You asked for it and we listened. In this column, we ask operators of all sizes and from all walks of the industry a question about their business and report their answers so you can assess how your own company compares to your peers. If you would like to participate, please email Rob Smentek at email@example.com for next issue’s question.
TOPIC: Does your company have remote employees? How do you train and monitor performance? What are the benefits—for the company or the employee?
We on-board temporary remote contractors for those times when we need help with answering phones, taking reservations, dispatching, or performing short analysis projects or social media activities, such as writing blogs. It is important to monitor project time and billable hours. Depending on the work and duration, we use time sheets, status reports, and Trello project management software.
The benefit for us of using temporary remote contractors is that all of them have worked with us in our other businesses, so ramp-up has been relatively easy. The challenge is communications. It is critical that you establish a solid line of communication so the contractor understands what is expected, has firm deadlines, and always knows there is someone they can contact quickly with questions or for help. For example, if our blogger is having trouble loading to our site, they have direct access to our developer.
We do conference calls if needed, weekly email updates, and occasionally arrange a coffee meeting every few months. Scheduling can be challenging, but when it clicks, a face-to-face meeting can be a great motivator.
Our web developer, who has been with us for nine years, is offshore in West Africa. We hardly ever use a phone. We use tools like Skype and text messaging to stay in touch, and Trello to assign and monitor work.
Paula DeBiasi, President
Chicago CoachWorks in Chicago, Ill.
While in-person, face-to-face interaction has long been the norm in our industry, I have been pleasantly surprised over the past year with our company’s two remote positions. The reservation role has worked out great in the remote capacity, with the time zone difference between the office and the employee being beneficial since the phone can be managed “by a GCT team member” with more coverage hours. In lieu of a call center or a manager-on-call with a cellphone, this reservation helps GCT facilitate our affiliates and retails clients around the clock. Our affiliate manager is also off-site, which allows the individual to travel, network, and be on the road while not tied down to other office duties.
We use MeisterTask and Slack management software to create accountability and assist with follow up. Remote is something more owners should possibly consider when looking to get more bang for your buck.
Clayton Dennard, Owner
Going Coastal Transportation in Charleston, S.C.
I’ve been working remotely for the past eight months for two different companies around the world. Thus far, the biggest challenge has been mastering the time differences, particularly with Europe. I’m constantly asking Google to tell me the time in Zurich. Even dealing with my New York company, I have to keep in mind that there is a three-hour difference.
Communication with some Asian countries can be difficult because sometimes emails and calls don’t go through. Apps like WeChat and WhatsApp have been priceless.
Overall, I have to say that being a remote employee has worked out well and it all runs smoothly since I’m handling the U.S. side of the work. The best part is that my stateside affiliates have someone looking out for their best interests, and my overseas clients have someone who understands the logistics and culture of American travel.
Mary Johnson, Affiliate Director
Alliance Limousine in Ardsley, N.Y. and Grossman Limousine in Zurich, Switzerland
I’ve recently found myself in the position where I am the remote employee with my company. Since I relocated to North Carolina, I now commute to the office everyday via FaceTime, phone calls, and emails.
To ensure that things are running smoothly, I can access video cameras in the office to see and hear what is going on at any time.
Working remotely allows me to be on the road and see other clients. While it’s been successful, I do still travel back at least once a month for face-to-face time. Also, I feel it’s important to have management in the office to speak with other employees, do training, and so on.
Arthur Messina, Founder & President
Create-A-Card in Smithtown, N.Y.
I currently use a service in Pakistan to handle all my calls, email, dispatching, and marketing. This has been very helpful in growing my business, and also very economical. I am able to save a lot on my monthly expenses, which I can then use to invest in the company. It was a challenge in the beginning to train the staff, but we worked rigorously to implement policies and procedures to reduce errors and mistakes.
Raj Nagi, President
Elite Limousine Service in White Rock, British Columbia
We do not have a formal remote employee policy. We currently have three locations, but we consolidated all office functions into one location at our Harrisburg facility, while still maintaining vehicles and chauffeurs in all three sites. In our experience, we work much better when in the same room with one another. We have a large, open office where we can easily communicate with one another. Yes, technology is great, but in our situation, nothing works better for us than to be together physically. However, we’re certainly not opposed to it in the future; right now, our system works great, and we have no immediate plans to change it.
Tracy Salinger, General Manager
Unique Limousine in Harrisburg, Pa.
While less than one percent of our staff work remotely, as most positions require employees to be in the office, we have noted success in the few employees who are able to work from home. Many remote employees have reported that their productivity has increased, as they are able to get an earlier start on the day without spending time commuting to and from the office.
It is crucial that the employer and those working from home maintain communication at least once a week. Failure to communicate is planning to fail. Our few remote employees must report to headquarters periodically throughout the year for training and re-enforcement, in addition to scheduled weekly meetings with their supervisor to provide updates on job assignments and projects. Employees must demonstrate the ability to work from home while successfully completing job requirements, prove that they are reliable, and can be trusted to attend meetings and meet deadlines as scheduled. Working remotely is not for employees who either need to be closely supervised or perform functions that are best handled within their team environment in the company’s established work place.
Taynisha Williams, Manager
North America Franchise & Alliance Network Carey International in Frederick, Md.
We have one remote CSR, who we kept on after she moved from the area. When she let us know she was moving, we asked her if she would be willing to work remotely, and she was delighted to do so. This was beneficial for us as we didn’t lose her as a valuable employee. She was already trained so we didn’t have to go through the hiring and training process again. Also, with her working from home, she doesn’t tie up prime office space.
We check in with her at least every 90 days to see how things are going. This individual is self-motivated and a self-starter, so she’s a perfect fit for remote work.
Because of the nature of our business, I believe having other remote employees would be hard to justify unless they were in the office for a while to learn the business.
Scott Woodruff, President & CEO
Majestic Limousine in Des Moines, Iowa
We train in the central office so remote employees are required to travel here for the first 6-8 weeks of training. Travel is then reduced to once per month and finally, twice per year. We bring in all remote staff twice a year for training, team building, and planning.
We leverage technology for our performance monitoring. Project management programs such as Asana, combined with productive monitoring by DeskTime, and our phone system from Chosen Technologies enable us to know exactly what a remote employee is doing on a daily basis.
The benefit to the company is the ability to hire the most-qualified individual regardless of where they live. In some instances, our target salary is higher than the local prevailing wage in that market, which is an additional employee perk that adds to the attractiveness of our position.
The most utilized benefit to our employees is that our technology enables them to work from anywhere in the world with a stable internet connection. This is a huge advantage for anyone who loves to travel. Instead of using all of their PTO at once, we find that they are taking a few days for travel and extending their trips to a month or longer by working from various parts of the world.
Mike Zappone, CEO
All Transportation Network in Newburgh, N.Y.
We’ve loved hearing your answers to our benchmarking questions—but we always welcome suggestions for future topics, too!
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org you just might see your query answered in an upcoming issue.