Saili Gosula, executive director of SYNERGY HomeCare of San Mateo, poses for a photo at her office in San Mateo, Calif. (Photo: AP)
Nicolas Vandenberghe’s company has 42 staffers scattered among 36 cities in 15 countries. As technology makes it possible for people to be in constant touch while working remotely, businesses like Chili Piper are becoming the norm.
“We have Zoom, Slack, and a myriad of other collaborative tools — do we really need the in-person water cooler meetings?” asks Vandenberghe, whose business makes software to help companies manage meetings. Vandenberghe himself is continually remote, splitting his time between Brooklyn, New York; Los Angeles and France.
Whether it means a parent working from home while caring for a sick child, a staffer who logs into a company computer daily from a coffee shop or an entire law firm that operates online, remote working is gaining momentum at small businesses. Technology that makes communication and meetings easy is a big factor in the growth of remote working, but so is the shrinking labor pool that accompanies an unemployment rate below 4% for over a year. Many companies no longer look for help close to their home base.
It’s hard to find definitive statistics on how many people work remotely. Gallup’s most recent survey in 2016 showed that 43% of employees worked remotely in at least some capacity; that was up 4 percentage points from 2012.
But even as remote working grows, business owners find managing offsite staffers involves more than giving them the latest technology. Communication, for example, can’t be left solely to videoconferencing and messaging apps like Slack. Three of Jazmine Valencia’s seven staffers are in her Los Angeles office, three are in New York and one is in Chicago. Her company, JV Agency, does marketing for the music industry. Valencia’s remote staffers can feel left out when the onsite team discusses issues.
“I have to over-communicate and make sure everyone is on the same page. This might mean more one-on-ones, more calls and sometimes just being constantly emailing or private messaging the remote team,” Valencia says. “I need to give them a sense of security.”
Owners say a remote operation can’t work without trust between a boss and staffers, especially because it can be difficult for an owner to know what an employee is doing during a workday. Tyler Forte recalls that when he first managed staffers remotely, “it was me checking on them probably too frequently.” He worried about staffers at his real estate brokerage spending time on social media.
But, “over time, you develop trust with the employee, that we’re all working toward the same goal,” says Forte, CEO of Felix Homes, based in Nashville, Tennessee. The company has staffers in Los Angeles. “Even if I’m not overseeing every move, I believe they are doing their best to advance the goals of the company.”
Forte has found project management software, an aid many owners use, helps him keep track of what everyone is doing.