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.

5 Secrets to Being Productive in Your Remote Workspace

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By: Jessica Thiefels | CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting

Published May 1, 2020

In the final months of 2019, Owl Labs’ annual State of Remote Work report found that, of those surveyed, 62 percent of Americans work remotely to at least some degree. But as companies near the midpoint of 2020—and the fever pitch of the COVID-19 pandemic—millions of other employees across the globe have since joined the ranks of those who already work at home. 

The era of digital transformation has made remote work more convenient and accessible in many industries. But if this is your first time tackling projects from the couch instead of an office, it can be hard to tune out the distractions and stay on-task. 

Here are five strategies to maximize productivity in your remote workspace. 

Setting up your remote workspace

An office or cubicle is a ready-made station for hunkering down and concentrating, but at home, you’ll need to recreate this kind of environment yourself. This can be a desk, sofa, patio chair or kitchen table, but it must be a space where you can enforce boundaries to separate work and home life. Most importantly, make sure it’s free of disruptions—Netflix and laundry that needs to be folded.

A designated, optimized work area communicates to the brain that you mean business, so treat it like a new document on your computer—well-defined, orderly and clean, advises Ron Lieback, CEO of ContentMender. Lieback says: 

“A blank document allows your mind to focus more. Now picture that document filled with random words and numbers all cluttered onto the paper, and you have to write in between this. Your mind will play tricks on you, and focus will be impossible. The same goes for an unorganized office.”

Connecting with a remote team

When you work at home, it’s crucial to maintain regular touchpoints of connection with your team, even from a distance—even if that’s just via chat. “Most people are perfectly capable of interacting and expressing nonverbal communication signals in writing. This makes teamwork via chat run smoothly, allowing team members to collaborate without the need to hear or see each other,” suggests Hubgets, in their remote work strategies blog post.

If meetings are challenging to schedule because of location, make the most of chat tools, where you can collaborate as a team, re-connect, or simply share files in a single, easy-to-find place. This simple collaboration not only helps to combat loneliness, but also ensures that everyone is on the same page.

Creating a work-from-home routine

A new routine requires structure. With so many aspects of life in flux right now, motivation can seem out of reach, but planning out the day, just like you would in the office, leads to a more efficient workflow. The more proactive and intentional you are about this routine, the more habitual it will become and the more productive you’ll be. 

This doesn’t mean you need to wake up and start sending emails at 7am. It does mean,  however, that you set aside specific times of the day for working. It may even be valuable to continue prepping lunches the night before and setting the coffee pot timer before bed so you can focus on work just like you would in the office.

Don’t forget to digitize and automate any other processes that you can to ensure minimal distractions, like setting up auto emails and creating templates that make it quick and easy to address common questions and messages.

You can also use tools like Earth Class Mail to get your mail delivered virtually—eliminating a trip to the mailbox. 

Minimizing distractions while working from home

A recent poll from the staffing company OfficeTeam revealed that, on average, employees waste 56 minutes per day doing non-work activities on a mobile device. In an office environment, there is a certain level of “etiquette”—you don’t want to be the person who’s always on their phone, but in a remote setting, the onus is now on you. 

Eliminate that temptation to scroll on Facebook or Instagram in the middle of work hours, close all social media tabs on your computer and log out of the apps on your phone. You can also use an app to set screen limits on social media platforms. 

Setting boundaries when working from home

Have you noticed that in the midst of a creative or motivational slump, getting up and moving around helps you regain your mental energy? That’s because the mind and body need “microbreaks” in order to function optimally. Think of these as quick reboot sessions for the brain to disconnect from all that digital information and stimulation it’s consuming.

Microbreaks can help you refocus when productivity feels drained, notes author and business management expert Daniel Pink, but here are his basic ground rules to maximize the efficacy of a microbreak:

  • A 30-minute break is ideal, but 5 to 10 minutes is better than nothing.
  • Commit to your break—don’t be answering emails while “resting.”
  • Move your body. Take a walk, stretch, dance or do some exercises.
  • Call a friend or chat with a family member. Get social if you can.
  • Get outside if you can.

The uncertainty of COVID-19 means that employees across the globe are likely to be remote workers for at least the next several months. While any transition has its share of obstacles and learning curves, these productivity hacks can ease the pain points as you acclimate and ensure that you’re staying productive and effective.

Jessica Thiefels is a remote-work veteran and the founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting. She’s been writing for more than 10 years and featured in top publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur. She also writes for FastCompany, Freelancer’s Union, Glassdoor and more. Follow her on Twitter@JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.

Is Your Law Firm Prepared for Remote Work?

Law practices around the world are hustling to transition their teams to remote work — identifying ways to ensure they continue to meet ethics and confidentiality standards, comply with statutory requirements, and keep clients front and center during a time of uncertainty.

Thanks to cloud-based computing, a plethora of tools exist to help firms create as seamless a transition for their clients as possible. 

The tech tools virtual law firms need

A handful of effective and secure cloud-based tools can help a law firm maintain business continuity and continue to provide exceptional service during an unforeseen disruption in day-to-day operations.

Video conferencing software

While many attorney-client and internal office communications will continue to occur over the phone, video conferencing often improves the client’s experience and in certain situations, like deposition or witness prep, can be critical to the lawyer’s ability to provide guidance.

Virtual mail

Most law firms still have a significant postal mail load, and managing that without staff in the office is almost impossible. Even for firms that can have one staff person on-site to receive paper mail, the task of scanning mail and sending it to each recipient doesn’t use their time effectively. 

Virtual mailrooms allow attorneys to have immediate digital access to all paper mail and reduces an unnecessary task for staff so that they can focus on better supporting the firm’s work for clients. 

Virtual filing systems

Lawyers working remotely need quick and consistent access to their documents and files. A virtual fileroom – developed specifically for professions that require heightened security measures – ensures that both lawyers and staff are able to get the documents they need while out of the office.

Networking systems

Many attorneys rely on networking within their larger firm or at in-person events to build their book of business. Working virtually can drastically reduce the opportunities available for connection with other attorneys — to bounce ideas around or to develop referral partners. 


Social media platforms can provide online networking. Some of LinkedIn’s legal groups are quite active. There are also companies and associations creating virtual networks for specific practice areas. For instance, Justice HQ is an elite membership of consumer advocate attorneys who receive, among other things, networking opportunities through private Slack channels and membership directories that help them share and refer cases.

Practice management software

Cloud-based practice management systems allow the internal workings of a law firm to transition seamlessly from in-person to remote operations. Having time tracking, contacts and calendars, and matter data all in one place that can be accessed by each team member from their remote workstation safeguards the processes that firms have built through years of careful planning.

Voip phone system

Smaller firms may be able to rely on team member’s cell phones for continued communication while working remotely. However, for attorneys that don’t want to provide clients their personal phone numbers or for larger teams that need more complex conference calling  or voice mail options, cloud-based VoiP (voice over internet protocol) systems offer attorneys the ability to engage in phone communication as if at the office. 

These tools will allow you and your team to continue to focus on your clients instead of on the frustrating logistics of working remotely. 


At Earth Class Mail we’ve developed our tools in collaboration with legal teams to provide the features that matter most to you. Earth Class Mail offers many other solutions for you legal practice, including virtual addresses and automated check deposit.

5 Foundational Tips for Remote Startups

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Founders and entrepreneurs leading a remote company face a unique set of challenges when it comes to employee engagement, business operations, and team communication. You’re creating company culture virtually, without the luxury of in-person management. With your team’s increased mobility it becomes more important to centralize and standardize your business practices and keep everyone in sync. 

Thankfully, there are many options to choose from when it comes to affordable cloud-based tools that make it easier for your remote team to collaborate, as well as a wealth of information from companies that have paved the way. If you are about to launch a remote company or are looking for ways to improve an existing business operating remotely now, we’ve got a few core practices that will keep you organized and your team optimized. 

1. Don’t underestimate (virtual) face time

We’ve written about the importance of remote communication before, but it’s worth mentioning again. A simple way to strengthen rapport with your team is to replace conference calls with video conferences. It’s a great way to connect with colleagues who would prefer to put a face to a name while easing the barrier of remote communication and helps create clarity on tasks and projects . Start with free, easy to use tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet, or even Slack Calls.

2. Use the cloud

Storing data in the cloud allows you to access and analyze important information quickly, enabling you to make informed decisions more readily. Instead of creating an Excel spreadsheet that can’t be shared in real-time, leverage cloud-based apps until you need a more robust tool, like a cloud-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. Avoid the trap of investing in software that your employees might not need by testing a free or inexpensive tool and by being strategic about how the tools you’ve put in place interact with one another. 

3. Put yourself in your client’s shoes

Running a remote company has its benefits, as well as its trade offs when it comes to your client base. I recently spoke with a customer who was turning down clients that were only able to send payment via mail (paper-based billing and paying by check are more prevalent than you might think). Since this client relocated from the US to Europe, receiving and processing payments from abroad was taking too long, checks were occasionally lost in transit, and the company was at risk of not making payroll. A digital mail solution, also sometimes called a virtual mailbox, gives you access to important correspondence, such as postal mail, documents, and checks, all via an online platform. You’ll have continuity in your mailing address even if you want to travel the world or set up shop in another state. Some solutions, like Earth Class Mail, even offer remote check depositing solutions, which allow you to keep clients whose billing practices might not be as automated as your own.

4. Start with data

And don’t stop. Without a doubt, centralizing customer and prospect data is a must when starting a remote company. Even if you’re a solopreneur, or work on a small team, begin with something as simple as Google Sheets, a live document that’s accessible from anywhere. As you add employees, give them access and review the data that you require them to enter. At a minimum, start tracking your business prospects and customers. Collect relevant contact details and lead source information, the product of interest or the product purchased, as well as other data – such as the time it took to close the deal or the reason why you lost the deal – to inform future decisions. When the time comes that you have too many data points to manage, move to an affordable cloud-based CRM to centralize customer and prospect data. 

5. Standardize processes

As you add employees to your team, be sure to communicate and train each employee on the tools you have in place and your expectations on how the team should use them to collaborate. Otherwise, you could end up with disparate data and inefficient processes. Create an on-boarding document or new hire training so that you minimize the time spent bringing new employees up to speed. And, don’t think of standardization as infringing on your employee’s autonomy. You’re building consistency among your remote workers the way it might more organically be built if you all were working in the same physical location. 

Remember, if you’re just getting started, use free cloud-based tools to build out your core business processes and make it a practice to have all your information living in a central repository. If you and your employees have conquered your business workflows with free cloud-based tools and feel like you’ve outgrown them, then it’s time to begin looking for a more specialized solution. 

6 Communication Best Practices for Your Remote Team

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By: Gwen Murray | VP of Marketing | Earth Class Mail

Published March 18, 2020

If you lead a remote team or manage some of the 4 million remote employees in the U.S., you’ve already noticed the heightened importance of communication. After all, remote teams forgo more immediate opportunities for collaboration, important nonverbal cues, and a shared office environment.

In fact, employee engagement drops the more time that employees spend “off-site.” And since worker engagement is critical for collaboration, companies should take extra care to keep remote workers in the loop. Here are six ways to mitigate some of the challenges posed by remote communication.  

1. Utilize the right tools 

Communication platforms can’t replace doing the work to foster a culture of open dialogue and collaboration. But without the right tools for staying in touch, chances are that important updates and notifications will fall through the cracks, especially when your office is virtual.

In addition to email, some of the most commonly used team communication tools are Slack, Skype and Google Hangouts Meet. Depending on your specific business needs and practices, tools that might also be helpful include Twist, Zoom, and UberConference. When selecting technology, focus less on bells and whistles and more on finding a platform that matches your team’s needs. Like: do you need built-in file sharing?  Or if your team is in different time zones, do you want options for synchronous or asynchronous communication? 

2. Centralize shared information

Avoid paper trails, especially for important information like government documents. Misplacing paper files is a sure proof way to cause headaches and lengthen project completion times. Shameless plug: if you receive high mail volumes or if you have boxes of old files preventing your organization from going paperless, let us transform your files into searchable, actionable PDFs.

Whether it’s Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive, teams need to choose a cloud storage solution and stick with it. A common barrier to knowledge access happens when some people are storing files in Google Drive, some people are storing documents on Dropbox, and everyone is searching through both to find what they need. Instead, centralize information in one location. This way work won’t be further disrupted if someone is out sick or leaves the company. 

3. Use a project management tool

Managers are often concerned about how their remote reports are progressing. After all, not being able to stop by someone’s desk for a quick update adds a layer of difficulty for project management. Luckily, there are tried and true tools for tracking progress and promoting accountability when face time is not an option. Some popular options to check out include Trello, and Asana.  Also, some project management platforms like Hibox include chat features so be sure to evaluate how these work with, or might even take the place of, existing communication tools. You don’t want to distract your team with too many communication methods.

4. Set clear and achievable goals

Don’t rely on on-screen deadlines and project tracking to replace more traditional team management. Hassan Osman, a virtual teams expert, says that if companies want remote teams to communicate more effectively, they need to first set clear and digestible goals that every cross-functional team agrees to and understands. Paired with frequent check-ins and updates that reach all team members, your team will be up to speed and you’ll have the space to allow for adjustments and corrections from the beginning.

5. Keep your team in the know

Along those same lines, leaders shouldn’t forget to keep remote staff up to date on company developments. Your remote team needs to know what the company mission and goals are and how their role fits into the bigger picture. This can be a huge factor when it comes to employee engagement. If you fail to keep employees notified about the broader vision, you might be giving them the impression that they are not important, even when the opposite is true.

Video conferencing is a great way to get to ensure everyone understands how they contribute. Don’t underestimate the power of video conferencing and non-verbal cues. Another great tool for replicating the collaboration that can come from spontaneous brainstorming around a whiteboard is Miro.

6. Maintain a balance 

Having the correct technology for syncing up online is just as important as the underlying norms of your remote team. Guard against the tendency of overlooking remote employees because they’re out of sight. Conversely, avoid cutting into too much of your employees’ time with emails, phone calls, and messages that can be viewed as micromanaging or distrust. And, if the team dynamic feels off, jump on a video call and get to the bottom of it. 

Five IRS Tax Tips for Expats with Small Businesses

This is a guest article by Hugo Lesser @ Bright!Tax

A lot of entrepreneurs choose to run their small business from abroad. For some it’s a way to get around work visa requirements, for others it may be a tax savings decision, and many are simply drawn to the expat lifestyle. 

Unfortunately for you, the IRS still needs to get theirs. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you need file a federal tax return each year.

There are a few critical steps you can take to minimize your tax liability, and several important considerations that are unique to expat tax returns.

Use your expat status to reduce tax liability

You’re not going to escape the IRS, but to their credit they are accommodating toward expats. 

There are some key exclusions that allow you to partially reduce or entirely eliminate your U.S. tax liability.

The most common is the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE), form #2555.

The FEIE allows expats, who can prove that they’re living abroad, to exclude the first $100,000 (inflation adjusted) in earnings each year. 

The threshold for expat living abroad is as follows, per the IRS website:

“You are considered to live abroad if you are a U.S. citizen whose tax home is in a foreign country and you have been present in a foreign country or countries for at least 330 days out of a consecutive 12-month period.”

If you’re in a foreign country with a higher income tax rate than the U.S., then consider the Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) form #1116.

With the FTC you can claim a dollar for dollar tax credit for any income taxes you’ve already paid abroad, and potentially eliminate your entire IRS tax bill.

Bonus: The FTC credits rollover for future use.

Deadlines still apply so you have until June 15th to file, with a further extension available until October 15th upon special request.

Single-member LLC’s are your wallet’s best friend

Limited liability corporations registered in the U.S. with a single owner are considered ‘disregarded entities’ by the IRS.

Huh? Well, that means they don’t require separate corporate reporting, and any revenue or expenses can be included on the owner’s personal tax return.

There’s a catch though, you need to “elect” to be considered a disregarded entity by filing a special form, form #8832 (#8858 in subsequent years).

Doing that allows you to use the personal exclusions mentioned above against your corporate profits.

The IRS knows your bank account balance

You’re required to report any foreign bank or investment accounts if the total value of their combined balances is over $10,000. 

Any bank account that you have control or signatory authority over qualifies, including small business accounts, even if the account isn’t in the your name.

For example: if you have a personal savings account and control over your small business account, and the two balances combined had a value of over $10,000 at any time during the tax year, you will need to file a Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR).

Foreign banks report their U.S. clients’ account details to the U.S. government, so the IRS knows who should be filing. Penalties for not filing are substantial. 

If you ignore this requirement, you will get penalized. From the IRS website,

“For willful violations, the inflation-adjusted penalty may be the greater of $124,588 or 50 percent of the balance in the account at the time of the violation, for each violation“.

If business is good, the IRS wants to know

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) requires expats to report their foreign assets (not including tangible assets such as property) if they are worth a total of at least $200,000 at any time during the tax year.

Qualifying assets include savings and investments, and small businesses.

If your investments and the value of your small business pass this threshold, you should report them.

You’re still going to pay for Social Security

Sole proprietorships and single owner LLCs registered in the U.S. are required to pay Social Security taxes.

If your business is registered abroad on the other hand, you aren’t.

Certain countries have Totalization agreements with the U.S. A totalization agreement means that you won’t be penalized with a requirement to contribute to two separate social security programs.

There are dozens of countries that qualify including, but not limited to: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Poland, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. 

You can view a complete list of Totalization Agreements here.

In countries with Totalization, you can opt to have your foreign social security taxes credited toward your U.S. future social security benefits.

Wrapping up…

Filing U.S. taxes as an expat small business owner can be complex, and this article is not comprehensive.

The IRS offers an overview of the rules and required forms, just remember that mistakes can be costly.

As with anything tax related, consult a licensed professional for your specific needs.

Meet David Fideler, Owner of Concord Editorial and Design

Our customers rock. We love to share their stories, and are thrilled to introduce you to the next customer in our customer spotlight series, David Fideler. David is the owner of Concord Editorial and Design, and the creator of the blog Brainstorm Every Day. 

Concord Editorial creates books for publishers in the United States, and Brainstorm Every Day helps people generate ideas and create their own business opportunities. 

David Fidler, Concord Editorial

Thanks so much for sharing your story, David. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your company? What does Concord Editorial do, and what sets you apart?

We create high-quality books, mainly for university presses. The thing that sets us apart is the quality of our work — from the design, to the editing, to the quality control processes we use to make sure every book is error-free.

How did you get started and why?

From the day I was born, I grew up around books and publishing. My father owned a textbook publishing company, which he started as a young man. Then, when I was twenty-four, I started my own publishing company which I ran for twenty years.

After that, I started Concord Editorial to create books for other publishers. I’ve now worked to bring well over 100 books into print, probably closer to 200.

Do you have an incredible customer success story you can share?

Not really, because all of our customers are happy with our work. That’s because we guarantee total customer satisfaction. In fact, we won’t deliver a project until a customer is fully satisfied with every aspect of our work.

In my view, every business should guarantee total customer satisfaction.

What’s the best business decision you made in the last few years?

Five years ago I decided to move my business overseas to where I now live in Sarajevo, in southern Europe. Without question, that was my best decision. I used to be based in West Michigan, and my editors still live and work in the United States, but after visiting Sarajevo I just fell in love with the city and decided to move here.

When I started the business ten years ago I designed it to be a location-independent company, but I had no idea I’d eventually relocate overseas and even buy a home here. Book publishing is not the highest-paying field in the world, and outsourcing work to other countries has been going on for many years now. In this case, I decided to outsource myself and take advantage of the much lower cost of living here to increase my quality of life.

Can you share a tip, trick, hack, tool or service with our readers that makes you better, or makes your days more effective?

Actually, I can offer more than one. There’s a resource guide available on my website, Brainstorm Every Day, that describes in-depth “The 12 Tools and Hacks I Use to Run My Business From Overseas”. I included Earth Class Mail in that guide because it’s one of my most important tools.

Tell us how Earth Class Mail makes you better at your job, or your company better at what it does?

Ever since I moved my business here five years ago, Earth Class Mail has been invaluable. I couldn’t run my business without it. It gives me total control of all my mail at a distance, and I’ve never once had a single problem with the service.

The most important feature of Earth Class Mail, for me, is the automatic check deposit feature. It works perfectly. Based on the research I did before leaving the United States, Earth Class Mail is the only company that really has this down as a complete, affordable service that is totally automated.

Whenever I get an envelope containing a check, the check is scanned, automatically identified as a check by the software, and automatically deposited into my business’s bank account. It just works flawlessly, each and every time.

Another feature that is very helpful is the cloud storage of everything you receive in the mail. After my documents are scanned and my checks are deposited I have Earth Class Mail recycle the original hardcopy documents, but keep all the PDF scans online in cloud storage until I have time to print them out and process them. I often get very busy with work so while I have my checks deposited immediately, I can wait even a few months to update my invoicing database, whenever I have the time.

What feature can we add or improvement can we make that would make you say, “shut the front door, I need that!” ?

For the life of me, I can’t think of anything. Earth Class Mail fully meets my needs, it lets you work anywhere and still have a U.S.-based company.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today, any parting words or advice for our readers?

Yes — I truly believe we are living in the best time ever for anyone to create a location-independent business. I feel so strongly about this that I’m now creating an online course to help people who want to start their own business and, most importantly, do the marketing so they can get great clients no matter where they live.

When I started my book design business ten years ago I wanted to be able to work with clients anywhere in the United States, because at the time the economy was just so terrible where I lived in West Michigan. I had no idea that I’d one day move to another country, I just wanted to be able to work with anyone, anywhere. That, in my mind, was the best way to be financially secure.

So if anyone is reading this and contemplating something similar, I want to encourage them and let them know that yes, it really is possible.

Study: Majority of SMBs & Startups Mismanage Their Back Office

Back office work tends to be the red-headed stepchild of items on your to-do list. No one wants to deal with it, but it has to be taken care of. Your business mail is at the center of that burden because in it there are important notices, invoices, and checks from your customers. 

All that gold is buried in a mountain of junk. Once you’re done sorting and opening your mail, the job tends to only be half done. Now you have to scan the important stuff or head to the bank for a deposit.

You are not alone… 

  • 70% of small businesses burn over an hour each month managing mail,
  • 40% more than three hours, and 
  • 20% waste six or more hours each month*. 

That’s a crazy amount of time to spend on dealing with snail mail. In a recent survey, jointly conducted by Earth Class Mail and GetApp, 500 small business owners answered the question: 

How much time do you spend managing your business’ mail each month, including: depositing checks, scanning, and distributing to recipients?

*Survey results adjusted to exclude “None of the above” responses, and percentages normalized.

There is a real cost to all this waste

Sometimes you don’t know something is a problem until you take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Managing your business mail can turn into a routine pretty quickly, and you can probably go to bed feeling like you’ve accomplished something. But at what cost?

Fred Wilson, a famed VC investor and entrepreneur, suggested in 2011 that the average burn rate for a fully burdened employee at a startup is $10,000 per month. Marc Andreessen suggested it was in excess of $16,000 per month in 2014. Even the median income for a small business owner in the U.S. is $60,000 per year according to payscale.com, not including all of the added cost burdens that can more than double that figure.

All of that means that it’s costing businesses real money each month, from $100 to $1000 or more, and that doesn’t account for the opportunity cost of working on tasks more directly tied to business growth.

Earth Class Mail plans start at $49/mo. Learn More

Sometimes business mail is just a pain in the a$$

When mail becomes white noise it can lead to real problems for businesses. Today’s companies are dynamic, ever-changing machines. They move often as they expand and hire, they work with a myriad of vendors, and they focus on the things that drive growth. That means that minutia like updating an address with an insurance provider or the secretary of state can easily get overlooked.

“We didn’t receive a renewal notice at my last company because the insurance provider had an old address. It cost us a lapse in coverage.” Jeff Judge, Founder @ Bright.io

Missteps like that can lead to big problems. Lapses in insurance coverage, missed incorporation renewals, and worse.

Then there is the new breed of entrepreneurs that choose to run their companies without walls or borders. A 2015 Gallup Poll revealed that 37% of workers telecommute on some regular basis, and some predict that 50% of the workforce will work remotely by 2020. That sentiment is surely overrepresented in the entrepreneur class, with tech startups leading the way.

As a small startup, we didn’t have physical office space until a few months ago. Earth Class Mail took care of that and our mail, so we could focus on our business. Matthew Juszczak, Founder @ Bitlancer.com

This trend will only continue as the workforce moves to more flexible location opportunities and the cost savings of remote work are realized by larger organizations. 

Thinking ahead on the future of the back office

The need for digital solutions that mirror the benefits of traditional services, while offering more efficiency and cost savings, is only growing. Physical addresses and snail mail are still required to legally operate a corporation. 

As archaic as it may sound, there is definitely a superficial need for professional contact information as well. Just like businesses want a public facing phone number that isn’t the founder’s personal line, they need a public facing “physical” presence that isn’t also someone’s home. 

There is no shortage of tools and resources that solve these common back office problems around phone, mail, and communication. These solutions make back office operations better, and do it cheaper. There’s certainly a lot more to come, and the future looks bright for both entrepreneurs and employees.