To many companies and employers, 2020 will go down in history as the dawn of the remote work era. For those who were ahead of the digital curve, though, adapting to remote work had long been on the horizon, and the pandemic merely ushered it in sooner than anticipated. In a survey of 442 small business owners and Incfile customers who spanned an array of industries from leatherwork to pet grooming and spiritual work to home inspection (and well beyond), we found that most rode out the last tumultuous two years with their workforce mostly intact. How did they manage it?
Only 7 Percent of Small Businesses Tried and Failed to Adapt to Remote Work
A very slim minority — just 7 percent — reported that the shift to remote work did not work for them. A large number — 42 percent — said they didn’t have to make any adjustments to help their business survive the pandemic. Among the rest of the respondents, 21 percent had switched to a hybrid structure prior to 2020, and 15 percent made the switch at the onset of COVID-19 and reported it was going well. The remaining 10 percent said switching to remote or hybrid work wasn’t possible due to the nature of their business.
In a Post-Pandemic Workforce, Working from Home Is the Name of the Game
Nearly half of all respondents said they’re planning to make remote work a permanent solution within their business. Another 35 percent find that striking a balance works best and are working toward a hybrid structure, with employees in the office part of the time and at home for the rest. The remaining 16 percent said that they aren’t sure remote work will be permanent, but they are testing it out on a temporary basis.
Of those who preferred hybrid work, most still lean toward more time working from home. A majority of respondents wanted a 50/50 split or more, though most preferred a 90/10 or 70/30 structure.
Over 50 Percent of Small Business Owners Were Prepared for the Digital Shift
In fact, 53 percent said they already had the necessary digital tools and technologies in place to allow their workforce to go remote. The same percentage also said that due to this, they did not have to make any additional investments in remote technology when the pandemic began. Of those that did, they spent the most on training employees to use new tools and programs, as well as on logistics and hiring.
Culture Shock? Not for the 50 Percent Who Were Prepared
An emerging trend from the survey was that around half of all respondents were using the technology and tools needed to transition to remote or hybrid work. These respondents were likely to already have integrated some work-from-home options into their workforce and are most likely the same group to report making it a permanent shift. The same percentage also said that their workplace culture was already well-suited to working from home, likely because they were prepared and ready to adapt.
However, most respondents said they were making adjustments to improve their work culture, such as increasing the focus on video conferencing and incorporating occasional in-person events. Only 15 percent said that going back to the office was the only way to improve culture among their workforce.
18 Percent Found a Silver Lining in Giving Up On-Site Offices
While a majority of respondents had no physical location prior to 2020, another 18 percent reported that they have given up their commercial property and have seen significant savings as a result. Of those who have terminated a lease, they have begun investing in other areas, including expanding their businesses, putting more dollars toward sales and marketing, speeding up their digital transformation, hiring top talent and improving customer service.
The Way Business Owners Hire Is Changing — Just 4 Percent Are Still Making Cuts
Only a very small percentage — 4 percent — of respondents report they are still laying off employees. The largest group — 44 percent — say they’re staying the course with the employees they currently have. Of those who are hiring, many have adjusted to only hiring freelance/contract workers or temporary/seasonal employees.
While slightly more than half of respondents say they’re still looking for local talent, others say that a remote workforce has allowed them to explore hiring on a global scale. New candidates are primarily being found online through sites like LinkedIn, Indeed and Craigslist, though some are still making connections via referrals and word-of-mouth.
Bottom Line: Preparation Makes for a Stable, Agile Workforce
The saying goes, “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail,” and we certainly see that the businesses that were prepared for remote work and the digital shift prior to 2020 have fared better. They were ready to adapt and overcome the challenges of the last two years without taking on more financial burdens associated with new technology and remote tools. They have their sights set on the future, and for many, it’s looking brighter and better.
Was your business prepared for the dawn of the remote era, even before 2020? Or were you able to adapt and thrive? We’d love to hear — and possibly even share — your story! Submit your story, and we may choose to feature it as part of our INCspiration series.
Wendi is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, IN, with over a decade of experience writing for a variety of industries from healthcare to manufacturing to nonprofit. When she isn't working on solutions for her clients, she can be found spending time with her kids and husband, working in the garden or doing more writing (of the fiction variety).