Smart Companies Are Designing Remote Working Programs That Fit Their Unique Needs

By Sara Sutton Fell

When I started FlexJobs in 2007 I had experience working remotely, but never in a fully remote company and never in building one from scratch.

However, with the mission of FlexJobs being to help people find flexible work — such as remote jobs, freelance opportunities, part-time and flexible schedule jobs — I wanted to create the company in the model of what I envisioned. I wanted us to “walk the walk” of flexible and remote work.

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Back then, few fully remote companies existed, and almost no one was discussing the “how-to” of building a remote company. Today, there are hundreds of fully remote companies, and thousands of brick-and-mortar companies with remote teams and workers. But still, there’s not a lot of discussion as to how they do it, or why.

On, we decided to change that. Through interviews with 125 remote companies and teams, we’ve learned how remote companies launch. In September 2017, we’re hosting the second annual TRaD* Works Forum (*Telecommuting, Remote, and Distributed) to bring together leaders from businesses and government to discuss, among other topics, how they launch, build, and grow remote companies and teams.

Leaders of successful remote companies and teams tell us there are three main ways to launch a remote company. Some start out remote, some switch, and some create remote teams from within. Here’s how they’ve done it, and why.

Option 1: Starting a remote company from scratch.

Most companies founded as remote companies do so for one of three reasons: as a cost-saving measure (reducing costs from overhead, hiring, etc.); because the founders had a deep interest remote work; or simply, it just kind of happened that way.

Students work at the shared workspace, the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. Cyril Masud Khamsi is on the right.  Credit: Jason Margolis
Jason Margolis

Amie O’Shaughnessy, CEO of the family travel planning company Ciao Bambino! says working remotely was “essential” to the company’s business model, both central to its mission and cost-effective. Fully remote from day one, Ciao Bambino! has a family-focused mission and business model.

“Our flexible work model enables women with children to be moms and work. They can work when they want from home or wherever they are in the world,” says O’Shaughnessy. “A remote work model is cost-effective and enables us to hire a wide variety of talented people from around the world.”

Option 2: Switching a company from brick-and-mortar to remote.

Several companies switched from traditional offices to working remotely, and they all cite one of the following reasons for doing so: because the industry was trending that way; to better serve clients or support the company’s mission; to be free of constraints like the cost of operating an office, time-waste of a commute and the location of new hires.

“We began in a very traditional office setting…an office in downtown Calgary which we worked from daily,” says Debby Carreau, CEO and founder of the human capital solutions company InspiredHR. “We did the switch based on our research and our client’s needs.”

Codebusters, a health information management staffing and consulting company, started in an office in Santa Cruz, but saw remote work as the medical coding industry’s future. Says Tiffany Emigh, senior recruiter, “We saw that our industry was heading in this direction and we wanted to be more than ready for it.”

Anthony Thomas, the CEO of the custom sticker company Sticker Mule, says that as the company grew, they started hiring remote workers because they kept finding talent outside their geographic area. “These people were rarely local but it was usually obvious they’d make a great addition so we didn’t stress their location,” says Thomas. “After a while, it became commonplace for our team to be remote.”

Option 3: Creating remote teams within a brick-and-mortar company.

It’s also possible to create remote or distributed teams within a brick-and-mortar company. These companies have a majority of people working in traditional offices, but specific teams are designed to work remotely. That’s often a result of evolving the way customers are best served or better supporting and growing a specific team or business unit.

American Express, a company with a 165 year history, embraced remote work as its business evolved. Victor Ingalls, VP of World Service, says the company needed to find new ways to “deliver our customers the superior service they’ve come to expect from American Express.” That meant a concerted effort to expand remote work for its telephone servicing team about five years ago.

“Having a remote workforce allows us to cast a wider net, reaching prospective employees who may not live within commuting distance of one of our brick-and-mortar customer care locations,” says Ingalls. It also helps them hire people who have specific needs that are compatible with remote work, “such as parents, students, veterans and their spouses, and people with limited mobility.”

Sutherland Global Services, one of the largest business process outsourcing companies in the world, created a remote division. Called CloudSource, this division enables the company to “employ customer service consultants from all 48 contiguous states” without having to acquire and manage office space in every state in the continental U.S.

Bottom line: Companies have a lot of remote work options.

One of the key fears I hear about remote work is based around a misconception that it has to be an all-or-nothing option. Either a company dives fully into remote work, or it stays completely office-bound. And for many business leaders, diving fully into remote work is either not an option, or it’s too overwhelming to contemplate.

But thanks to more remote companies and teams speaking up about how they started using remote work, there are now roadmaps to follow. Smart companies will recognize the inherent value in remote work and design programs that work best for their specific, unique needs.


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