Remote Work is the New Normal—How Small Businesses Can Get Started

Mar 12, 2020

Suddenly, remote work programs are a necessity and small businesses must quickly adapt. These are the three tech tools you need to get started.

Zach CapersSr Specialist Analyst
Remote Work is the New Normal—How Small Businesses Can Get Started

Most of the time, change happens gradually. We slowly refine new ideas, methodically develop more efficient processes, and carefully adopt new technology.

But sometimes, change is forced upon us by circumstances outside of our control. 

Over the past few months, the emergence of COVID-19 (commonly known as the coronavirus) has pushed remote work from a nice-to-have perk to must-practice necessity. And while the remote work trend has been gaining strength for many years, its current urgency might be the watershed moment that fundamentally changes attitudes toward traditional office life.

Remote work increasing rapidly—but holdouts remain

Companies around the world are doing their best to maintain business as usual under decidedly unusual circumstances. And while business continuity is important, so too is employee safety. The answer for a broad swath of businesses is remote work, and many are engaging in the practice for the first time.

Recent GetApp research found that remote work nearly quadrupled in the past decade. In 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau found that only 9.5% of the public worked remotely on a weekly basis. Our survey found that 36% of respondents work remotely at least once per week, and a full 58% reported working remotely at least once per month.*

These numbers indicate serious growth and widespread adoption of remote work in recent years, but they also mean that more than 40% of employees do NOT work remotely on a regular basis. When we asked about the reasons employees don’t work remotely, here’s what we heard: 

Why people don't work remote

Many jobs require a physical presence, as indicated by the 61% of respondents who cited this as their reason for not working remotely. This means that working from home continues to be a luxury for many.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industries most conducive to remote work include information, financial, and business services. Construction, transportation, and hospitality are among the industries with employees who are the least likely to work from home. And while future technology—such as digital twins—may alleviate some of these in-person requirements, there will always be some jobs that simply can’t be performed remotely.

Businesses must adopt remote work to stay competitive

A significant proportion of our survey respondents cite a lack of appropriate technology for remote work, or said that management simply doesn’t see the value in it. These segments likely include many companies considering remote work for the first time in the wake of COVID-19.

“My company recommended employees work from home to prevent infection” says Chisa Kiriya, a marketing specialist who is working from her home in central Japan for the first time. Kiriya reports feeling more productive overall and is accustomed to using video conferencing, but finds communication with colleagues more difficult. “It’s hard to convey exactly what I mean only using emails.”

This makes sense—sending an email feels formal and and isn’t conducive to conversational exchanges. Likewise, video conferencing with every person you need to speak with during the day is cumbersome and inconvenient. That’s why companies engaging in a new remote work program must invest in some sort of dedicated communication software that allows remote employees to converse as similarly to in-person as possible.

Despite the threat of COVID-19, Kiriya still doesn’t believe Japan is ready to change its culture of long hours at the office. “There are still many more people who think going to work is meaningful."

Japan isn’t alone. Many employers in the U.S. are still reluctant to embrace remote work. GetApp’s recent survey of American workers found that nearly a third (29%) of those who are not permitted to work from home aren’t allowed to do so because management doesn’t see the value of remote work. Furthermore, a recent Gallup poll found that more than half (54%) of U.S. employees would leave their current job for one that offered remote work.

Failure to recognize the value of—and overwhelming demand for—remote work will prevent companies from attracting and retaining the talent needed to stay competitive with those that do. 

Fortunately, getting a remote work program off the ground isn’t difficult.

Remote work systems

If you're looking for software to help create an effective remote work environment, take a look at these types of systems:

3 required elements of a remote work program

How do you get started with a remote work program? Needs vary by industry and job responsibilities, but all remote workers need a VPN, collaboration software, and a video conferencing platform.

1. VPNs protect company data

Your remote employee will probably work from their home office, a coffee shop, or any other place they can get a Wi-Fi signal. To ensure their connection is secure, you need to provide a virtual private network (VPN) that shields company data and protects access to cloud services.

VPNs provide an encrypted connection to the internet that prevents others from seeing network activity. This is especially important when transmitting sensitive business data in a remote work scenario. However, because VPNs process your internet traffic, it’s important to carefully read the terms to make sure your chosen provider doesn’t maintain activity logs.

2. Collaboration solutions facilitate remote work

Collaboration is hard enough to get right in the office, much less over the internet. Businesses engaging in a new remote work program must carefully consider how employees will be able to communicate with each other and get work done.

The plethora of available cloud-based communication tools and project management solutions help streamline interactions and simplify remote collaboration. These applications usually offer a free version or trial period so you can make sure your business needs are met before committing long-term.

3. Video conferencing platforms erase distance

Video conferencing has improved significantly in the past decade, but it’s still a struggle for many organizations. Part of the problem is a lack of interoperability. Unlike email, phone calls, or text messages, all participants in a video conference must be using the same application.

That’s why it’s important to designate a video conferencing platform for your employees. Many fully featured stand-alone solutions are available, while some collaboration tools include basic video conferencing capabilities. Look for a solution that integrates with other applications you are using.

Tips for hosting an online video conference

  • Face time for everyone: Ensure that every member of the conference can see one another, or is at least aware of all other participants. That means every participant must be logged in to the meeting, even if some are in the same room.

  • Timing is everything: Scheduling remote meetings can be complicated; be mindful of timezones and daylight saving time.

  • Dress the part: It’s easy to roll out of bed to join a video conference, but it should be approached as an in-person meeting. Wearing office clothes will make you more presentable and put you in a better frame of mind to do business.

  • Do not disturb: Prevent interruptions by turning off ringers, putting a do not disturb sign on your door, and doing your best to not interact with other people in the room.

  • Get lit: Don’t forget about lighting. Too much light from behind can create a silhouette, overhead light casts unflattering shadows, and sunlight from the side causes glare. Ambient illumination, primarily from the front, allows others to see you in the best light.

  • Maintain eye contact: It’s always tempting to look either at the person with whom you’re conversing, or at yourself in the corner of the screen. Try to look at the camera now and then to maintain eye contact.

  • Stay secure: If you insist on meeting from a public place—such as a coffee shop—be aware of your surroundings, use a privacy screen, and be careful not to disclose sensitive information within earshot of others.

  • Have a backup plan: Every video conference needs a plan B. Both the primary application and the backup should be set ahead of time so your team doesn’t waste time in the event of technical difficulties.

Remote work is no longer a trend

The arrival of COVID-19 is a global crisis that must be met with an array of strategies—only one of which is remote work. Working from home might be an abrupt change for some, but with only a few tools, most small businesses can adapt quickly to ensure employees are both safe and productive.

*Methodology and Disclaimer

GetApp Remote Work Surveys, November 2019

The remote work survey referenced in this article was conducted by GetApp in November, 2019, among 912 respondents who reported full-time employment in the United States. A follow-up survey was conducted in November, 2019 among 394 respondents who reported full-time employment in the United States, 140 of whom reported not working remotely on a regular basis.

Note: The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. The applications selected are examples to show a feature in context, and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.

About the author

Zach Capers

Sr Specialist Analyst
Zach Capers is a senior analyst at GetApp, covering IT security, data privacy, and emerging technology trends. A former internal investigator for a Fortune 50 company and researcher for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), his work has been featured in publications such as Forbes, Business Insider, and Journal of Accountancy.
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