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How to Transition Your Business from an Office-Based Company to a Remote One

Business.com / Employees / Last Modified: April 20, 2018
Image credit: Davis Creative Inc./Shutterstock

Remote working is becoming increasingly popular in business. It can drive down costs and improve employee happiness. But how do you make your company remote?

The desire for employees to work remotely is on the rise. Workers value the flexibility, and employers can save thousands on operational costs. If your employees all work from home, that means no office space to rent, no bills for food, no more electric bills to power your office equipment. It can also open you up to new avenues of online business.

The advantages of a remote business are not difficult to see, but how exactly do you do it? For new companies and startups, it’s fairly simple to establish yourself as an exclusively online brand, but what about businesses that have been working out of an office for years or even decades? How can you go remote?

Can you actually make your business remote?

Not all businesses are capable of remote operation. This can be due to their consumer base and/or the products or services offered. Companies considering a move to remote operation need to perform an analysis of their brand and establish whether or not it is actually beneficial, or even realistic.

Considerations to make include:

  • Efficiency and practicalities. How will remote working impact your ability to complete the tasks you and your workforce normally perform? Will it speed things up, slow them down or maintain similar output levels?

  • Consumer satisfaction. Is an office or storefront part of your core service delivery process? If so, moving remotely may impact how your customers perceive the value of your company. The best way to identify if this is a problem is via feedback from clients.

  • Investment. Going remote may require investment into staff, equipment and work tools. These could be one-off fees or long-term costs. Will the money you save by going remote be countered by rising operational expenses?

  • Growth opportunities. Could going remote hinder your ability to grow? While it could be beneficial in some circumstances, operating a physical location within vibrant, industry-leading areas can be important to attracting investors and building relationships. Consider the impact of leaving an important area for your type of company.

Consider your transitional strategy.

If your assessment is that transitioning to remote working is a strong and viable option for your business, the next stage is crafting a strategy for launching your new operational methods.

How should you go about doing this?

  • Identify goals. What are your goals for going remote? Flexible working, increased range of clients, reductions in costs and greater access to talent are all common drivers.

  • How will you achieve those goals? Establish how you will use remote working to achieve the goals you've set. For example, if you want to make working hours more flexible, look at how you can use remote operations to accomplish this without impacting your service output.

  • Timeframes and deadlines. Set broad deadlines for establishing your remote business. Then set firm schedules and timelines for specific steps of the transition within those deadlines. If your deadline for complete remote working is six months, create schedules for goal setting, employee training, updating of processes, closure of leases and other key aspects to be completed prior to this. Map out your transition from beginning to end before you start.

  • Announcement. Inform clients and employees of the change. Allow enough time for questions to be asked and decisions to be made. Some employees and clients may be against the shift. They must be given time either to adjust to the change or to move on from your business, allowing you to fill gaps now. This is beneficial to both them and your company. During an integral time like transitioning to a different method of operation, you don't want to be down on staff or onboarding new clients.

Establish your software platforms.

Remote work presents a number of challenges. The nature of working from home means there is a distinct disconnect between personnel, their colleagues and your clients. Yet, these disconnects needn't be a problem – or, in fact, be disconnects at all.

Software exists to manage all facets of remote working life, covering everything already in place in your typical workplace headquarters.

  • Work connectivity. When working remotely, you still need to collaborate on projects and provide employees with internal documents. Cloud-based software allows you to connect your business to any location in the world. Many applications provide helpful tools for maintaining long-distance workplace connectivity.

  • Industry-specific software. Cloud-based software (e.g., Google Docs) can be helpful for general tasks, but it doesn't help you collaborate on industry-specific platforms. An example of this would be an architect who needs feedback on designs. Most industries have specifically tailored cloud-based software that supports remote work. You just have to do your research and find what works for your brand.

  • Task management. Setting and managing workplace tasks can be a major obstacle to remote working. Task management apps enable management to establish task lists, set deadlines and monitor progress for both themselves and their team.

  • Time management. If your employees are at home on their laptops, how can you be sure they are clocking in and doing what needs to be done? Time management apps exist to track everything from work logs to activity levels.

  • Client and team communication. You have to be able to talk to your team and your clients when working remotely. You can't just go over to their desk or invite clients in for a chat, so how do you make sure remote work doesn’t impede communication? Of course, emails and telephones still exist, but unique software can also be utilized for better connectivity.  There are many apps that work well for online workplaces, enabling multiple channels of conversation that range from direct messaging to large chatrooms with hundreds of individuals. You can also use video conferencing to add that personal face-to-face touch when chatting with clients or engaging in important internal conversations and meetings.

Test your remote work structure.

Once you've built a strategy and are fully prepared to establish yourself as a remote company, the final step before actually committing to your new format is testing it.

Plans on paper rarely translate perfectly to real-world scenarios. Therefore, to ensure your shift in direction doesn't lead to calamity, a trial period is recommended. During this time, partial remote work should be exercised.

Depending on your business, this will take different forms:

  • If you have a large roster of clients and employees, split them up. Assign some clients and employees to continue working under the current office-based structure while others are moved to a remote work structure and practices. Assess success over a clearly defined period, be it weeks or months.

  • For smaller companies, instead of transitioning some individuals to the new system, make a switch to part-time remote work and monitor the difference in processes.

Any issues that come up you can then evaluate and decide to either scrap the project or revisit the planning process, assessing better avenues based on feedback and performance. For example, you may find your software choices are ineffective in practice or that clients who initially responded positively to the idea are making the transition more challenging.

If you find remote working to be a triumph, now is the time to make the full commitment.

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