4 ways to prepare your business for an increasingly remote workforce

Stuart McLeodCEO & Co-Founder, Karbon

Even before COVID-19, the office as we know it was undergoing a massive change. The global pandemic just accelerated things.

According to one study, 70% of people globally were working remotely at least once a week in 2018. And pre-coronavirus research predicted that in the next year, nearly half of all employees will be working remotely full-time.

In fact, many businesses were already choosing to forgo physical offices altogether. And in the current climate, even the most traditional workplaces have been forced to embrace remote work.

No matter how temporary, there is no doubt that many companies will realize and acknowledge the unarguable benefits of remote work.

I predict that many will never go back to the traditional office again.

Not only are younger generations entering the workforce today prioritizing the work/life balance remote gigs provide, but urbanization is also driving up prices and making city-living unaffordable.

With a growing freelance labor pool and the proliferation of co-working spaces, today’s workers can have their dream job without having to break the bank in an expensive city. And advances in communication technology, like we are all experiencing today — like video conferencing apps, the cloud, and collaboration software — are making it possible to get your work done, no matter your zip code. Plus, there’s the added bonus of not having to spend 40 hours a week planted in a cubicle.

The remote workforce trend is only going to become more common, even after we come out on the other side of COVID-19. So here is my advice for getting your company ready for the post-office age:

1. Don’t let 9–5 become 24/7

One of the best things about technology, in general, is that it’s enabled us to stay in touch with our friends and family whenever, wherever.

But it’s almost made us too connected.

Research shows that Americans spend a whopping 10 hours looking at a screen each day. And while Slack, Gmail, and Skype are useful tools for an increasingly remote workforce, they often come with the expectation that we’re always available. Think about all the hours of meaningful work you’ve lost trying to stay on top of emails as soon as they come in. In fact, Deloitte found that 1 in 3 people check their smartphones in the middle of the night.

The truth is, very few of us have the brain power to constantly be on.

Managers have to be respectful of employees’ time by allowing for some lag time in email replies — especially on nights and weekends. Encourage your team to actually enjoy their time off, unplug and relax, and take vacations. That way, everyone will be in better spirits and more productive when they log back on.

Remember the reason alternative work arrangements are trending in the first place — to honor lifestyle and flexibility.

2. Rethink the perks

Ever since Google started offering free massages and nap pods to its employees, trendy office perks have become the norm. Some offices offer 30 different cuisines for lunch, provide shuttles to and from work, and give employees allowances to decorate their workspaces.

But most of these perks were designed to keep employees in the office.

As the workforce becomes increasingly remote, these types of perks aren’t likely to draw the talent you want. Instead, reward employees with good benefits and ample vacation time. I’ve heard of some companies that will provide an all expenses paid two-week vacation on your third year anniversary. Other companies offer continuing education opportunities, which is valuable given the rapidly shifting nature of work in the era of digital transformation. And some contribute to a gym or sports club membership for each employee, which also goes a long way toward negating the effects of my first point, where workers are struggling to switch off.

In the coming years, the most attractive organizations will be those who understand that when life outside of the office is prioritized, everyone benefits.

3. Keep an open mind and hire the best person for the job

At Karbon, we have a mix of remote and in-office employees (at least in more normal times).

While we have more people on-site at this point, we’d always consider a candidate who would work remotely. The fact is, the market is really competitive, and there’s more capital flowing than ever. To keep up, you have to be creative about hiring. Don’t confine your search to your geographic location or even the United States. There’s a lot of great talent in places like Russia, Bulgaria, Australia, and New Zealand.

If you don’t know where to start, try looking for talent using the following:

Even if your company isn’t fully remote, you should stay open to hiring the best talent.

4. Always listen to your staff

According to a 2010 study, 68% of people worked in an open office with either no walls or low walls, and the number has surely grown.

There’s just one problem: employees hate open offices.

They’re loud. They’re distracting. There’s no privacy. In fact, people in open offices take nearly two-thirds more sick leave and report greater unhappiness, more stress, and less productivity.

Company leaders would have known this if they’d only listened to their employees. You can’t implement new work arrangements or processes without soliciting honest feedback and being open to it. If you provide those feedback loops and make sure that you’re progressing in all the right ways, you’ll be in a much better position to weather the shifting tides of a changing workforce.

In a climate where the top talent prefers to work remotely, business leaders are smart to listen. In fact, a recent survey found that as many as 42% of workers would leave their current jobs for a flexible work option, like remote work. And a whopping three-quarters of millennials said they’d prefer to be able to work remotely.

Now more than ever before, successful companies know that their teams do best when they’re allowed to thrive outside of the traditional office space.

Stuart McLeod
CEO & Co-Founder, Karbon

Stuart started his first business 11 years ago and has had many successful ventures, including Paycycle, founded in 2009, which he sold to Xero in 2011. He then built the global Xero Payroll team that delivers payroll software across the US, AU, UK and NZ markets. Stuart is now paving the way for smarter tools to improve how knowledge workers collaborate with their colleagues and look after their clients.

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