In the U.S. and around the world, businesses large and small are adopting a modern way of work.
A recent Gallup study reports that 37% of American workers have worked remotely, a 311% increase from 1995 and a 23% increase from 2008. In the UK, 34% of companies at a recent Leadership Summit hosted by the London Business School expect that by 2020 half of their workforce will be working remotely, and 25% of the companies in attendance expect that more than three-quarters of their workforce will be remote by then.
Many companies have even been successfully operating 100% virtual since inception.
These stats reflect a trending increase in corporate distribution, a positive trajectory that won’t be going away anytime soon. It’s time for your company to get on board - here are five steps to take to build a remote organization:
1 - Identify Your Reasons and Goals
At the outset, define the drivers that have you wanting to establish a remote organization.
There are many reasons for why companies choose to operate virtually, but not all of them may apply to you – and you may have unique reasons of your own.
Do you want to attract and retain top talent that isn’t restricted by geographic location? Bolster employee wellness and productivity by offering a flexible working culture? Reduce overhead costs? Work smarter by taking advantage of different time zones?
Evaluating the ‘why’ behind your desire to have an agile business will help you determine whether setting up your organization in this way befits your intentions. And if it does, then doing this exercise will provide a focus for the steps that follow.
2 - Survey Your Workforce
News flash: implementing a virtual operation will not be successful if your team doesn’t actually want to work virtually.
Though it’s becoming more and more unlikely that workers will say ‘no’ to the opportunity, not everybody thrives in a remote environment.
To make sure you aren’t forcing anyone into a work style that is counter-intuitive to their nature (and thus ultimately won’t achieve the results the company is targeting), poll your employees or potential employees before you make any sudden moves.
Their feedback may not only encourage you to continue with the development of a remote program, but employee input will provide insight into how best to formulate that program to everyone’s advantage, which is your next action item.
3 - Come Up with a Structure
Every company, no matter the industry, needs basic operating guidelines, and it’s important to define what they consist of BEFORE you leap out into the business world.
Just as you would when starting any new venture, outline the procedures for the virtual operation of your company.
Building upon your awareness of your goals for running a remote organization and the realities and preferences of how your employees function, design a system that at a minimum addresses:
- Expectations of performance and availability,
- means and quantity of communication, and
- which productivity, management, and collaboration tools – like Slack and Sococo – are to be used by all.
While your organization may be complex, keep the policies simple and easy to consistently comply with. Remember: you can always revise or build on them down the line.
4 - Test It Out
Whether you already have an office-based business or are starting from scratch, it’s a good idea to enter the virtual realm slowly and work towards expansion.
For those with a current office-based model, perhaps start by transitioning those employees that are the most enthused by the new prospect and are eager to opt-in. Maybe specific teams or projects within the company are more conducive to a remote setup and will be easier to quickly convert. It could be that, for larger organizations, an entire office location could be the guinea pig.
For companies that are starting out as remote from day one, kick off with a small team. Since you will be creating a company culture at the same time as producing output, it’s critical to make sure that you’re taking on the right people for both the task at hand and the values of the company – and that initiating both business and comradery remotely is right for you.
The primary aims of this part of the process are control, feedback, and observation.
Not control in terms of micro-managing, but being able to minimize disturbances in workflow and to easily adjust for any oversights in the virtual protocols. Encourage your group to be open with their communication about what they love about the system and what could be improved. Lastly, keep a close eye on your company metrics to see just how the transition into a remote workforce is impacting business.
5 - Scale
Once you have been operating part or all of your business remotely at a small scale, you’ve realized the benefits of a distributed workforce and you’ve ironed out any kinks, you’re ready to scale up.
Maybe you started with a remote workforce that was geographically near, and now you’re ready to take on talent worldwide. If you were a small startup, maybe you’re ready to expand. If your team wasn’t working remotely 100% of the time during the test period, you now allow them to do so.
As the company leadership with your finger on the pulse of your newly remote organization, you’ll know what direction to advance in.
Just know that the timing of this last phase will vary – maybe your test team took to the virtual world like bees to honey or maybe you all need a little more adjustment time. When it’s right for your company, you’ll take the next step and grow remote.