Teleworking became one of the most common ways that businesses have dealt with the current coronavirus pandemic. Before COVID-19, about 18% of the workforce worked remotely full-time. In May of 2020, during the height of the lockdown orders, about 35% of employees worked from home.
As local & state governments began easing restrictions, businesses started bringing employees back to the offices to get things back up and running again.
Well over a year later, close to 25% of workers still telework. So is it a viable long-term solution or simply a short-term answer for dealing with the pandemic? To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of teleworking for small businesses.
Why Continue Teleworking After the Pandemic?
Teleworking provides a way to keep employees safe but it comes with limitations. Some businesses have struggled to replace in-person communications with remote versions. You may also find that it is difficult to monitor the work of employees remotely.
Luckily, many of the drawbacks of teleworking are easily addressed with the right strategies. If you choose to permanently adopt it, you can analyze the areas that need improvement & find suitable solutions.
If you are a business owner who has adopted a telework arrangement, you may wonder whether you should continue to let your staff work remotely. Even after the threat of the pandemic passes, teleworking provides significant benefits.
1. Prevent Interruptions to Work Due to Lockdowns
Maintaining work-from-home arrangements after the pandemic protects against future outbreaks. It ensures business continuity by offering a proactive solution for dealing with potential lockdowns.
If most of your workforce already work remotely, you are less likely to experience a labor shortage during another lockdown situation. You also avoid the downtime related to implementing teleworking procedures for the first time. Your employees already have the software and policies in place to continue working.
2. Reduce Your Operating Expenses
Permanent teleworking procedures may lead to reduced operating expenses. The average small business employs about 10 people. If half of those employees continued to work from home, the average small business would only have five employees entering the workplace at a time.
With fewer employees showing up to the office, you may be able to downsize your workplace. Leasing a smaller office can dramatically reduce your operating costs.
3. Boost Employee Productivity and Effectiveness
Telework is not a new concept. Various industries have relied on remote work for many years, allowing consultants to study the impact of teleworking solutions.
Studies show that teleworking drives employee productivity and engagement while decreasing employee turnover & absenteeism. Many people assume that remote workers struggle to stay on track due to distractions at home.
The truth is that teleworkers are more productive compared to traditional workers. They are more likely to work a full shift, take shorter breaks, and take less time off.
4. Increase Employee Morale and Loyalty
Along with boosting productivity, teleworking is known to improve employee morale and loyalty. Many employees enjoy the perks of getting to work from home. They get to avoid commuting to work each day, which reduces costs related to gas and car maintenance.
Teleworkers also enjoy greater flexibility with their work schedules, which makes it easier to maintain a positive work/life balance. These benefits keep employees satisfied with their jobs and a happy employee is more likely to produce positive work.
5. Keep Your Employees Safe from Another Outbreak
No one knows when or if we can return to the exact way things were before COVID-19. Offering teleworking options to your employees helps keep them safe by limiting their exposure to the public and co-workers. You may keep sick employees from spreading the virus to others.
As a small business owner, you are likely protected against civil claims from employees who can connect the source of their illness to your workplace.
Unfortunately, the laws are still murky in this area. If you maintain remote work policies, you have less to worry about when it comes to your legal liability to protect employees.
6. Gain Access to a Large Talent Pool
As more companies choose to embrace teleworking as a permanent work option, other businesses may struggle to compete for talent. Those that offer these arrangements will gain access to a larger talent pool.
A lack of local talent is a common complaint from business owners. Many entrepreneurs choose to set up shop in major cities as large metro areas tend to attract more young professionals.
Filling a full-time teleworking position allows you to search for candidates outside of your region. You can look for new employees outside your state or even your country.
Potential Challenges of Long-Term Teleworking
Teleworking creates several immediate obstacles, such as how to collaborate on projects outside of the office. Luckily, there are many technologies for addressing the logistics of remote work.
Many businesses are relying on virtual private networks (VPN) for secure access to company data and teleconferencing software for remote communication. While these solutions may address the immediate concerns of teleworking, there are long-term challenges.
Permanently adopting telework limits direct communication. Instant messaging, Skype, Zoom, and other remote conferencing programs do not completely replace the need for in-person dialogue.
Managers and supervisors can no longer walk over to someone’s desk. Co-workers cannot commiserate by the water cooler. This creates a few extra challenges:
Socialization & Employee Connection
The lack of socialization may keep co-workers from building rapport and connecting on a personal level. Without this connection, collaborative projects may not produce the best results. However, this is more of a concern when creative output is required.
For example, the members of a marketing department may sit around and brainstorm ideas for a new marketing campaign. Close interaction aids the creative process by allowing co-workers to quickly bounce ideas off each other.
A lack of direct communication may also result in poor work relations. When co-workers cannot build meaningful relationships, they are more likely to struggle with conflict resolution.
Every workplace also has its own company culture. The environment of the workplace influences everything about the way an employee works, including how they interact with clients and co-workers. With a remote workforce, you may find it hard to instill your vision, culture, and company values in your employees.
Tips for Successful Teleworking Policies
Despite the obstacles, teleworking remains an efficient solution for many businesses. The following tips can help you avoid the challenges and enjoy the benefits of teleworking:
1. Establish Clear Telework Policies and Guidelines
The first step is to establish clear policies for telework. Everyone should understand their roles and responsibilities.
You may need supervisors to email remote workers at a set time each day or require employees to use specific applications for completing work. The telework policy should also include guidelines for employee work habits, such as taking breaks at a specific time of the day.
2. Maintain Daily Communication with Teleworkers
As mentioned, communication is the greatest challenge to successful teleworking. Use all necessary means to maintain communications with teleworkers. This may include daily emails or video conference calls.
Failing to adhere to a strict communications policy can gradually increase the lack of communication. It is easy for messages to get lost or overlooked when an employee works remotely. Always follow up when an employee does not respond to an email within a given amount of time.
3. Make Sure That You Have the Right Technology for the Job
Using the wrong software may limit the effectiveness of your teleworking solutions. Problems with video conference software, project workflow programs, and other collaborative tools keep your employees from getting things done.
Review the technologies needed for your teleworking arrangements. In most cases, you need a secure platform for sharing company documents and data, such as a VPN or a cloud-based database.
Your employees may also require updated hardware. An older laptop may not support the latest software. You should also supply the hardware as allowing employees to work from their personal devices increases the security risks of telework.
4. Continue to Review Your Policies and Guidelines
Any long-term process needs to be reviewed occasionally to determine its effectiveness. To continue using telework arrangements, you need to continually review your policies.
As part of the review process, you should accept input from your teleworkers. Ask them what they like and dislike about teleworking. Supervisors and managers should also provide feedback and any concerns related to monitoring the work of employees.
The bottom line is that every business has unique needs that influence the way that they operate. Teleworking may make sense for many businesses but may not offer the perfect solution for everyone.
If you plan on using remote work as a permanent part of your operations, treat it as you would any other business decision. Take the time to review the way it impacts every business process. You can then alter each process to accommodate the teleworking arrangements.
By carefully implementing teleworking, you may be able to protect your small business against future pandemics while improving employee satisfaction & productivity.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.