employee productivity through email and Slack, and hire and onboard without in-office interviews. 

They’re more prepared than ever to make this transition. However, companies may need to replace interim measures with longer-term solutions. 

The pandemic drove a rapid shift to remote work, and it did so without the need for nuanced decisions about the details of a company’s remote work policies. Anyone able to do their work remotely was expected to do so. 

As the economy reopens, companies will need to define their guidelines and protocols for remote work. A few key questions can guide that process:

  • Will the default working environment be home or office? Do employees need to request the ability to work remotely?
  • Will remote work be available equally to all employees, or do options need to be individualized for specific roles?
  • Do remote employees need to be “at work” at particular times during the day?
  • What tools and metrics can be used to measure employee productivity and performance?
  • How will the organization maintain continuity and connection between in-office employees and remote employees?

The landscape has changed. Employees have gotten a sneak preview of working remotely, and many will not want to go back. Companies that capitalize on that new reality will have a significant competitive advantage over those attempting to return to “business as usual.” 

How to Run a Business Without an Office – 2020 Small Business Guide

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By: Laurie Ersch | VP of Customer Success |

Earth Class Mail

Published May 15, 2020

In the time of COVID-19, small businesses all over the world are getting a crash course in how to operate remotely. Companies that already used a distributed workforce are patting themselves on the back for their foresight. And both existing and new business owners are asking themselves: do I really need an office to run my small business?

Many small (and large) businesses do very well without an office — and not just because a pandemic forced them to. Plenty of successful companies made the choice to go 100% remote long before it became a necessity. 

Of course,  there are many small businesses that simply cannot provide their core services without an office. Hair salons, car repair providers, and many other small businesses must interact with their customers or clients in person. This guide will focus on small business owners whose business model allows them to make a shift to remote work. 

For teams who may still be adapting to running remote, this article will guide you through everything you need to know to run a successful small business without an office. 

Benefits of running a business without an office

Of course, not every business can or should operate remotely, but if you’re still on the fence about whether your small business could do it, consider these statistics:

  • Prior to COVID-19 remote work was already on the rise. The percentage of employees who spent at least 40% of their time working remotely increased from 46% in 2012 to 55% in 2016 and has been on the rise since. Companies that don’t respond to the changing landscape will lose access to the most talented employees as the expectation for remote work options increases. 
  • Office space is expensive. The average cost of office space in New York City is more than $100 per square foot, and even in less expensive markets like Atlanta, it’s $50 per square foot. 
  • Employees want the flexibility of remote work. According to Gallup, 54% of office employees say they would leave their current jobs for the option to work remotely. 

Best practices for running a business without an office

Running a business with a distributed team requires careful planning as well as investment in tools and resources that will allow you and your employees to communicate effectively and manage all traditional in-person activities through cloud-based services. 

Each small business will have its own particular needs and challenges. This guide covers best practices that apply to all small businesses: 

  • Ensuring all team members have suitable workspaces
  • Protecting company data
  • Getting a virtual business address
  • Investing in communication tools
  • Using an effective project management tool
  • Finding meeting space, if necessary
  • Providing remote work training to employees

Create an effective remote workspace

Not having an office doesn’t mean you don’t have a workspace. Remote work consultants recommend creating a workspace that is free from distractions and used exclusively for work. 

But not everyone has a separate space that can be designated for work. If you (or your employees) don’t, that’s okay. Having a designated space is useful, but you can be productive at your kitchen table as long as you have the technology you need and are physically comfortable in your workspace. If you need two (or three) computer monitors to be effective, make sure you have those. If you can’t focus on your tasks because your back is killing you from sitting in an uncomfortable chair, you’re going to lose valuable time. 

Make sure your employees have remote workspaces that allow them to work effectively. Ask them what they need to be more productive — a more comfortable chair, a standing desk, multiple monitors?

Companies like GroWrk can help you outfit your team with useful workspaces. GroWrk provides ergonomic home workstations for distributed teams on a monthly subscription model, so you don’t have to spend capital to get everyone standing desks.  

Secure your business data with a VPN or VDI

Cybersecurity is a growing concern among both small and large businesses. Investing in a solution to protect your company’s data is critical, whether you’re operating in an office or remotely. You and your employees will likely use public Wi-Fi networks (at a coffee shop, in an airport), which can be easily hacked. 

You have a number of options to protect your data, from simple and inexpensive to more complex and quite costly. 

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN allows users to send communications across public networks (like that Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop) as if they were using a private network in a physical office. VPN services are inexpensive, ranging from a few bucks a month to around $15 a month, and there are a lot of options. 

Not sure where to start? Check out these VPN recommendations from TechRadar

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

A VDI provides each user with their own virtual desktop, all of which are connected to a centralized server managed by the administrator. VDI provides security along with a shared user interface so that everyone in the organization has access to the same tools and applications. Significantly more complex than a VPN, a VDI can cost thousands depending on how many employees you have.

User rating site G2 ranks Virtualbox as its top VDI service for small businesses, but you should discuss a VDI purchase with an IT professional first. 

Get a virtual business address

Not having a physical office doesn’t mean you can’t have a business address. In fact, you need a business address to provide credibility to customers and to avoid the privacy risk of using your personal address for business communications.

Plus, any business that registers with their Secretary of State’s office needs a business address. You may be able to use your home address for that purpose, but if you do, be warned that it’s on a public document that can be easily accessed online. 

The benefits of a virtual business address

If you don’t have a physical office, your options for getting a business address are (1) renting a PO box, (2) asking to share an address with a local business, or (3) buying a virtual address.

For small businesses, a virtual business address provides the best mix of flexibility and security. 

With a virtual address, you can access your mail online from home or while you’re away. 

Using either a PO box or a shared address means you have to travel to that location to pick up your mail. That requirement automatically removes some of the flexibility you gained by choosing to run a small business without having a physical office. And picking up mail from either a PO box or a shared address simply isn’t possible if you’re out of town. 

You may have an employee that can manage the process, but that requires additional legwork — perhaps getting them the PO box key or introducing them to the owner of the local address you’re using. If you receive an important piece of mail that needs immediate attention, they have to scan it and email it to you. And what if they’re out of town?

A virtual address provides the flexibility to read and act on your mail from your computer or mobile device from anywhere in the world. 

Some virtual address services also integrate with programs like Bill.com or with file-sharing services like Dropbox so you can easily and efficiently collaborate with team members or pay an invoice. They may allow you to automatically deposit checks that you receive in the mail. All of these options reinforce the flexibility and efficiency you’re creating with a remote business. 

Perhaps most importantly, using a virtual address service that follows security and privacy best practices will keep your mail safe and secure. Sharing an address with a local business opens you up to security breaches since you don’t know who might have access to the mail, and while a PO box is secure, you (or your employees) have plenty of opportunities to lose a piece of paper between getting it out of the box and taking action on it. 

Invest in remote work communication tools

Communication is important in any business, but it’s especially critical for distributed teams. Without the opportunity for the casual discussions that take place in an office, employees need lots of opportunities to connect with each other. 

Beyond connecting peer to peer, the right communication tool can help ensure that senior leadership is communicating with the team at large. In fact, a Harvard Business Review study showed that employee engagement improves when senior leadership continually communicates their strategy. 

So especially when your team is working remotely, it’s essential that you have the right tools in place to communicate with your team. 

In particular, we recommend you have the following tools: video conferencing for virtual meetings, messaging tools like Slack for quick soundbites, and collaboration tools like Google Drive for easy version control. These tools will ensure you stay on top of communication.

Check out this blog post for more ideas on how to communicate with your remote team.

Choose a project management tool for remote work 

Whether you’re in the office or at home, project management can make or break your team’s productivity. Effective project management tools orient the whole team to the most important tasks and milestones and include collaboration features so that you can be sure everyone’s on the same page.

With plenty of options on the market, choosing the right platform for your team comes down to which features will help keep you and your team on track and what your preference is for user interface. For instance, some project management systems (Trello and Asana are two of the most popular) include a feature that acts almost like a giant bulletin board task list. For people who respond best to visual information, that feature might be a non-negotiable. 

One feature that’s especially useful for distributed teams is reporting. Detailed reporting of tasks and the time spent on them can help managers and employees stay in tune with each other’s efforts and expectations when they’re not in the office together. Tools like Asana and Monday.com can quickly create visually impactful reports that tell the full story of a team member’s productivity. Everyone on the team can see it, so there’s transparency about each person’s responsibilities and progress, without the need for lengthy in-person meetings. 

Train employees on remote work

Remote work doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone. Some employees may have spent their entire career in an office before coming to work for you. Help your team understand your expectations as well as how to use the tools that you’ve provided. 

  • Define the workday. One of the perks of working remotely is the flexibility to work when you want to, but if you need your teams to be available at certain times, make that clear. 
  • Set video guidelines. If you don’t want to see anyone in their pajamas on a video call, make sure that’s clear. Showing up in your pajamas to the office is an obvious no, but understanding guidelines when working from home can be less clear.
  • Provide opportunities for connections that aren’t task-based. Hold regular virtual coffee chats or happy hours where employees can talk not only about what they’re working on but also how their week is going, what’s happening with their kids — the kinds of things they would chat about by the coffee maker or while they walk into the office together. 
  • Give training on tools. Many remote work tools are simple to use, but not everyone will have used them before. Provide training or access to training on using the features and functions that are important to your organization. 
  • Set communication guidelines. Let employees know what types of communications are appropriate for a slack message and what should be handled in an email or a phone call. 

Conclusion 

Running a remote small business that’s just as successful as its office-based equivalents is completely possible with the right preparation and tools. Set appropriate expectations, prioritize communication, and maximize opportunities for flexibility and online collaboration. 

If you’re looking for a virtual address service that’s committed to helping you succeed, sign up for Earth Class Mail today.