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Before going back to business as usual, consider how to make business better

Elite Editing CEO Jennifer Rotner offers four learnings from 12 years and one pandemic of running a remote team. "Instead of seeing a remote workplace as a survival strategy, consider it as the way forward," she writes.

Workin' from home. (Photo by Flickr user So Many Desks, obtained under a Creative Commons license)

This guest post is a part of How We Work Now Month of's 2021 editorial calendar.

This is a guest post by Jennifer Rotner, the Baltimore-based CEO of Elite Editing.

“What stands in the way becomes the way.” —Marcus Aurelius

The pandemic months have forced everyone to both adapt to new challenges and adopt new approaches to meet those challenges. One of the most dramatic examples of this was the near-ubiquity of working at home. Out of necessity, workplaces that were entirely in-person operations went fully remote. Now, even as vaccinations allow companies to consider returning to “normal,” it’s important to pause and consider whether we’ve actually found a better (or at least an additional) way forward because of what we all had to climb over.

It’s no secret that my companies and I have completely embraced the work-from-home model. In fact, for well over a decade, Elite has not just survived but thrived with an entirely remote workforce, and in that time, we’ve learned a great deal about the tools, strategies, and attitudes that contribute to remote-work success. While our model might not help every company thrive (maybe), I truly believe we’re not an anomaly. What works for us can work for you, and instead of seeing a remote workplace as a survival strategy, consider it as the way forward.

So before you plunge right back into business as usual—that is, everyone in-person at the office, full-time—here are four things to consider.

Creating a remote (or hybrid) workplace gives you access to a larger pool of talented candidates.

The pandemic has created a major labor shortage in the United States, but that might not apply to companies that allow (or even encourage) working from home. Remote work affords greater opportunities for stay-at-home parents, caretakers, people who struggle with chronic illness, and other deeply talented people whose circumstances make “conventional” employment difficult or impossible. Offering the flexibility and trust that allows people in this group to show up on their own terms fosters a level of buy-in from staff that is invaluable.

Remote workforce companies have substantially less overhead—which means increased profit margins.

Over the last 18 months, something that has helped some companies to endure despite a drop in profits was the reduced costs of maintaining an office space. Even as business begins to pick up, consider this: remote work saves money—for employees and employers alike. Employees save on commuting costs, meals out and childcare. Employers save on office space, utilities, parking, and office supplies. Even allowing hybrid options (or a mixed in-office and remote staff) can cut down on all of these expenses. The bottom line is that more money saved means more capital available for growing and investing.

In-person interaction and supervision are less crucial to productivity than people believed.

One commonly cited rationale for not allowing employees to work from home was the fear that the practice would negatively affect productivity and performance. That fear has proved largely unfounded. A business doesn’t need to have in-person interactions to keep teams connected and engaged. Even more importantly, I would argue managers can keep better tabs on teams and projects when they don’t need to sit in long meetings or constantly get up from their own workstation to check up on people.

Virtual communication also allows employees to more readily and efficiently communicate with colleagues and supervisors. For example, sending a quick message that someone can check when they’re next available is far less intrusive than the polite tap on an office door. Various SaaS platforms and apps like Loom, Slack, Smartsheet, and Clockify have always been useful for internal communication, timekeeping, project management and workflow, as well as on-boarding and training. What’s more, the dramatic uptick in use during the worst of the pandemic means they’re all better and more efficient now than they were eighteen months ago. There is no shortage of excellent, well-tested tools that help connect the virtual dots that keep a business running.

Greater flexibility about working hours and spaces can transform company culture.

Perhaps the most crucial advantage is cultural: when you offer people trust and flexibility, they return that trust with loyalty and commitment to your company. Ultimately that leads to less turnover, less new hire training, and stronger teams with long-term working relationships.

Remember: this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. What works to keep a fully remote company ticking along will also allow for a variety of hybrid models to thrive. Experimenting will produce data—and data will let you make thoughtful decisions about how to move forward. There’s no reason we can’t make business as usual even better.

Series: How We Work Now Month 2021

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