“What if we didn’t go back to the office?” That used to be a hypothetical question. But, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s not quite so hypothetical anymore. In the pre-pandemic era, an entire company working virtually was viewed as all but impossible; especially in the small to mid-size business sector. Now that many of us have been forced to work from home, questions about impact on productivity levels, logistics, and even company image have been answered, and many of the perceived barriers no longer exist.
The advantages of taking a business fully remote can be tantalizing; reduced location expenses, a smaller carbon footprint, and the ability to draw talent from anywhere in the world usually top the list. If you’re ready to leave brick and mortar behind and go virtual, here are seven things to consider before you do.
1. Determine if a Fully Virtual Model Will Work
Before you start packing, do an in-depth analysis of all the aspects and processes involved in making your business hum. Assess all areas of the business for remote work readiness. Can all of them be done remotely from someone’s home? Outline what the work flow would look like, and where potential problems might lie. This foresight can help you highlight which aspects of your business that aren’t fit for work-from-home (WFH).
2. Examine the Impact on Your Business Forecast & Budget
Obviously, with a change like this, your current budget will no longer be accurate. Transitioning from a centralized workspace reduces or eliminates some expenses, and will increase or incur other new expenses. Consider all aspects of your business, working with your team to create a comprehensive list. Here the start of a potential list:
Expenses that will be reduced or eliminated:
- Building Maintenance
- Office Supplies
Expenses that may increase
- Printing Supplies
- Mailing Supplies
- Office Equipment
- Telecommunication Expense
- Meeting Space
- Transition Costs
- Technology Reimbursements
3. Understand What's Involved with Leaving Your Office Space Behind
4. Determine What To Do with Physical Assets
5. Determine How to Handle Calls and Mail
Thankfully, the task of handling phone calls and mail for a company-gone-virtual is one of the simpler tasks to tackle. The company’s main phone number can be re-routed to your now virtual receptionist. You will, however, have to decide how calls will be handled from there in the absence of employee phone extensions. The two most common options for employee phone lines are 1) having employees use their own phones (commonly referred to as BYOD – bring your own device), or 2) supplying them with a company-owned mobile phone. There are several pros and cons to consider with both options.
When it comes to handling mail, you’ll need to decide what address to use. Business owners commonly elect to just use their home address; which while seemingly simple, may come with a set of issues that aren’t obvious. Thus, the rise of rise of virtual office services. Virtual office services give businesses a mailing address that isn’t a P.O. box and typically offer things like answering services, co-working space, and meeting rooms.
If you elect to use a virtual address, you’ll still need to collect and process your mail. So, consider how far you’ll need to go, and who will be responsible for distributing it to the appropriate recipients. At All in One Accounting, we do offer mailing services to our clients. Contact us today if you're interested in learning more.
6. Setting Employees Up for WFH Success
When it comes to working from home, every employee will have a unique situation, and it can impact the overall productivity of your business if not handled properly. Helping your employees assess and prepare their workspace before the transition will be an investment of time well-spent. Work with them to determine how you’ll support them in acquiring the equipment they’ll need: chair, laptop, monitors, phone, webcam, software, or even increased bandwidth from their Internet service provider.
With the shared office space model of communication no longer viable, i.e., over a cubicle wall or stopping by on the way to the copier, need methods are required to continue fostering the team spirit. Fortunately, there are well-established tools like Slack, Basecamp, and Microsoft Teams that provide project chat rooms, instant messaging, video conferencing, and file sharing to keep the communication flowing and teams productive.
Easy-to-use collaboration tools are essential not only for staying connected but also for ensuring software compatibility as teams create and share documents. One of the most popular productivity programs is Microsoft Office 365. Unlike other versions of MS Office, Office 365 is cloud-based which means that your software is never out of date. The suite includes well-known, long-used programs for word processing, database software, presentations, email, calendaring, and online document storage. The most recent addition to the suite is Teams, which is designed for project collaboration. Of course, there are other software suites that offer similar capabilities. A web search will help you identify and find software that best suits your company’s needs.
If your needs go beyond a suite of out-of-the-box software, you may want to consider turning to a managed services provider (MSP). An MSP can remotely manage your company’s IT infrastructure and/or end-user systems on a proactive basis. There are many to choose from.
And remember, data integrity is still a priority. Be sure to have clear guidelines around protecting yours and your clients data when working with remote employees.
7. Give Employees the Attention They Need
Tending to the logistics of the move and the new work model is important, but not quite as important as your most valuable assets: your employees. While employees might like the idea of skipping the morning and afternoon commute, or working in more, ahem, casual attire, there are challenges that come with keeping remote workers engaged and productive. Communication protocol plays a key role.
Before you start, define and communicate your expectations. Employees need to know what’s expected of them. Some basic and important parameters include:
- Define the hours during which employees are expected to be available.
- Provide a protocol for getting tech support when things go awry. (We all know that never happens. wink. wink.)
- Define the preferred communication channels. For example, when should they use email? When should they use instant messaging? This will help prevent channel frustration. They’ll know which channels to check rather than having to constantly chase messages across multiple channels.
Beyond telling them what’s expected when it comes to how and when to do their work, give consideration to how to build and retain a sense community; the kind that tends to happen naturally when people share the same space. As they say, teamwork makes the dream work. Leaders who make a concerted effort to connect with employees both one-on-one and as a team will help build and sustain engagement. And while phone calls, instant messages, and emails are essential to productivity, utilize video conferences regularly. Seeing other’s faces is the next best thing to being in person. Nonverbal communication is important to building familiarity and to bonding. Video calls also help alleviate some of the feelings of isolation that can come with remote work.
When we finally enter the post-pandemic era, be sure to incorporate in-person events. Nothing beats face-to-face, should-to-shoulder time to bolster employee engagement. Book periodic meetings at a restaurant, meeting facility, or even a resort where colleagues can build trust and rapport with one another.
The potential for businesses to go fully remote has been simmering for a long time fueled by ever-advancing technology developments and infrastructure. The uncharted territory of living through a pandemic has shown us that many businesses can operate with a remote workforce. The key to successfully transitioning to a virtual organization permanently is testing before you jump in. Use constant feedback to find out what’s working and what isn’t to allow you to iron out wrinkles before you turn the hypothetical into reality. And if the full model isn't fully for you, allowing parts of the business to function remotely may reduce some expenses and increase employee satisfaction.
At All In One Accounting, we take businesses from financial chaos to business clarity and beyond. Our elite team of Accountants, Controllers, and CFOs are ready to help you in these uncertain times. Contact us today for more information.