A global pandemic has a way of changing our priorities. While remote working was a once or twice a week option for some workers in a pre-COVID world, it has increasingly become the norm.

The genie is out of the bottle. The only question that remains is what will the working world look like once an effective vaccine is available and social distancing becomes a thing of the past.

In a Harvard Business Review survey a few months ago, more than 75% of business executives said they expect remote working will increase compared to pre-COVID levels. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said the work being performed was at least as good as it was before the pandemic, and 44% noticed an increase in productivity once they made the necessary investments in technology.

This is what Working From Home (WFH) looks like right now. But a new trend is on the horizon, Working From Anywhere, or WFA. This is where a worker can live and work anywhere; in a different part of the state, the U.S. or even another country.

Think about the power this can give a small business or startup. You can hire the best and brightest regardless of where they live. Top talent that was impossible to get just seven months ago because of the booming economy can work for you no matter where they live. They don’t need to sell their house, uproot the kids or change their lives.

This creates some exciting possibilities as we enter the economic recovery phase as well as a few challenges.

Space to spread out. Or move out.

If your employees are spread out all over the state, country or the world, do you really need all that office space? Or any office space, for that matter? If you want some type of headquarters, perhaps with hotel spaces, does it need to be in the high rent district? Or can it be in a smaller community where office space is plentiful and less expensive?

The best talent anywhere.

This could be a real game-changer. In larger metropolitan centers, it’s tough to find good talent because they already work for your competitor. In rural communities, it’s tough to find top-tier talent because all the job opportunities are in the big cities. WFA is going to be the new perk employees will want. As you think about it for your own business, ask these questions:

  • What technology would you need/be able to provide?
  • How flexible can “office hours” be?
  • If the position can work from home, what kind of stipend can you/will you offer to cover additional costs related to utilities, Internet, phone, etc.?
  • How will you integrate the new role into the company’s culture and teams?
  • What are the trade outs for workers? A recent study found that people are willing to give up as much as 8% of their pay for the opportunity to work from home. What would they trade out to work anywhere, especially when the cost of living differential can be significant?

It’s all about the connection.

Connecting with a remote worker is one thing. Their connection with the rest of the world is another. In the old days, employers gave candidates typing tests to gauge their speed and accuracy. In a WFA world, the new test will be Internet speed. Bandwidth and connectivity will be everything. As you formulate a Working From Anywhere strategy for your company, a candidate’s connectivity may become the new typing test.

Take a good look in the mirror.

All the technology and productivity in the world isn’t going to do any good if your management style can’t lead a remote workforce. If your management style is hands on, WFA may not work for you. Weekly check-ins help. But you need to be honest with yourself as to whether you have the personality, skills and mindset to manage a workforce that is not just down the hall from you. If you can’t change your management style, you might as well not even try to give WFA a try.

As you think about a Working From Anywhere business model, factor in the lessons learned from early trailblazers. These are their suggestions:

  • Be ready to grant genuine autonomy and flexibility to your workers. Instead of managing workers, manage their work instead, offering clear expectations, deliverables, deadlines and feedback.
  • Adopt a standard set of tools and technologies. Without standards, you’ll end up with chaos and a loss of productivity.
  • Consider using local coworking spaces or other collaborative spaces that allow employees in a particular geographic location to gather and collaborate. Make sure you factor in the cost of these spaces in your operations budget.
  • Map out your critical tasks and competencies. Forget who does what right now. Think instead about what tasks and responsibilities are needed for your business. What can be done externally by contractors? What needs to be done in-house? How do you manage the efficiency of these activities?
  • Do a cost and benefits analysis to see if there are actual savings. Factor in the direct and indirect costs, including things like employee benefits. Also, perform due diligence on the independent contractor vs. employee issue so you don’t run afoul of state and federal definitions and penalties.
  • Pay attention to workplace culture. Face-to-face interaction can spawn new ideas can be critical to innovation and growth. How do you compensate for those spontaneous in-person moments?

While no one wished for an economic meltdown, it does create an opportunity to step back and reconsider your business and its operations. Working From Anywhere is yet another weapon you can add to your arsenal. It may even be the missing link in being able to best your competitor, who is still locked in the past, doing the same ol’, same ol’ in a world that may never be the same again.

Who knows? It make take your business to a new level as you tap into a stream of talent that isn’t limited to a convenient commute. It could open new doors and new opportunities you never even dreamed of pre-COVID.

Somewhere north of the Emerald City, working out of my home, wondering where the work will take me next,

  • Robb