Guide to Running Your Remote Business: Challenges, Strategies, and Tools

The remote workforce continues to grow as technologies emerge to connect people across the world and demand for flexible working conditions increases. According to data from GetApp, remote work rose by nearly 400% in the past decade. Global Workplace Analytics reports that, compared to five years ago, 40% more U.S. employers offer flexible workplace options.

The COVID-19 pandemic further pressured companies to go remote this year due to safety concerns. According to Gallup, 63% of employed U.S. adults worked from home at some point during the early stages of the pandemic, pointing to the need for work options that can shift with changing market conditions. Meanwhile, Gartner found that 74% of organizations plan to switch some employees to remote work permanently post-COVID-19.

Those starting a remote business or transitioning from office spaces to remote work environments can use this guide to find helpful strategies, tools, and resources.

A manager chats with her remote sales team on a laptop.

Benefits of Running a Remote Business

Running a remote business provides a range of benefits for both owners and employees, affecting costs, productivity, and work-life balance.

Saving Costs on Office Rent and Supplies

With a remote workforce, businesses can save money on office expenses, including rent, supplies, utilities, food, and cleaning services. As Global Workplace Analytics reports, nearly 60% of employers identify cost savings as a major benefit of remote work. IBM, for example, decreased real estate costs by $50 million by offering remote work options, and Nortel saved $100,000 for each employee it didn’t have to relocate to an office.

Cutting the Commute

Working from home allows employees to save time and money they’d normally spend commuting to an office. Financial savings could include reduced spending on gas money, car insurance, car repairs, bus or train tickets, and tolls. According to a report from FlexJobs, remote workers can save $4,000 a year by working from home. Cutting the commute also creates more time for non-work activities, reduces commute-related stress, and lessens commuter traffic and its environmental impact.

Hiring the Best Talent

When businesses aren’t limited by location, they can hire the best employees regardless of where they live, opening themselves up to more diverse talent pools. As Forbes reports, job listings for remote positions see higher application rates, faster screening processes, lower hiring costs, and greater diversity of candidates.

Improving Employee Satisfaction

Remote work often improves employee satisfaction, productivity, and work-life balance. According to a 2019 report from Owl Labs, 84% of remote workers said working at home makes them happier, 82% said it helps them manage work-life conflict, and 81% said it makes them less stressed. In fact, 34% of all workers would take a pay cut of 5% for the ability to work remotely.

Challenges of Running a Remote Business

With these benefits come unique challenges and obstacles that business managers must consider before adopting work-from-home policies.

Switching Back to Brick and Mortar

If and when remote business managers decide to switch back to an office space or brick-and-mortar location, they’ll face suddenly increased costs of operations. As Global Workplace Analytics reports, a company with 500 employees can save $430,000 in operations each year by allowing employees to work from home just 2 1/2 days each week.

Businesses seeking to transition back to brick-and-mortar may also experience difficulty in retaining staff accustomed to a work-from-home schedule. According to Owl Labs, 71% of all workers say they’d be more likely to choose an employer that provides the ability to work remotely over one that doesn’t.

Defining Boundaries

Employees can have a hard time defining time and space boundaries between work and home life when they work remotely, especially if they don’t have a dedicated office space or set schedule. This can increase stress and frustration for employees and ultimately cause a decrease in productivity.

Communicating and Building Trust

With a lack of supervision and structure, employees and managers can have difficulties building relationships and establishing trust. Since managers can’t schedule in-person meetings or stop by their employees’ desks, they have to hope that people will work responsibly.

Maintaining Employee Focus

Distractions abound at home, including spouses, kids, errands, and recreational activities, which can interfere with employees’ ability to complete their work. Poor internet connectivity can also contribute to decreased focus. As Owl Labs reports, remote employee managers say three of their biggest concerns are reduced employee focus (82%), background noise interrupting calls (73%), and IT support issues (72%).

Strategies for Running a Remote Business

Business owners and managers can use these key strategies to successfully run a remote business and oversee teams of remote workers.

Set Expectations

Make sure employees know if and when they should be logged on for work, and how they should structure their work schedules to ensure they meet project deadlines and meetings. According to Gallup, about 50% of all U.S. employees — not just remote workers — don’t fully know what’s expected of them.

To set expectations, LEADx CEO Kevin Kruse recommends asking and answering the following questions:

  • What are the set working hours for each team? When are people expected to begin and end their workday?
  • What is the expected time for responding to a question or message, and will it differ based on each communication platform?
  • How should people notify each other if and when they are unable to meet any of these expectations?

Create Workflows and Processes

Use project management tools such as Basecamp, Asana, and Airtable to clearly outline each person’s or team’s workflow. These tools can help employees update their tasks in real time, easily share and access information, send messages related to specific projects, and stay on track with their goals.

Omar Bawa, chief operating officer and co-founder of Goodwall, uses the following tools to keep each department in his company plugged into its workflows and processes:

  • Salesforce: Used by the business development team to track revenue and analytics
  • Jira Software: Used by the engineering team to track bugs and plan new launches
  • Confluence: Used by the product team to manage user experiences and product information
  • Google Docs: Used by the entire company to share and update documents

Stay Connected

Use videoconferencing and messaging platforms to schedule meetings and stay in touch with employees and colleagues during the workday. Planning check-ins via messenger, phone, or video can help employees stay motivated and on-task, and feel more connected to their work.

Meaghan Williams, remote inclusion and program manager at HubSpot, recommends answering these questions to enhance communication:

  • Which communication channels do we prefer to use?
  • Which topics should we be communicating about?
  • How often should we communicate?
  • How will different time zones affect how we communicate?
  • Will we need to adhere to service-level agreements (SLAs)?
  • How do we prefer to give and receive feedback?

Encourage Socialization

Schedule fun virtual hangouts and remote get-togethers to boost morale, avoid burnout, and promote communication between team members.

Wade Foster, co-founder and CEO of Zapier, organizes weekly hangouts for more than 300 remote employees across time zones. These sessions might include guest interviews, lightning talks from different team members, or helpful workshops on leadership and well-being. Zapier also pairs employees for short calls each week, wherein they’re encouraged to catch up and chat about life, work, and new product ideas.

Resource Section

Helpful Tools for Running a Remote Business

Whether managers need to improve communication, organize documents, or streamline processes, many technologies are available to help. Popular remote business tools include:

  • Slack: On this messaging platform, employees can stay connected through chat rooms, private groups, direct messages, and voice and video calls.
  • Dropbox: This file hosting service allows businesses to securely share and store documents, as well as collaborate on and communicate about their files.
  • Zoom: This videoconferencing platform can be used to host one-on-one or group meetings, webinars, and training sessions.
  • DocuSign: With this platform, businesses can digitally prepare, sign, and manage contracts, as well as conduct negotiations and track agreement analytics.
  • G Suite: Google’s cloud-based office suite for businesses includes programs such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
  • Microsoft Teams: This business communication and collaboration platform includes tools for messaging, audio and video calls, and file sharing and storage.
  • Harvest: With this time-tracking tool, employees can track their billable hours spent working on specific tasks, download reports, and submit expenses.
  • Basecamp: This project management platform built for remote businesses helps teams collaborate on projects, create workflows and to-do lists, share files, and update tasks in real time.

The Future of Remote Work

Remote work is expected to continue to increase in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more businesses and employees are exposed to the benefits of working from home, including improved work-life balance and costs, they may never return to an office setting: Global Workplace Analytics predicts that 25% to 30% of the workforce will work from home in some capacity by the end of 2021. With the right tools and strategies, business managers can prepare for this inevitable future and ready their teams for a safe, productive, and collaborative remote experience.

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