Re­mote work the norm even at smaller firms

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Joyce M. Rosen­berg

At more small busi­nesses, any wa­ter­cooler chat takes place in a mes­sag­ing app. Staff meet­ings are held via Skype. There might not even be an of­fice.

Hav­ing a re­mote staff can be a good fit for many com­pa­nies. Among the up­sides: It ex­pands the pool of job can­di­dates, and low­ers a com­pany’s over­head since there’s no need for a big of­fice. But there can be down­sides, in­clud­ing the risk of per­sonal and pro­fes­sional iso­la­tion. And some­times in­ter­ac­tion isn’t quite as ef­fec­tive as it is in per­son.

“There is only so much that you can com­mu­ni­cate through text,” says Max Shep­pard, CEO of Trust­edpros, an on­line ser­vice that helps peo­ple find home-im­prove­ment work­ers. “This makes it dif­fi­cult to gauge em­ployee emo­tions, morale, and well-be­ing.”

Shep­pard, like many other own­ers, uses mes­sag­ing pro­grams like Google Hang­out and Slack that let re­mote staffers hold group or in­di­vid­ual chats. He has six em­ploy­ees, all in the Toronto area. Video ser­vices like Skype and Zoom are also pop­u­lar.

Many own­ers have at least one meet­ing a year that brings far-flung staffers to­gether. Some, Shep­pard among them, gather with em­ploy­ees for pe­ri­odic din­ners or other so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties.

Em­ploy­ees over­all are do­ing more telecom­mut­ing, though it’s hard to quan­tify how many work re­motely and how many of those are at small com­pa­nies. In a re­port from Gallup re­leased ear­lier this year, nearly a third said they work re­motely 80 per­cent or more of the time, up from nearly a quar­ter who said that in 2013.

Cul­ture clash?

Hav­ing some staffers work re­motely while oth­ers are in one of­fice can cre­ate sep­a­rate cul­tures, and some re­mote em­ploy­ees may feel left out.

At Todd Hor­ton’s soft­ware com­pany, Kan­gogift, four staffers work to­gether in Bos­ton and six are re­mote, scat­tered in Europe and In­dia. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion can get prob­lem­atic — some em­ploy­ees feel so dis­tant they for­get to keep ev­ery­one in the loop with them.

“In­for­ma­tion can get trapped in si­los,” says Hor­ton, whose busi­ness helps com­pa­nies send per­for­mance awards to em­ploy­ees. “If the Euro­pean team gains an in­sight and doesn’t share it quickly, the oth­ers will never know some­thing hap­pened.”

An­other wrin­kle: Hor­ton will some­times take the Bos­ton crew out for a busi­ness lunch, and the over­seas em­ploy­ees do learn of it. “They know they’re miss­ing out,” Hor­ton says.

At H2O Me­dia, an ad­ver­tis­ing agency based in Eden Prairie, Minn., where seven of 12 staffers work re­motely, “We all try to look at the sep­a­ra­tion as a pos­i­tive, and we make an ef­fort to stay con­nected via team emails, calls and an­nual meet­ings,” says Al­li­son Baker, so­cial me­dia and mar­ket­ing co­or­di­na­tor.

Tim­ing may be key to the suc­cess or fail­ure of a re­mote work sit­u­a­tion, says James Ce­len­tano, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of En­tergain, a hu­man re­sources con­sult­ing firm.

“Those that do it well or have fewer is­sues are com­pa­nies that em­brace it from the get-go,” Ce­len­tano says.

Morale prob­lems

Own­ers need to be aware if work­ing re­motely is get­ting staffers down.

Kean Gra­ham, who re­calls get­ting cabin fever when he worked at home the first few years af­ter start­ing his com­pany, is mind­ful of the need for his staffers to some­times see dif­fer­ent scenery dur­ing the work­day.

“You have to be proac­tive and change your en­vi­ron­ment — go to a cof­fee shop or shared workspace or even go take a walk,” says Gra­ham, CEO of Mone- tize­more, an ad­ver­tis­ing tech­nol­ogy firm. He’s based in Vic­to­ria, Bri­tish Columbia, and has 80 re­mote staffers on five con­ti­nents.

Man­agers need to watch for signs that work­ers are dis­con­tented, even de­pressed, Gra­ham says. For ex­am­ple: anger, or with­drawal that be­comes ap­par­ent from the tone of a staffer’s voice, email or text, or a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

A re­mote em­ployee’s morale needs to be an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion when a boss makes any kind of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but es­pe­cially a cri­tique.

“If you don’t word it cor­rectly, peo­ple can take of­fense at some­thing very sim­ple. You have to be very pointed in how you ask ques­tions or give feed­back,” says Michael Fry, pres­i­dent of Deep­wa­ter Sub­sea, a Hous­ton-based com­pany that in­spects oil rigs and has 11 staffers in Texas, Mis­sis­sippi, Louisiana and Ten­nessee.

His so­lu­tion: Pick up the phone.

A good fit?

A re­mote job can be a dream for some em­ploy­ees, but a dis­as­ter for oth­ers. They can miss work­ing with col­leagues or find it hard to stay pro­duc­tive.

“Work­ing from home sounds alluring and sexy, but what we’ve found is there are just some peo­ple that shouldn’t work from home,” says Bryan Miles, CEO of staffing com­pany BELAY, whose 70 em­ploy­ees at its base of At­lanta all telecom­mute. “We’ve hired peo­ple and they’ve found, “Gosh I should re­ally be in an of­fice.”

Usu­ally it’s clear within three to six months whether work­ing re­motely is a good fit, Miles says.

Kan­gogift’s Hor­ton finds that with­out col­leagues nearby there’s less of an abil­ity to just bounce an idea off a co-worker and brain­storm.

“I try to com­bat it,” he says. “I’m al­ways en­cour­ag­ing ev­ery­one to con­stantly share ideas us­ing mes­sag­ing tools.”

The As­so­ci­ated Press

Todd Hor­ton and his in­tern Min­jee Kim, a res­i­dent of Seoul, South Korea, pre­pare for a Skype con­nec­tion in Ar­ling­ton, Mass. Hor­ton’s hu­man re­sources soft­ware com­pany, Kan­gogift, has staff in Bos­ton, Europe and In­dia.

Petr David Josek, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Vilem Proc­hazka, an em­ployee of Bos­ton-based soft­ware com­pany Kan­gogift, works on his lap­top in the gar­den of his home in Kolin, Czech Re­pub­lic.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.