Small businesses and startups have a special kind of freedom today that didn’t exist a few decades ago. Because of technology and a growing suite of communication applications, you can start, run and grow your business with remote employees. These employees have the option of working anywhere and any time.
This provides a ton of benefits to both your team and your business. It could even help you grow faster with better profit margins. But you need to understand how to piece together a virtual team—and how to manage it—to make a business with remote employees successful.
Here’s what you need to consider if you want to grow with virtual employees:
Does It Make Sense for Your Employees to Work Remotely?
The first step is to make sure your business can grow with a team that doesn’t operate out of the same physical space. While virtual teams can be the backbones of successful businesses, they don't work in every situation. If you need most of your people in the same space most of the time, you might explore flextime or some telecommuting options. This allows you to offer a great perk to your existing employees, which might help you retain your top talent, a key factor in continuing to grow your business over time.
If your team is working well in-house, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. But to grow, you might need specialized talent that only exists in certain locations outside of where you are located. If you are willing to hire for remote positions, you will be able to tap into an exponentially broader pool of job candidates. It allows you to pick the very best person to help your company grow instead of being limited to your local area.
Hiring virtual employees for specialized jobs can also help you cut down on overhead costs because:
- You’re offering a highly valuable and in-demand perk, which can offset some compensation;
- Potential hires don’t need expensive relocation packages since they can stay where they currently live; and
- You can provide a highly valuable benefit to your new employees at a very low cost for you. In fact, remote work can help you save money since you won’t need to pay for more office space.
Working From Home Can Be Hard for Everyone
The lower overhead costs you enjoy by using virtual employees may enable you to continue to grow your business. That being said, working with a team that’s 100% remote, 100% of the time, can get tough. And if the goal is growth, it’s important to understand the limitations of fully remote staff members. Team meetings become harder, communication gets complicated and managing multiple people in various locations can feel impossible.
These complications can be compounded by employees who struggle with self-motivation, or if you have a highly specific vision that requires more hands-on guidance. But there are some solutions that offer the best of both worlds. If you need office space but don’t require your whole team to be there all day, Monday through Friday, consider co-working spaces. Companies like WeWork provide a range of options for businesses from hot-desking to dedicated office space. Purchasing memberships at co-working spaces can help you come together with your team when necessary without paying for a full-time, dedicated location. (For related reading, see: How WeWork Works and Makes Money.)
3 Decisions to Make Before Taking the Plunge
- Will your team be 100% remote or will you keep an office space and offer benefits like flextime or telecommuting options?
- If you have an office space, will it be your full-time office or will you look for flexible solutions like co-working spaces?
- Will you create new remote positions to hire the best talent regardless of location?
Tools to Make Remote Management Work
Once you determine what remote work options you want to offer, you need to know how you’ll communicate with your employees who take advantage of it and how the workflow will be managed.
Communicating will be one of your biggest challenges, so make sure you have systems and tools in place to make it easier. Here are a few suggestions:
- Slack: Great for messaging, project management and real-time conversations.
- Zoom, Skype, or Join.me: These are all meeting platforms, allowing you to meet with both team members and clients as necessary, no matter where everyone is.
Project Management Tools
In addition to specific channels for communication, you need one spot where everyone’s to-dos and task lists live. Stay organized and on top of everything with solutions like these:
- Asana or Trello: Both are good for task and project management so everyone is aware of their responsibilities, the status of projects and what needs to happen next.
- Toggl: This is a great way for employees to track their time.
File Storage Systems
You also need a way to store and share files from multiple devices in various locations. Consider these options:
- Google Drive: Google Drive allows you to store, share and manage files. It’s cloud-based and you can create team drives to share company files that require collaborative work. It’s especially useful if you already use G-Suite for Business and run email and other applications through Google’s setup.
- Dropbox: Dropbox works very similar to Google Drive and is a good all-around solution (especially if you’re not a Google platform diehard).
There are countless other great tools you’ll likely want to use with your virtual employees, especially as your team continues to grow. The right ones will depend on the kind of work you do, but do look for technology and tools that are cloud-based. That will allow you to access them from any device, anywhere in the world—a must not just for a team of virtual employees, but for any business with a focus on growth.
It Has to Work for Your Business
Having full-time remote employees or offering flex time and part-time work-from-home options can reduce costs, increase your talent pool and keep your employees happy. But the most important factor is whether or not it will work for your business.
(For more from this author, see: How Small Business Owners Can Create Cash Flow.)
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