"Woohoo, I get to work from home!"
Home-based offices are becoming the norm (unless you work at Yahoo!®), but like with anything else in life, there needs to be a balance.
I’ve worked in the traditional professional services and corporate office environment and was fortunate enough to work for a company that transitioned a large portion of its workforce to work from home. I was able to manage a team of over 30 professionals who lived all over the country for over 10+ years. Some of my team excelled in this environment and I’ve seen some fail. I even fell into some of the bad habits as well.
Our current team at Basis 365 works out of their home offices, most of them for the first time in their professional career. We like to spend a little time instructing them on what works well so that they enjoy the benefits while still delivering an exceptional product for our customers.
Things to Love
Overall, I believe it provides major benefits to a company and to your employees. So let’s start out talking about some of the benefits of working from home, for the employee and a business.
- No commute
Less driving risk, less money on gas, less emissions, and most of all … no road rage! More time with the family and your hobbies.
No game of round robin distraction where someone swings by your office to chat, you’re now distracted and grab a coffee and go distract someone else. It’s an endless cycle.
There are many rules to comply with but if you have a dedicated office space you have the opportunity to write off a portion of your mortgage/rent, utilities, etc. used to run your business or work from home.
Access to talent
As a business owner, a distributed workforce allows you to find talent you would not otherwise have access to if you are stuck within driving distance of an office. Cost of living is different from state to state and many people are willing to trade off in order to have a better work-life balance.
Business owners should have some cash freed up from the lack of traditional overhead expenditures needed to sustain an office. That capital can be reinvested in the business and help you grow.
Things to Watch Out For
With many benefits to choose from, there are temptations. Things that lead to bad habits and can creep up on you over time or take hold right away. These things all require discipline to overcome. The danger is to underestimate these issues. The most happy and successful remote workers have discipline, hands down!
Business owners and managers will have a fear that you are not really working. Don’t let them justify that fear by getting to your workspace late or cutting out hours and delivering just enough work to get by. This is the #1 area of concern for your company and should be for you as well.
Humans are social creatures. Being in a quiet room for 8 hours, alone, can be torture. You’ll need human interaction.
It’s easy to roll out of bed, grab a coffee and check your email. That rolls into a conference call and now it’s lunch. You realize you’re still in your pajamas.
It’s almost impossible for family members and children understand you are working and to keep boundaries. Enforce this at all costs.
As a business owner, although you no longer have much of the overhead an office-based business would have, if you are taking advantage of talent in various states you will need to set up shop in those states. This legal and tax compliance requirement can be a bit of a challenge as each state is different. This commonly creates accounting requirements to track revenue by state in your accounting application to ease in meeting compliance filings. It can also trigger sales tax nexus in states you didn’t have before.
Tips for Success
I hope the dangers don’t scare anyone away. Many businesses are going this way and for most entrepreneurs, it’s a must. Here are some suggestions to mitigate those risks and come out on the positive side of working remotely and managing distributed teams.
Deliver on time and be responsive
Overcome the fear of your manager that you’re not working by delivering on-time, every time. Stay in contact with your team at the start, middle and end of your day. If you are late on projects, don’t respond timely to an IM, and don’t answer a colleague’s phone call during work hours on a regular basis then they will assume you are not working as you should. Are you?
Build team interactions
As uncomfortable as it may be for many, use webcams as much as possible. I’m still working on this one :) It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why but it’s hard to build a collaborative team without seeing faces and expressions. People open up when they’re live. They’ll also dress up too.
Take it to the next level by improving the visual as most people will be poorly lit and staring down. You won’t like how you look and you’ll look unhappy. Don’t have any back lighting and use windows or a lamp to brighten your face. Try to have it hit your face at a slight angle versus head on.
Separate your work space that you can enter and leave. Physical boundaries are the best, like a specific room you only use for work that has a door and a window. Set boundaries for you and family. Mentally clock in and clock out. Shower when you’d normally shower and dress like you would if you were in an office.
The first issue people run into is that they feel like they are at work 24/7. If your boss IMs you after you “clock out” because they are on a different time zone, don’t answer. Make sure you do get to it first thing in the morning though. If you’re the boss, don’t expect your team to answer either. Set an emergency protocol for something that is truly urgent and use that sparingly.
Go out to eat lunch or take your lunch out of the house. Fight loneliness by working a couple hours at a coffee shop. Find a nearby coworking space that let’s you work in open areas like WeWork or Real Office Centers. My cofounder and I have an office to meet face to face but we are only there 3 days a week to mix things up.
When you’re at home, and if you’re like me and can’t work in complete silence, use white noise apps like Noisli or watch movies that you’ve already seen 10 times (do not watch a new movie or channels that play commercials).
My biggest regret is having sat at my desk for hours on end, for years, with my feet up on the desk sitting at an angle. My tailbone will never forgive me. I would just sit and work, nonstop. That’s not good for your body or your mind. With less distractions than we had in office life you need to remember to take breaks.
Use a pomodoro type app like Tomato Timer to set periods of focus. Then take a small break and do a quick set of push-ups, air squats or burpees. Take your dog for a 5 minute walk. Get some sun!
Work in the cloud
You’ll need to be in the cloud and paperless to make this work. I spent over 10 years helping CPA firms go paperless and many of them didn’t go willingly. If an industry known for doing things the way they’ve always done it can do it, so can you.
I love the freedom working remotely brings. I can literally work from anywhere in the world … assuming they have internet :) We have wonderful employees that’d we would never have met if we had to hire locally. We’re are able to offer our team the flexibility they need to raise a family or travel while not letting their accounting knowledge go to waste. It’s a win-win.
Remember to mix things up, be professional, and never sacrifice delivering a quality product.