Many workers who’ve gotten the option to work from home during the pandemic have discovered something important about themselves: They like it and don’t want to go back into the office.
That’s one reason many companies are finding their cubicles sparsely populated when they’ve rolled out optional return-to-work plans. It’s easier for many people to balance their family responsibilities with their careers when they work from home, especially with many schools switching to remote learning as coronavirus cases spike. Not to mention there’s less chance of exposure to the virus when employees work from home.
But there’s one challenge with remote work: preserving company culture. It’s a lot harder to do that across a video screen than in the office, by many accounts. For that reason, more companies will likely roll back remote work once vaccines start becoming available. That could put some workers in a quandary if, for instance, children’s schools are operating according to an incompatible schedule or they have other caregiving responsibilities brought by the pandemic.
So how can you ensure that remote work remains an option for you for the foreseeable future? There are no guarantees if you’re an employee, though staying disciplined about getting your work done can go a long way toward keeping your company happy with the arrangement. For many, the best way to ensure they can continue working remotely is by starting a home-based business.
For advice on how to put remote work trends to work for you if you pursue that option, I spoke last week with Alex-Wilson Campbell, the London-based founder of Remote Work Life, an online learning community for remote CEOs, as well as a consultancy owner who helps companies find remote talent and host of the Remote Work Life Podcast.
Here are some takeaways from our conversation.
Keep your options open. Many people who no longer commute have freed up two to three hours a day to do other things. If you want to make sure you have the option to work from home no matter what, why not put some of that time to work for you by launching a small side business, such as an e-commerce store? That way, if something changes at your job, you’ll have your Plan B in place. “To me, there’s no such thing as a permanent job these days,” says Wilson-Campbell.
The concept of “window work” may help you pull it off. “It’s segmenting your work,” he explains. “This is what you’ll do for your main job in the morning and late afternoon. Then, section out the work you’re going to do for your business the rest of the day. Even if you’re doing one or two hours a day for your business, after a year you’ll be in a situation where you can launch.”
In the meantime, if you’d prefer to keep your side business part-time and want to hang onto the steady income from your main job, make sure you’re doing all you can to stay valuable and marketable as a remote employee. “Keep your skills up to date,” Wilson-Campbell says. “The digital landscape is changing all the time.”
If your remote work arrangement does change, remember your employer is not the only game in town. “Keep an eye on what the competition is doing,” says Wilson-Campbell. “Network with them, as well. If you are in a situation where you have to leave your job, then you’ve built up your network, and hopefully, you can make the transition into one of the competitors or a similar vertical. It’s all about making contingency plans.”
Focus on addressing a pain point in the marketplace. If you do start a home-based business, make sure it solves a want or need you’re passionate about solving. “If you’ve finished a long day of work, it’s tempting to put your feet up,” says Wilson-Campbell. “It’ll be easier to find the energy and vitality to work on it if you keep that purpose at the back of your mind.”
Right now, one low-hanging fruit is helping businesses that can’t attract enough customers because of logistical challenges, like lockdowns. If you can help them solve that problem, you’ll likely find yourself very busy, he says.
Perhaps you’re a marketer with expertise in helping gyms attract new business. Reaching out to gyms that offer online classes and sharing your experience in marketing virtual offerings for similar facilities could put you in demand.
“Really work on your personal branding to set yourself up as the person who can solve their problem,” advises Wilson-Campbell. “That has to be consistent across your social network profiles.”
Also consider adding case studies, anecdotes and testimonials on your website from the types of customers you are targeting. “That can help validate you as a problem solver who can help with that kind of challenge,” he says.
Vet prospects carefully. When you start a new business, it’s tempting to take on every client who wants to work with you, but it’s important to screen them to make sure they’re a good fit. Your business will only grow if your engagements are successful.
Let’s say you offer your services to B2B clients. “From my perspective, I’d want to get on the phone with the client to understand their business a lot more deeply,” says Wilson-Campbell. “What’s behind the business in terms of their why? How long they have been established? What is their track record in their market? What are their plans for the future, three to five years down the line? You also want to understand their financial aspirations for the business. It’s due diligence.”
If it’s possible, speak with more than one team member from a prospective client’s company, or with other companies that have worked with the prospect, so you can understand the culture better. “Even understanding their competition in the market is important,” says Wilson-Campbell. “You have to have a clear view of what their competitors are doing and the products and services they are offering, as well. That will give you a picture of how profitable and how sustainable that market would be.”
Create your own support network. Even if you are on Zoom calls all day, it can get lonely working from home. To stay motivated to move forward on your side business, consider enlisting a coach—whether an informal one such as a friend who’s willing to act as an accountability partner, or even a professional one. “They can push you,” he says.
It can take a concerted effort to start a business on the side, but once you do, you’ll never have to worry about someone taking away your work-from-home arrangement. That’s worth a lot in today’s business environment.