The Work-From-Home Revolution and What It Means for SMBs

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Although companies are increasingly calling their workforces back into the office as more and more Americans get their Covid-19 vaccination, many employees are balking at the loss of flexibility they’ve grown accustomed to over the past year.

A recent Harvard Business School Survey of 1,500 professionals who worked remotely last year found that 81% prefer not to go back to the office or have a hybrid schedule going forward. Of this group, 27% want to work remotely all the time, 61% would like to work from home (WFH) two to three days a week, while 18% want to go back to the office.

Because of this report and so many others like it, small business leaders are increasingly reimagining the workplace as they consider how to best blend in-office and virtual work.

So, what’s right for your company? And further, how can you make sure that your technology is prepared to handle your remote work policy long term? Let’s explore a few key things to consider as you bring your team back to the office (or not).

Weighing the pros and cons

According to Inc., the hybrid model could be effective for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) specifically because of their smaller workforces, more direct access to leadership, and flexibility compared to larger organizations.

Advantages of remote work include flexibility and more time for friends, family, and leisure because there’s no commute. Many people say they can better focus on their work without in-office distractions. Plus, walking to an in-home office or workstation saves money that was formerly spent on higher car insurance premiums and gasoline. And some SMBs saved rent money as they either moved to a smaller office space or gave it up altogether. 

Disadvantages, on the other hand, include blurred lines between home and work, always feeling the need to answer emails and other work-related messages outside of typical office hours, isolation, decreased collaboration with co-workers, Zoom fatigue, and WFH burnout. For some moms and dads trying to juggle work and parental duties, going back to the office may have never looked so appealing. 

Of course, some small businesses simply need employees in-store based on the nature of their business, rendering WFH impractical or even impossible. But for others, empowering employees with the flexibility that comes with a hybrid workplace offers the best of both worlds – a combination of working remotely and in the office. 

Striking the right balance

If you’re an SMB pondering a hybrid workplace model, perhaps consider what some larger organizations are doing. 

Google’s flexible work week lets employees know they’re expected at least three days in the office starting in September, while Ford Motor Co.’s model for salaried employees allows them to choose to stay home for heads-down work and come to the office for meetings and team-building activities. JPMorgan Chase, on the other hand, is going old school and expects most of its workforce to return to the office a majority of the time.

If you’ve decided to come up with a hybrid plan, ask yourself the following:

Is working in the office necessary? Depending on their role, some employees spend more time on collaborative tasks that would work better in the office, while others could benefit from doing focused work from the quietness of their home.

Will company culture suffer if employees never gather in person? It’s hard to replace water cooler conversations, impromptu chats, and face-to-face gatherings that help keep employees connected. As such, many SMBs are asking their staff to come in for regular meetings or to collaborate on special projects, while allowing them to work remotely other times.

How can SMBs keep innovating with dispersed workforces? With lockdowns eased, companies can begin planning for specific in-office days or special events planned around innovation and staying connected. For instance, think about asking employees to come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays for greater collaboration, and let them choose where they want to work the other days.

Finally, how is your technology infrastructure currently performing? Are your employees able to easily access your servers and communicate via video conferencing – both at home and in office? Have you experienced any downtime due to connectivity issues? Is your online security up to snuff to protect both on-premises and remote workers long term? These questions and more are critical to inform your office plan, and many of them begin and end with the right connectivity.  

Homing in on better connectivity

Since technology is essential to small business success, it’s important to have strong and reliable connectivity to power it. Small businesses are increasingly turning to technology to allow their teams to stay productive – whether on-site or at home – and continue to serve their customers. 

From client interactions to workflows and internal communications, digital transformation is on the rise on Main Street. In fact, growing SMBs are 65% more likely to have accelerated their pace of technology investments due to the pandemic. And this isn’t just for small business owners who operate in a traditional office environment; it applies to everyone from QSRs to retail storefronts. A great example is restaurants – if you’ve implemented touchless transactions such as using QR codes to pay for purchases or access menus, free WiFi is a must. 

Therefore, SMBs should consider what WiFi and internet services they have invested in and what technologies they require to meet evolving needs. With the proper bandwidth and speeds, small businesses can continue their digital transformation efforts and make the most of their digital presence in 2021.

Keeping up with the times – and employee wishes 

To keep their employees from leaving and to attract potential new hires, many SMBs are embracing a hybrid approach. They’re saying yes to flexibility. And they’re investing in the necessary technology, including more robust connectivity, to ensure work can continue, whether employees are remote or in the office. 

Catherine Mitchell is Vice President, Product Development and Management, at Cox Business.