Since the onset of COVID-19, remote work has become part of our new normal. The vast majority of businesses have adopted virtual work environments to some extent, and employees seem to like it that way: 63% of workers said they prefer working from home to a traditional office setting. Nearly one-third of respondents said they plan to work remotely even after the pandemic is over.

In addition, 31% of millennial home buyers list “dedicated office space” as one of their most sought-after features in a property, further speaking to the fact that individuals have started to plan their lives around virtual work setups.

There has been a societal shift in how, where and when people conduct business. The question now is: How can business owners and managers ensure their companies stay successful in this brave new workplace? This article will take a deep dive into how businesses can achieve their objectives and help their teams succeed, even from afar.

Reassessing Business Strategy

Many companies were not founded with an entirely dispersed workforce in mind. As times change, however, so must business plans.

Companies should lay out all of their expenses and take a complete inventory of their goals, employee needs, workspaces, client expectations, and policies. After analyzing how remote work has changed their overall business, they can determine where to cut back and where they should invest. Some questions to consider include:

  • What is our IT infrastructure like?
  • How much office space are we currently paying for? How much are we actually using?
  • Which departments need more support? Less support?
  • How has COVID-19 transformed our clients’ needs?
  • Can we automate different areas of our business?
  • What are similar businesses/our competitors doing to accommodate remote work?

Decide Whether You Need Office Space

Although employees and employers have largely enjoyed the transition to remote work, there is evidence that people do miss going into the office to see their colleagues and reconnect with the organization’s mission. A recent report by Envoy revealed that 94% of U.S. employees would like to go back to the office, at least part of the time. Moreover, a survey by Steelcase of more than 32,000 workers across 10 countries (including the U.S.) found that isolation was the largest concern for employees working remotely.

With this in mind, companies are starting to reimagine physical office spaces. There are a variety of hybrid virtual/in-person models that businesses can employ depending on their needs.

For example, a company may choose to keep its headquarters to onboard employees and hold client meetings but offer flex hours so individuals can come and go as they please. For smaller or medium-sized businesses that want to keep an office space but know their employees will be using it less frequently, they might choose to downsize or switch to a coworking space with built-in amenities. Other companies may choose to go completely virtual and only rent out office space for meetings and presentations when needed.

Ultimately, how large of an office space a business adopts (if any at all) will depend on its needs and overall goals. Not every business can succeed without an office.

Equip Employees With Proper Technology

In this digital new world, businesses need to make sure their employees have up-to-date software and hardware to create an efficient virtual work setup. Obtaining a business loan or using the money saved on office rent can free up funds to equip employees with the proper technology to comfortably work from home.

A few virtual tools that can help ease the transition to remote project management and foster communication among teams include:

  • Intranet: A centralized digital “library” where employees can access information such as company policies, HR forms, brand history, business strategy, goals, roles and responsibilities, etc.
  • Messaging: Instant messengers such as Slack that allow teams to communicate throughout the day.
  • Project Management Tools: Software such as HubSpot or to easily assign tasks and check the status of assignments.
  • Video Conferencing: Video tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams help employees in various locations hold meetings and build rapport.
  • Employee Database: Allows employees to search for their peers by name, job title, skills, email, etc.
  • Cloud-Based Server: A system that allows employees to access company files and information to do their job from anywhere in the world.
  • Direct Deposit: Set up a direct deposit system to digitally pay remote workers.

An employee’s physical space is also important. Companies should ensure their individual team members have strong Wi-Fi connection and the proper equipment to do their jobs. Offering a stipend to cover the cost of internet and phone bills, setting up a home office, and/or purchasing necessary gadgets can ensure a smooth transition to a virtual workplace.

Compliance Is Key

From a compliance standpoint, most companies are not properly structured for a dispersed workforce. Now that many businesses have worked remotely for nearly a year, HR and finance departments are realizing the tax implications of having employees in multiple states.

A survey of 1,250 employees throughout the U.K. and U.S. revealed that only one-third of employees accurately report when they are working in another state or country, and nearly one-fourth (24%) never report this information. The problem with this trend is that, in the event of an audit by the IRS or a state/municipal government, corporations can face sizable tax penalties for failing to accurately list where their employees are located. This is because state income tax laws are significantly varied.

For example, in some states, nonresident workers owe state taxes even if they just work there temporarily; yet, in others, nonresident workers’ income is not taxed at all. While the pandemic has caused some states to give companies a temporary pass if they have employees who relocated due to COVID-19, those switching to permanent remote work setups will have to start complying with local ordinances to avoid penalties in the future.

Implement New Policies

Implementing policies tailored for remote work is one way companies can ensure they are complying with tax laws. It will also help them run their businesses more efficiently.

Remote work hasn’t just changed where people work, it’s changed how and when they work as well. Consequently, company policies should reflect the shift in behavior and performance standards that have come with telecommuting. For instance, in the past, consistently showing up after 9 a.m. might have been grounds for termination at many companies. Now, working strictly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. might not matter as much anymore so long as employees are still making 40 hours and producing solid results.

Remote work policies should also reflect cybersecurity rules, and companies should make a point of teaching their employees how to identify potential breaches to their systems. HR requirements, business hours, manager check-ins, and other administrative considerations should also be made clear.

Social distancing measures have completely transformed how we work, and those who try to run their business the same way they did before the pandemic will likely not be successful. To stay ahead of the curve, companies will need to listen to reassess their goals, consider their employees’ expectations, and implement policies that are reflective of a virtual work environment’s needs.