As the Telegram admits, Worcester has never really been a “bastion of work-from-home flexibility” unlike New York City or cities on the West Coast…until now. Seismic changes may be happening in Worcester. The lockdown that went into effect in March suddenly gave businesses in the area an ultimatum: let employees work from home or close entirely. Classes for students of all ages went online, and teachers moved with them; when offices closed, jobs in marketing, human resources, insurance, sales, information technology, and more were all forced online. For industries that were lucky enough to face this decision, the choice was an easy one.
While the choice may have been easy, putting it into practice was much harder. Challenges were plentiful, ranging from device-shortages and cybersecurity problems to peer-to-peer communication and staying organized. Despite the obstacles caused by the unexpected transition, remote work is actually very popular. More than three-quarters of Americans say they would like to work from home “at least occasionally.” Half of this group say they want remote to stick around permanently.
And the popularity seems to have rubbed off on Worcester businesses and organizations. High-ranking employees at Worcester State, Fallon Health, and Fidelity Bank told the Telegram that they are exploring long-term applicability of remote work for some of their workforce. They all had little to no exposure to remote work before the pandemic.
Making Remote Work, Work
So if Worcester workers are warming up to the idea of remote work (now that they’ve had to utilize it as an emergency measure), how can they start to implement it long-term?
The first step is to identify which positions can and cannot be performed from home. Some roles just aren’t suited to the home office. So scratch those off the list of candidates, but not before considering what makes them impossible to be done remotely. Is it a lack of communication? If so, you should explore alternatives to face-to-face interaction such as teleconferencing, audio- and video-enabled collaboration applications, and VoIP solutions. You might be surprised what you can accomplish over the internet.
What if you don’t have these tools yet? Well, you’re taking a long-term view of the business’s future, and there’s always time to invest in new tech. Only after ruling out these options should you eliminate a role form the remote category.
This decision about on-site and remote work eligibility should be a part of your broader policy outlining expectations for employees. What rules do you want remote employees following, and what are the consequences for breaking them? These are things to consider.
One advantage of working from home is the elimination of the traditional commute, meaning that businesses can expand their workforce by hiring workers living anywhere in the country. It might be worth looking a bit closer to home, though. Worcester is the second largest city in all of New England. It is located in the center of the state and features rich diversity. It’s even home to nine top-notch colleges and universities including Clark, WPI, Holy Cross, and Worcester State. This impressive combination means that there is a substantial pool of talent in and around Worcester.
Once you’ve hired your stellar remote workforce, it’s time to make sure they have the resources to succeed. In addition to work-specific applications, workers need the collaboration software to communicate with peers. Popular tools include Microsoft Teams and SharePoint, Google Drive, Zoom, Slack, Asana, and Trello, among others. VPNs, or virtual private networks, offer a secure way for employees to access important files remotely, even over public WiFi. And VoIP—that is, internet-enabled phone—offers a familiar, reliable, and inexpensive solution for communication solutions.
Without strong connections between employees, no one will be on the same page, and productivity will suffer.
A surefire way to hamper the productivity of your remote workforce is through mismanagement. A remote employee needs to be motivated and have a clear direction. Even the most disciplined employees can struggle to produce good work consistently if they lack direction. That’s why daily check-ins are a great idea for remote employees. Be sure to use multimedia at least occasionally. Let your employees hear your voice and listen to theirs. Turn on video chat if you’re comfortable with it. Mix things up between one-on-one meetings and group conferences so no one feels singled out or left out. However, be careful not to micro-manage. Employees should feel empowered working from home —not feeling like you’re hovering over their shoulder.
When working with remote employees, it can be easy to forget the human element. Dave Crouch of Worcester’s Ten24 tells the Telegram he instructs his team to unplug for 45 minutes after their 12:15 p.m. check in. That’s a great start that can help employees separate work and play. It’s also important to keep “watercooler chat” alive and well when working online. When you’re not physically next to a coworker, you can’t turn to them and crack a joke. This camaraderie is really important, though, and losing it is a mistake. Try to loosen up. Set aside time during every meeting to talk about non-work-related topics.
For the record, not all businesses can make remote work, work. The coronavirus pandemic has been truly devastating to local small business. As of November 16, 2020, the number of small businesses open in Massachusetts is down 37% compared to January. The hardest hit industry, hospitality and leisure (which in November was down 54.6%), can only have a limited number of workers employed let alone working from home given how dried up revenues are. And of course many, many businesses simply need employees to be physically present in order to fully function. They simply don’t have the ability to work from home.
Potential for Worcester
Worcester is home to hundreds of small businesses, and a growing number of those are discovering the benefits of working from home. Having sidestepped many of the logistical challenges, they now face long-term obstacles to maintaining a remote workforce. Following the above recommendations will seriously help, however, as will following our other advice here.
Who could be better at helping your Worcester workforce than the IT experts who call it home? That’s right—nobody! We pride ourselves on being from this diverse and rising city, and we’re doing our part to help SMBs just like yours with any and all technology solutions.
Let us share how we can help improve your current remote workforce setup by contacting us at here or by calling (508) 453-4700.