In March of 2020, 3.6% of workers in the United States worked from home half-time or more. By June, the share of the U.S. workforce working from home was 42% — and given that 33% of the workforce was not working at all, that represents a majority of employed people.
No shift that large, happening that quickly and unexpectedly, is elegant. Many organizations are still struggling to set up their workforces – and entire business models – to succeed in a prolonged work-from-home environment. Over the course of the pandemic, several truths about standard work-from-home (WFH) models have emerged:
- Forced hybrid models that support both brick-and-mortar locations and remote work are sub-optimized, potentially more costly, and fundamentally inequitable.
Standing up a remote workforce is more than just ensuring employees have the right hardware and can securely access company resources. It requires rethinking each aspect of a company’s business and tailoring it for scalable, home-based work. While there can be some overlap in the processes that support traditional and remote work, maintaining both business models often leads to two subcultures that are not effectively integrated, and can be a drain on company resources that is difficult to justify.
- Workers are burning out at alarming rates as traditional companies labor against the work-from-home learning curve.
In the United States, the number of workers reporting burnout rose by 45% between April and August of 2020. Much of this stress is attributable to management’s struggles operating in a remote environment. Proven processes and management practices designed for remote work are required to sustain a home-based workforce without losing productivity and camaraderie.
- Traditional remote work is mostly reserved for experienced white-collar positions, leaving a significant portion of the workforce out of the picture.
Though the United States is seeing more people commuting to work as the economy recovers, many of workers who were laid off early in the pandemic are now starting new jobs with very low work-from-home rates. Creating sustainable, secure remote work options across more industries will be an important component that can help shelter the economy from massive, unpredictable swings in unemployment during times of crisis, while also providing new opportunities to segments of the workforce for whom commuting presents a hardship.
While standard WFH models are not set up to scale nor to support a permanent remote workforce, there is another model that’s tailor-made for this new workforce reality: the homesourcing model.
Homesourcing, an alternative to hybrid WFH models, is on the rise. Homesourcing is a business model where all of a company’s processes, workflows, platforms, tools, and culture are designed to support the delivery of outsourced work by home-based employees. Before the pandemic, the idea of a fully virtual workforce was rarely contemplated. Now, leading indicators such as the announcement of “virtual first” operations from Silicon Valley giants like DropBox and declining commercial real estate occupancy indicate that homesourcing is poised for substantial growth.
How to Succeed with Homesourcing
Homesourcing is a direct employment model, not gig work. Homesourcing does not act as a go-between for independent contractors and their customers but rather supports a distributed team with unified processes, secure tools, and company culture that enables them to do their best work from home. Support.com has used the homesourcing model for 20 years to provide global enterprises with customer and technical support solutions delivered by a worldwide network of customer support agents (called experts). This experience has put the company well ahead of the remote learning curve.
If you’re considering taking your organization fully virtual, here’s what we learned with two decades of homesourcing experience:
1. To have an excellent remote workforce, you must hire the right people.
In the pandemic, millions of people were forced to work from home regardless of their work styles, preferences, or ability to access a suitable environment. This cultural mismatch is part of why companies have experienced so much friction in transitioning to WFH. Remote work doesn’t fit all employees; it requires a particular mindset and set of characteristics to be successful over the long-term.
A fully homesourced organization should custom-profile new hires for WFH. Not only does Support.com seek out people who have an environment conducive to remote work, i.e. the proper space, support, and setup, but the company also hires people with the right personality, work style, and time management skills to thrive while working remotely.
2. Once hired, these workers require training and resources designed for virtual delivery to adult-learners
Delivering your in-person training as a Zoom webinar with a PDF isn’t going to cut it when you have a fully remote workforce. Training for home-based employees should be more robust, using multiple modalities beyond lecture. Furthermore, employees should receive substantial self-support training resources on an ongoing basis.
Support.com has invested heavily in training and support systems rooted in adult learning best practices. The company’s customer support employees are trained to become subject matter experts using an experience-tested online content library built over the past two decades. After the initial training, they are supported by a proprietary platform called Guided Paths®, which uses branching logic and dynamic decision points for more efficient and smarter service delivery. Investment in training and resources not only contributes to the company’s ability to retain top talent but also enhances productivity. When employees are well-trained and deeply resourced, the quality and efficiency of their work increases.
3. Home-based employees and managers need sophisticated omnichannel tools to stay productive, accountable, and connected.
Within an office environment, supervision and collaboration often occur by happenstance or proximity: managers “walk the floor,” and colleagues solve problems in ad hoc informal meetings. In a homesourcing model, it’s critical to deliberately create these interactions within a virtual environment using a variety of tools beyond just video conferencing software.
Support.com addresses this need with yet another custom tool, a proprietary platform called “Workbench” that serves as both a hub for employee resources and a diary of activities that gives managers insight into performance. Employees use Workbench to actively participate in online forums and chat rooms to troubleshoot customer issues and to socialize with each other.
Many remote management tools focus on monitoring minutes, but that only measures quantity, not quality. Workbench helps supervisors understand how our experts are helping our customers, including which strategies are the most successful, which in turn helps them lead and coach their teams and improve performance.
4. Building a culture for a home-based workforce is different – and requires proactive, thoughtful initiatives that integrate engagement, participation, and socialization with the overall employee incentive structure.
In a hybrid work environment, remote employees often report feeling isolated compared to their in-person peers and are also less likely to be promoted despite being more productive on average.
Though Support.com’s home-based employees all work under equivalent conditions, the company still proactively cultivates team culture across the board. Support.com has instituted a playbook for employee engagement that includes online forums, digital communities of practice, and a series of daily check-ins that supervisors do to stay connected with their team. The virtual culture is also consistently reinforced through rewards and recognition for engaging with company activities, performance-based bonuses, and prioritizing promoting talent from within.
Remote Work will Accelerate
Experts predict that one of the outcomes of the pandemic will be a substantial permanent shift to remote work. Additional homesourcing models are sure to emerge, either from other virtual natives like Support.com, or from existing companies like DropBox whose evolution toward homesourcing has been accelerated by recent events.
The key attributes of Support.com’s homesourcing model – processes, platforms, and culture, all truly tailored to remote work – are a natural evolution to today’s WFH model. Looking to the future, continued innovation in these areas will be key for more widespread adoption across industries.