Transitioning to Remote Work

Man sitting at desk writing in front of laptop

Advantages to remote work.

Here are just a few of the perks of a remote workforce

  • Save money. Save money on office space, utilities, and equipment. One company saved $2,000 per employee on rent by transitioning to a remote workforce. 

  • No commute. Eliminate the commute, saving you and your employees time, money, and stress. 

  • Recruit and retain top talent. Cast a wider net for hiring and retaining top talent. With a remote work arrangement, you can hire high-caliber people from around the globe. 

  • Happier people. With no commute and more flexibility, remote workers have more time for exercise, hobbies, and family. In fact, one study found full-time remote employees were 22% happier than employees who never work remotely. 

  • Keep teams productive. Your people can focus on doing high-value work and being productive—on the right work—instead of attending to the everyday grind of office life. Plus, by spreading people across the country (or the globe), you can unlock the benefits of asynchronous work: we’ll discuss this below. 

Your people will rise to the occasion when you ask them to transition to remote work. However, setting up a virtual workforce requires careful planning and consideration. Here, you’ll learn how to make remote work a success. 

Evaluate which jobs are suitable for remote work.

Once you understand the benefits of transitioning to a remote workforce, you may want to turn your entire business remote immediately. However, switching too quickly may create administrative issues that make the change difficult to manage. Instead, identify a few key jobs or departments that will most easily switch to remote work and transition them first. Then, you can apply lessons learned when you begin to move the next groups of people from in-office to remote. 

So, who should you move first? Jobs with the most work-from-home workers include accountants, customer service representatives, project managers, and writers. 

In your organization, think of which employees may be the most tech-savvy. You may also consider which people or departments tend to conduct most of their meetings or job functions virtually, even while in the office. Is your legal team always working via phone calls instead of in-person meetings? If so, the legal department may be an ideal candidate for a remote work trial.

Other departments that lend themselves to remote work include: 

  • Content creation

  • Data entry 

  • Finance

  • Marketing

  • Payroll

  • Website design

Some of these job functions may be best structured as partially remote arrangements at first. For example, if your company issues paper checks instead of direct deposit, you may want your payroll personnel in the office on payday to execute checks to send out to your employees. 

Determine your remote work team structure. 

As more and more workers perform their job functions remotely, some businesses are seeing the advantages of hiring independent contractors to perform tasks that would typically be performed by full-time employees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 7% of American workers are independent contractors

Employees or independent contractors? 

Let’s take a quick look at the differences between employees and independent contractors. 

  • Taxes 

    • Employees: you are responsible for withholding taxes such as income, Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes on wages paid to your employees. 

    • Independent contractors: you don’t need to deal with tax withholding. The independent contractor will report their own income and pay the taxes when tax day rolls around. 

  • Control 

    • Employees: you typically determine how they perform their work. For example, you may set their schedule, provide them with a company computer, and give them an employee handbook outlining expectations for behavior and work product. 

    • Independent contractors: contractors tend to set their own schedules, use their own tools, and have more of a say over how they complete their work. 

  • Payment

    • Employees: typically receive a fixed payment for their work, whether they earn an hourly wage or a yearly salary. There may be some variation due to overtime wages or annual bonuses, but compensation is fairly fixed. 

    • Independent contractors: set their own fees, which may vary from project to project. Payment structures vary. You may pay an independent contractor by the hour, by the word, or by the project. 

  • Benefits

    • Employees: employers often provide benefits to their employees, such as medical insurance, retirement accounts, and paid time off. If you agree to provide benefits to your employees, you are legally obligated to provide them. 

    • Independent contractors: are typically responsible for their own health insurance, retirement accounts, and other social benefits. 

  • Hiring and firing

    • Employees: often take a substantial amount of time to onboard and train. When you hire an employee, you are typically forming a long-term relationship. If business slows down and you’ve hired too many employees, you may need to start firing people. 

    • Independent contractors: you can quickly onboard new personnel to help with pressing matters without too much delay. Plus, in an economic downturn, you won’t need to fire anyone. 

  • Institutional knowledge

    • Employees: tend to develop substantial institutional knowledge, such as the inner workings of an organization, its customers, and its people. Full-time employees are often committed to the organization and can leverage their knowledge to help drive the company forward. 

    • Independent contractors: are usually hired for a specific job and then move on to the next client. While you may develop a long-term relationship, the bond isn’t the same as what you may have with an employee. 

Structuring your remote workforce around independent contractors or employees each has its benefits. If you currently only have employees, start experimenting with independent contractors to get familiar with the process. Once you’ve established a successful framework, you can transition more roles to independent contractors. 

Beware of employee misclassification.

Whether you choose a workforce of employees, independent contractors, or a mix of both, don’t try to game the system by hiring employees and merely calling them independent contractors to get out of paying taxes and benefits. According to the United States Internal Revenue Service, you may be subject to unwanted tax liabilities. 

Plus, improperly misclassifying employees as independent contractors may also result in the employer being responsible for back wages, statutory entitlements like vacation days and sick pay, penalties, and interest. 

Set up your remote work toolkit. 

When you have a traditional, in-person business, you may be able to survive with relatively little technology. However, when you’re the head of an organization with a remote workforce, you need a suite of effective, up-to-date, integrated technologies to help empower your team to do its best work.

Synchronous communication tools. 

Whether your team is spread across a small town or spans the globe, your remote workers will need a way to speak to one another. 

Synchronous communication tools allow people to connect in real time. While typical telephone calls are appropriate for many one-to-one interactions, more complex programs often have significant advantages. For example, programs like Zoom, Skype, and other video chat software allow for more personal interaction. Plus, you can use functions like in-meeting chats, notifications, and polls to help improve the meeting experience. By recording your calls, you can create a record for later review by people who weren’t able to attend the meeting. 

Asynchronous workflow tools.

One of the most compelling benefits to a remote workforce is the ability to work asynchronously—that is, your people can work at different times. Employees who work better in the morning can get up before sunrise and start being productive. Night owls can wait until noon to get going and work into the night. Parents can take breaks to pick up their children. 

An asynchronous remote team can also accomplish more in less time. While meetings may require simultaneous attendance, workers can perform many other work functions independently. If you have a big finance report to prepare, a distributed team can be an asset. For example, someone finishing work on the west coast of the United States can hand the project off to someone in Japan who’s just starting their day. When the Japanese worker clocks off, he or she can send the project to a German team member. In 24 hours, your team can accomplish as much as a traditional team might finish in two or three days. 

However, you’ll need powerful software to help coordinate your remote team. Using collaborative work management technology can help with project management, task automation, and digital collaboration. Collaboration in our work-from-anywhere world is paramount, so anything you can do to empower and connect all facets of work—people, data, processes, and technologies— is a worthwhile investment. 

Document storage. 

The days of the paper filing cabinet are long gone, but so are the days of on-site servers. With a remote workforce, your employees and contractors need to be able to access files from their home, co-working spaces, or hotel rooms. 

When planning your remote work strategy, choose one document storage platform and stay consistent. Whether you use Google Drive, Dropbox, GitHub, or anything else, make sure your team always knows where they can find what they need. Include standard procedures for naming and creating folders to make file location as intuitive as possible. 

Personnel allowances.

In a traditional work environment, you may give your employees a company computer, phone, or other equipment.

You may want to offer your remote workers a few benefits to help improve morale and productivity. For example, you could offer to pay or subsidize some of the following for your remote workforce: 

  • Internet and cellphone data fees

  • Chairs, desks, and lamps

  • Webcams, microphones, and headsets 

  • Babysitting and daycare costs 

The employment landscape is changing, and you don’t want to fall behind the curve.

Prioritize data security. 

With so much data in the cloud, you’ll need to implement clear data security practices to prevent your information from getting lost or stolen. If your workers’ computers are hooked up to a virtual server, a security failure in just one machine can result in serious trouble for your organization. 

To help keep your data safe, consider requiring your personnel to adhere to the following safety measures: 

  • Encrypt emails 

  • Secure any company-owned assets 

  • Use secure wireless networks (and avoid public networks)

  • Don’t access company servers on public computers

  • Use complex, secure passwords 

Some businesses choose to monitor all data transmitted or received on their computer systems or servers. If you decide to monitor your employees, make sure to notify them first, as well as clearly describe what constitutes proper and improper use.

Foster a sense of community. 

While remote work promotes freedom and flexibility, many remote workers feel isolated and lonely. Individuals who used to rub elbows with other employees in the office may miss the social interaction of a traditional in-person job. 

To help boost morale and camaraderie, consider scheduling periodic check-ups with each of your employees. Especially if you’ve recently transitioned to a remote workforce, getting feedback from your personnel is vital. A few small adjustments may make all the difference. 

While a remote workforce and asynchronous work solutions like collaborative work management allow people to be more productive on their own, occasional group meetings can help foster a sense of teamwork. Consider a weekly team meeting to get everyone on the same page. Your get-togethers don’t need to be time-consuming (or even mandatory), but they can give your people an opportunity to see their coworkers and realize they’re part of a bigger team. 

On a larger scale, you may consider hosting an annual—or quarterly—conference, where everyone from your team gets together to meet their coworkers in person. If you run a large organization, consider having smaller gatherings for individual teams or divisions. The goal is to help encourage meaningful interactions on a personal level. When your people feel like they’re part of something bigger, they’ll be more motivated to contribute to your cause. 

Harness the power of remote work.

While you may face a few novel issues while setting up your remote workforce, an effective remote work strategy can boost productivity and morale, and make your organization more resilient in difficult times. 

With remote work, organization is everything. Workfront offers a suite of helpful online tools that will keep your business running smoothly and efficiently. If you’re ready to see what Workfront can do for you, take a product tour today. 

See Workfront in action

In this interactive tour, you will get hands-on experience using Workfront. You will learn how Workfront enables the enterprise to:

  • Connect strategy to delivery
  • Iteratively plan and prioritize work
  • Collaborate across teams and divisions to get work done
  • Streamline and optimize processes
  • Measure and report on progress
  • Deliver against your strategy