The Surprising Thing I Gained When I Switched to a Remote Workforce
In the ever-changing theater of business, sharp HR representatives and business owners have the words "turnover" and "employee retention" on their minds for a good part of the week. While job openings are high, "quits" were at a post-recession high of 2.2 percent in January of this year.
One way that businesses are trying to stem employee turnover and are working to improve employee well-being is embracing the paradigm shift to a telecommuting workforce, aka "working from home." A 2014 PGi survey of 1,000 workers found that 80 percent of their employers offered a telecommuting option, and about half of these employees exercised this option at least once a week. The millennial generation is all about this lifestyle, where 68 percent of millennials are more interested in a position that involves working from home and 64 percent would like the opportunity to work remotely.
At a time when corporate America -- including firms such as Yahoo, Bank of America, Aetna and IBM -- is cutting back on its work-from-home programs, does the idea of a remote workforce sound stressful and worrisome to small business employers? For many, it does. I had the same thought at the moment I decided to make the switch to a telecommuting workforce.
Our results in the first year
When I chose to go remote, I had five staff members. Several of my large clients were already remote (or parts of their organization were). One of my clients recommended that I read the book Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.
I read the book -- and I saw an opportunity. The bulk of my staff had a daily commute of 1.5 hours each way. One of my longtimers read an article about a company moving to a remote workforce, and forwarded it to me with a proposal that JoTo PR "go remote." And it changed everything. What mattered to my people was quality of life -- and the ability to save time in their lives by not commuting.
So, I mapped out how to replace "face time" with virtual meetings and a sophisticated reporting system.
The first six months were rough. It felt like we were starting over -- my location was gone, and all of the little things I'd been taking for granted were gone, too. While my employees were loving it, it was harder for me to feel "stable."
I lost three staff members that year, which ended up being an efficiency solution for us. It was ironic that upon review, it was found that those three staff members were the ones who'd been causing the most extra work for everyone else -- always demanding hand-holding and having to be prodded and pushed to make deadlines and targets while in the office. And those cracks in the hull only became more evident when we went remote!
Our long-term results
We measure productivity by gross income divided by the number of staff. New staff can greatly lower productivity numbers unless there is a standard and efficient onboarding, training and apprenticeship process. Ongoing training is key to efficiency. In our first "remote" year, we dropped in productivity and efficiency from 25 percent to 20 percent. This was due to the lost hires, which equates to lost training, lost institutional knowledge and new implementation and familiarization with new managing structure/processes. However, our production has now has increased to 40 percent. After the initial adjustment hump was over, productivity began to rise incrementally and stably, as it continues to do today.
This evolution felt like we were riding the wave-of-the-future-to-come in modern business. Just this past year, I read an article which stated that the telecommuting industry has quadrupled and will likely increase further.
Other than employee happiness, the switch to a remote workforce has made our hiring pool larger, and our processes are more streamlined. This then turned into more services which my company can provide, thus further increasing our revenue. What started as five employees working remotely has grown to 17, with more in the hiring pipeline.
One of the aspects of telecommuting that I didn't think of when we first started was the increase in quality hires I was able to make. Before the switch, we were pigeonholed into hiring from the localities surrounding our business, or hiring someone who was willing to make the long commute every day -- something that weighs heavily on even the best of employees.
The best part, however, was that we've also figured out what really made our culture: dedicated doers who are committed to the art and science of PR. It's been stellar. It's like the culture replaced the walls -- and where I couldn't find my "stability" before the switch, I now have a total certainty of our JoTo PR culture.
Here's what a couple of my employees have said about the switch to working remotely:
- "What I like most about working remotely is how it's really increased my quality of life ... my stress levels have gone down and best of all, I feel more productive," said A.R., VP operations and media relations specialist.
- "I can focus on organizing my day and being ready to 'hit the ground running' instead of battling traffic and weather conditions. I can focus on client-centered or team-centered tasks and conversations without the usual office distractions," said K.B., deputy chief strategist.
It isn't perfect. I still miss having a physical location and seeing my employees every day. I don't have the ability to help some aspects of their quality of life with a stable location to go to every day. Life bleeds into work -- an angry spouse or a loud dog running around their home -- but there are good days and bad days, and I trust all of our staff to be self-starters who can work around any distraction.
However, the final proof is in the pudding. My employees are happy, there's little to no office politics or drama, and we've seen an overall 49 percent growth rate since 2014. We measure growth rate by annual revenues year over year and our first full year of being remote, we grew 66 percent.
I've learned a lot from my employees through this process -- an insight into their personal desires and the need for quality of life and balance. It may seem banal to hear these phrases, but in reality, it's something that just about every worker can appreciate. And the results, in terms of improved numbers and production, can benefit just about every employer.
Related Video: How Can You Get the Most Out of Your Remote Employees?