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No matter what kind of business you are starting or currently running, odds are high you’ll be using remote employees and/or gig workers in the very near future--that is, if you’re not already doing so.
Gallup reports that 43 percent of U.S. employees currently work remotely at least some of the time, and a Brookings Institution analysis of Census Bureau data concludes that gig work is growing three times faster than the overall economy. Finding ways to keep your workers connected, communicating, and collaborating in the age of gig and remote workforces is now a mandate for businesses of all sizes, but especially smaller ones.
Small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) are twice as likely as larger firms to hire full-time remote employees, according to a study by Owl Labs, a video-conferencing hardware firm that focuses on remote workers. Companies that support remote work sustain 25 percent lower employee turnover than companies that don’t, and they spend a third less time on the hiring process. The study also found that the greater a business’s commitment to remote work, the more invested its employees are in their work.
New Developments Bring New Challenges
Despite its rapid growth, the trend toward remote and gig workers is a relatively new development, and businesses are still adapting to it. One of the main challenges they face is maintaining the level of communication and collaboration with remote workers that their on-site colleagues enjoy. “The ultimate goal is to remove any barriers and make distance a non-issue,” says John Guillaume, vice president of product management at Comcast Business.
Anita Williams Woolley, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, suggests that SMBs adopt three management principles to help overcome the challenges of remote work:
- Attract team members who have good collaboration and communication skills, so that they anticipate the information others need and initiate conversations that enhance workflow.
- Set clear goals for the work and align the goals of individual employees with those of the team.
- Set up workers so they can collaborate as needed. “That means not spreading them too thin across projects and making sure they have the technology infrastructure they need, things like scheduling tools, shared document platforms, and conferencing systems,” she says.
Technology Is the Great Enabler
Trust, engagement, and accountability are three important issues SMBs must address in managing remote and gig workers. They are required for the kind of transparency that remote-work arrangements need to succeed as the focus shifts to process and product and away from a worker’s physical location or employment status.
“Transparency is becoming ‘the new black,’ and technology is the biggest transparency enabler of our times,” says Silvina Moschini, co-founder and president of TransparentBusiness, a cloud-based collaboration tool, and founder and CEO of SheWorks!, a platform that helps businesses find highly qualified women in their industries.
Cloud-based time-tracking, collaboration, and other connectivity and communication tools work equally well with all team members, regardless of whether they are part-time or full-time, onsite or remote, or staff or contract workers, she says.
Tools Must Be Easy to Learn and Use
The best technology tools to enable connectivity for gig and remote workers are quickly learned and easy to use, says Guillaume. They should also be hardware- and operating-system-agnostic and mobile friendly. “A consistent, frictionless onboarding process for office and remote employees is crucial,” he stresses. “This ensures the tools will be used correctly, will align with company protocol, and will improve productivity.”
The best way for SMBs to thrive in this new environment is by finding the right formula to marry culture and technology. “In an age where contractors and remote workers are becoming the norm, companies need to foster a culture that is accepting and embracing of gig and remote work,” Guillaume says. “You can have all the right tools in place, but if you haven’t fostered the right culture, it isn’t going to work.” SMBs that land on the right combination of processes, people, and technologies will not just survive in the remote and gig work economy. They will thrive.
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