Why Small Businesses Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Remote Workers and Flexible Schedules

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Although many small businesses don’t possess the technology or staff to allow employees to work from home regularly, a little flexibility can be good.

According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, remote workers log an average of four more working hours per week than on-site employees. Approximately 32% of remote workers are engaged in their daily assignments, compared with 28% of on-site workers.

Here’s a look at how small businesses can offer more work-from-home benefits to employees, and why they shouldn’t be afraid to embrace the change.

A lot of small businesses were started in a basement, and communication is a lot better now.

If you can start a company from your home, why shouldn’t your employees be allowed to work from their homes every now and then? asks Curtis Peterson, vice president of operations at RingCentral, a technology that enables workers access to company communications via app.

“It’s funny that many people start their business from their kitchen table or basement, but then a few years later when they’ve got a full-grown company, they’re reluctant to go back to their house,” Peterson says.

Technology that allows people to work from home successfully evolves by leaps and bounds every year. Today, employees can video chat, instant message, email or work in the cloud on the same document at the same time, he says.

“The fears that used to exist — that you would have employees sitting around in their bunny slippers or cooking dinner and not working — those don’t exist anymore,” Peterson says.

Video capabilities ensure that remote employees and on-site employees can speak to one another as if they were in the same room, says Tim Tolan, senior partner with Sanford Rose Associates at The Tolan Group, an executive search firm in St. Augustine, Fla.

“If you’ve got a remote employee, you can have a meeting with them and see them sitting right there at their desk,” Tolan says. “There’s tremendous peace of mind in seeing them in front of you.”

You don’t want to lose your best employees to a bigger company that offers more flexibility.

When people are looking for a job, work/life balance is a big deciding factor, Peterson says. Companies that offer flexible schedules or work-from-home opportunities are at a distinct advantage.

“If you can offer an employee that flexibility, or an opportunity to work from home even one day a week, you’re going to attract them, and you’re going to keep them. Larger companies are using flexible schedules as a recruiting tool. They’re preying on small businesses, luring good employees away with the promise of a reduced commute or reduced time in the office each week.”

Remote work options are also important when it comes to attracting new talent. Companies across the U.S. — especially those in small towns and rural areas — have to find ways to attract top people, Tolan says.

“The right person may not want to work out of your home office. If you want them, you’re going to have to allow them to work remotely.”

Don’t let your servers hold you back.

Unfortunately, many small businesses are still tethered to their servers. They haven’t yet made the switch to cloud-based computing that would allow employees to work offsite.

“They have an attitude of ‘We’ve never been there before, so we aren’t going to go there at all,’ but they’re getting left behind,” Peterson says. “They say, ‘How can you get anything done without sitting here in front of all this stuff we bought you? Don’t you need the finance software, the email, the files and the printer? But in a cloud-based world, no one cares where you are.”

As long as small businesses stay stuck in their “server-hugger” ways, they can never really embrace the benefits of a flexible office environment, he says. Many companies worry about the costs associated with making the switch, but it’s often minimal compared with the upkeep of their current infrastructure.

“You can put everything in Dropbox and never lose any of it. You can trade all of your on-premise stuff for a fixed-cost subscription based service that’s very predictable and a few hundred bucks a month,” he says.

At least try being flexible.

Deciding to let your employees work from home 24/7 and never darken the office door is a big mistake, says Jeffrey Stibel, chairman and CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility. But refusing to be flexible when employees need some breathing room in their schedule is also something small businesses will come to regret.

“I am universally against working from home in principal, but the last thing you want to do is lose a great employee who needed some flexibility in their schedule because of a special circumstance or a family issue,” he says.

Situations may arise when it would simply make more sense for an employee to work from home than drive into the office.

“On Fridays in the summer, driving into some cities might result in a three-hour one-way commute for some employees. That’s crazy. You have to be flexible,” Stibel says.

Stibel says he tries to treat all employees the way he would want to be treated.

“We want you at work as much as possible. But if you have a unique circumstance where you need to work from home for a week or two weeks, we don’t just allow that to happen, we encourage it to happen.”

Insist that your employees get together — as frequently as you’d like.

If you want your employees together in the same room from time to time, make it happen. Physical get-togethers are good for any company.

“You’re in control. Require them to come in periodically. If you have a local employee, have her come in once a week to have lunch with the team,” Tolan says. “If your employee is further away, then once a month might work. Regardless, it’s going to make your employee feel more connected to the group, and will make your staff feel more like a team.”

When you hire an employee that no one ever sees, it can be a little uncomfortable for everyone. Once regular visits are established, however, the lines of communication open and people start to communicate, both on a professional level and a personal level.

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