How Fully Remote Companies Use Tech to Stay Productive
MAY 23, 2016 • Blog Post • BY KELLY KEARSLEY, WIRED BRAND LAB
IN THIS ARTICLE
- As the number of employees working remotely increases, small and medium-sized businesses are exploring the benefits of fully dispersed teams
- With strategic thinking and the right tech tools, SMBs can create businesses that work from anywhere
Tech tools available today help SMBs support their employees no matter where they live
Joe and Margot are employees at Fasezoom but are separated by two time zones and 2,000 miles. Luckily, their digital workplace lets them work remotely as needed—a perk that one report says results in a 33% less attrition rate within companies. Check out the infographic below to learn more about the enterprise tech tools that keep them connected.
Cari Baldwin used to have a beautiful loft office across the street from her home when she lived in San Francisco. “Even then I would still work from my house," says Baldwin, founder and CEO of Bluebird Strategies, a B2B demand generation agency. “I like being able to be heads down when I really need to be. I get more done."
Now, her 18-person company is spread over six states and everyone works remotely. Her staff prefers living where they want and flexing their work around their lives, kids and even pets. Indeed, Baldwin's company is one of an increasing number of small and medium-sized businesses that operate with fully dispersed teams.
These cutting-edge small business owners say a fully remote model helps them compete for talent, saves on overhead and even improves employee productivity. But a dispersed staff also brings unique technology needs and challenges that brick-and-mortar companies may not face.
Who controls the data?
Nearly 40 percent of U.S. workers work remotely at least part of the time, according to a recent Gallup poll. Regardless of company size, the potential for just a few—or a whole staff—remote workers raises concerns about who has access to company information.
Katy Tynan, an IT and operations consultant and expert on dispersed companies, says that the risk can be elevated for smaller businesses because many popular tools were designed for ease of use first, not necessarily for control. For example, Tynan notes, many remote companies share documents on Google Drive. The individual who created the document controls access to it and the company has no real way to regulate everyone who can view it.
“There's this concept of 'It's just in the cloud,'" she says. “But businesses need to ask where their data is, who controls it and who is backing it up."
Businesses need to ask where their data is, who controls it and who is backing it up.
Fully remote companies also wrestle with knowing how their employees are spending their time and whether they're truly working. Myriad communication technologies, from chatting on Slack to video conferencing via Skype, help alleviate this concern. But good management practices are crucial. “It becomes more important for managers to be hands-on and accountable," Baldwin says.
Right tools, right people
Numerous tools can help fully remote small businesses tackle tech challenges—and there's not one right solution. The key is to determine the organization's specific needs, whether it's collaborating on documents, sharing software or running meetings with clients. “Think about what's really important for what your team is doing, instead of focusing on a product's bells and whistles," Tynan says.
For Baldwin, an instant messaging app, screen share and video conferencing software, and a back-up system that archives cloud-based documents, make a dispersed team possible. But she also attributes her company's success to hiring people who value working remotely, meeting her staff in person when she can and finding creative ways to build culture. For instance, her team hosts virtual happy hours via Skype, where they all meet online with a glass of wine to chat.
Small businesses are at the forefront of exploring the benefits of fully dispersed teams.
Thanks to their inherent agility, small businesses are at the forefront of exploring the benefits of fully dispersed teams. Tynan anticipates even more companies will join them in coming years, largely in response to employee demand. With some strategic thinking and the right tech tools, they can surmount the challenges—and create a business that works no matter where their employees live.