On Small Business routinely reaches out to a panel of entrepreneurs for answers to some of the most pressing questions facing small business owners. The following responses are provided by members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).
Q: Do you allow your employees to work from home, and if so, what are the keys to managing a remote workforce?
Manpreet Singh, founder/president of Seva Call in Potomac, Md.:
“We have a highly flexible office. We give our employees the option to work under the conditions that best enhance their natural ability and work style. So, the early birds and the night owls have some leeway, whether it’s 9-to-5 or 2-to-10.
Likewise, our employees who work effectively at home, do so -- especially during inclement weather. Still, since the office remains the hub of brainstorming solutions, exchanging ideas. sharing important updates, bonding, and creating a shared vision based on shared knowledge and experience, we work with our employees to arrange as much in-office work as possible.
And as needed, we make heavy use of technologies that facilitate the seamless exchange of ideas and maintenance of common ground. Here are some great tools:
• GoogleDocs: Makes info accessible to multiple viewers
• Gchat: Helps with quick communication, especially for multi-tasking.
• Join.me: Remotely access another’s desktop
• Asana: Delegation tool that allows us to share tasks and deadlines.”
Sonia Nagar, CEO/co-founder of Pickie in New York, N.Y.:
“We have an everybody-together-in-the-office culture. Working from home is the exception, not a consistent practice for us. We are most efficient when the team is all in the same room together — knowledge gets shared faster and communication is better.
When everyone is in the same physical location, it’s easier for someone to casually ask a technical question or get feedback or get feedback on an idea, often during lunch with other members of the team. If you’re a distributed team all of those casual interactions take more effort, so they either don’t happen or they happen slower.
Communication is better because there is less room for interpretation; you can see people’s faces. It leaves less room for interpretation. It’s also really easy to adjust our path: because there’s no lag in communication, I know I can always get a hold of people.
That said, if there are circumstances where coming into the office creates inefficiency, we’re flexible. For example, if you have a personal errand that you need to run mid-day that’s close to where you live, by all means, we encourage people to stay home.
Personally, I think telecommuting or remote work is a terrible idea for early-stage startups, or any company trying to move fast and do something innovative.”
Zach Cutler, CEO/founder of Cutler Group in New York, N.Y.:
“I have found it remarkably effective for my employees to work from home. With great advances in technology, telecommuting is a viable option today for businesses looking to reduce overhead and boost flexibility. Most of our employees work from home, cafés and co-working spaces – which keeps things fresh and option-filled.
My PR agency is headquartered in New York, but we have employees from the beaches of Los Angeles to the avenues of Manhattan to the deserts of the Middle East. Varying time zones can be difficult at times, which is why I insist that there is an average minimum of three to four hours overlap between staff on any given day.
Because the physical distance between many of us is tremendous, I insist that we conference regularly and stay organized with software. This is crucial. With technologies like Skype, Dropbox, QuickBooks and Google calendar (we probably use about a dozen softwares altogether), a virtual setup can work well. Especially due to the fact that our clients are tech startups, being noncentralized is actually respected and common within our sector. The virtual model may be slightly harder to implement in more formal, traditional industries.”
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of promising young entrepreneurs.