The pros and cons for companies of moving to a fully remote workforce

More companies are moving to a fully remote workforce to save money and make employees happier. But there are challenges to consider.

The pros and cons for companies of moving to a fully remote workforce

TechRepublic's Karen Roby talked with Lisa Walker of Fuze and Scott Harris of Egenera about companies moving to a fully remote setup and some of the challenges and rewards that come with it. The following is an edited transcript of their interview.

Karen Roby: Lisa, how much demand are you guys seeing from companies that are wanting to go 100% remote?

Lisa Walker: The last estimate I saw was a hundred companies in the US going 100% remote. So we're really at the beginning here. More what we're seeing right now is a hybrid approach, where people are dipping their toe in, and they're allowing some remote work. But it's really the bold companies that are taking that step to go 100%, and we're just at the beginning of that. And those companies tend to be newer companies, tend to be software or services companies.

SEE: 10 areas to cover when building a remote work policy (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

I think it's a lot easier when you're thinking about doing it from the start, versus taking a company that's been around for a while and doing that massive transition. I think we'll see that as we move forward, but we're at the beginning where you're seeing newer companies who are able to spin up remote in their DNA from the very beginning.

Karen Roby: One of the companies that Fuze has helped move to a fully remote setup is Egenera, it's a cloud services company. Scott Harris is the CEO of Egenera. Scott, tell us about how your company was set up first, and how that impacted your move to going 100% remote.

Scott Harris: It used to be that the two divisions of Egenera were very polarized. The cloud, the newer cloud division, was almost always pretty remote. Because everything's in a data center, and these guys are in and out of them, and traveling around, and they tend to do a lot of tech support. Everything's 24/7. As you can imagine, that lended itself quickly to doing work from home.

However, the flip side, the older group, the software development group, had always been tied to offices all over the world. The last big one that we had was actually in Massachusetts, and it got to the point where we looked at it and we said, "Okay, this is something we can essentially outsource. We can use all the tools and the knowledge that we have on the service side, and essentially help us get out of that location, and get that group to a virtual workforce also."

Which really helped because we were having two cultures, for lack of better words, and the developers really, I think, wanted to get to that same culture. There's obviously advantages. And having them work so closely together, made it a little bit of, sort of two silos that didn't really gel well all the time, from that perspective.

Karen Roby: Scott, talk a little bit about how it's going … being 100% remote.

Scott Harris: In the beginning, you got the typical, "How do I manage my employees, because I'm not used to it." We had a lot of processes in place, which they adopted, and more or less that worked. So we took the processes from one side and applied them to the other.
We saw a lot of what used to be very large, very long meetings start to get fractioned off into smaller, independent, more frequent meetings. Some people meet three or four times a week with smaller groups now, whereas they used to meet once for three hours, which I think is a more efficient way to do it anyway. I'm very happy with that, but that tends to be what you end up getting because it's just easier to manage virtually because you don't have to have, "Okay well everyone knows they have to be in at this time, that day, in order for us all to get together physically." You can really manage it to everyone's schedule a little better.

Karen Roby: Lisa, can you expand a little bit on some of the challenges that you guys see with the companies that you're helping to move to this new way of operating?

Lisa Walker: The biggest challenge we see with remote workers is isolation and feelings of disengagement with the company. That communications platform sits really at the centerpiece of your remote work tech stack. If you're not thinking about how remote employees are going to communicate and collaborate and be productive, you're going to have a problem.
When we're working with customers, they typically come to us with six to eight communications apps spread across the organization. And what they're trying to do is get to a place where they can have one tool for all of their employees to call, meet, chat, and share, on any device, from anywhere they choose to work. And that doesn't mean at home. It could be in a coffee shop. They could choose to go into a coworking space every few days. But giving your employees one tool to use across the company is one really simple thing you can do to bring people together and give them a way to feel connected.

One of the other things we've seen from a tech standpoint that's really interesting is some of the uses of VR, and actually giving employees more of a VR experience where they're in 3D and there is that virtual watercooler. This communication piece, we're just at the beginning of that as well, but getting people the right tools to communicate and feel engaged throughout the day is really important.

Again, it's counterintuitive, but taking the time to get them together in person, whether that's once a year, the whole company off-site, whether that's empowering managers and giving them budget to lead teams and bring them together off-site and in person a couple of times a year, it's really important to take some of those cost savings and invest back in making sure your employees are engaged and they feel connected.

Karen Roby: Scott, you guys seem to be pleased with the setup thus far, and it's working out for you, especially considering how you were originally organized. Any advice for companies that may be looking to move to a similar model?

Scott Harris: In the end, had we not had stuff set up with Fuze ahead of time, it would have been much more challenging. Had we not had our other division, which specializes in migrating workloads to the cloud, again, that would have been more challenging, too. And had we not had some of the processes and best practices set up for that other side of the business, it would have been harder.

We did it in a matter of months because we had those. I think if you're trying to do it quickly, especially, you've got to make sure you've got your partners set up and lined up first. Because if you don't have those, that expertise, it's going to be a lot harder to get there.

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TechRepublic's Karen Roby talks with Lisa Walker of Fuze and Scott Harris of Egenera about companies moving to a fully remote setup and some of the challenges and rewards that come with it.