Working Remotely: The Employer Perspective

Last month, we looked at what it’s like to be an employee working remotely. This month, we’re going to look at having remote staff from the employers’ perspective. Not surprisingly, things look different from the other side of the fence!

The happy news is that, regardless of where you sit—employee or employer side—working remotely really can work.

In the captioning industry, the possibility of working remotely didn’t become practical until the switch from linear to non-linear systems several years ago. Around the time that happened, one of Line 21’s long-time employees approached Kelly and Carolyn about the possibility of taking her job home.

Carolyn and Kelly had a choice to make. Lose a seasoned employee along with her vast stored knowledge and years of experience, or embrace a new work model. The choice seemed obvious. “We had these great people who are highly skilled, and we didn’t want to lose them.”

Once the first captioner made her way to Ontario, others followed to Nova Scotia, Victoria, and other Ontario locations. “We haven’t had anyone go anywhere truly exotic,” reports Kelly. “Not yet,” she adds. There is one Line 21 captioner planning an extended global tour. She plans to take her job with her as she travels. “That will take a lot of organizing,” Kelly comments. “Figuring out internet connections and time zones and making sure we can reliably communicate. We’re still planning.”

Today, there are far more people working for Line 21 out of the office than there are those working in it. Even Kelly and Carolyn work from home part of the time as they, too, benefit from the flexibility. Why, then, do they still maintain an office? Kelly explains, “We still need someone present 9-5 to keep the office open by phone, email, and in person. Clients need to know that we are totally accessible during business hours, and that they can find us easily for quotes, scheduling, and to answer questions. Having a really consistent front end allows us to be able to accommodate different staff schedules while maintaining total dependability.”

So what does all of this mean as employers? The answer is overwhelming: increased administration. It’s no longer acceptable to simply shout out a change in plan to the office. Now, shifting schedules require greater thought and communication. “You can’t just toss someone a VHS tape and get them working on it. You have to allow for download times and different time zones.”

And, while they are flexible about when the work gets done during the day, Carolyn and Kelly need employees to keep to a semblance of a routine. “We need to know the pattern of the week and to keep it fairly consistent so we don’t have to reinvent the scheduling system every week.”

Probably the most difficult part of having remote employees is finding the balance between giving people the right amount of information to do their jobs versus not enough information. “Everything we do is interconnected. When workers are side-by-side, they do a lot of their own coordination. Now we have to have someone doing that for people, keeping a keen eye on what’s coming and going. It’s just more administration and advance planning.”

Then there’s the issue of computer challenges. “Trouble-shooting is more difficult when you can’t just look over someone’s shoulder. We need to either figure it out remotely, or find some local support.” If hardware needs to be replaced, it is purchased and configured in Vancouver, then shipped to the employee. “It’s the only way we can ensure all of the software is tied in properly.”

Overall, embracing the “work from home” model has been a very positive thing for Line 21. “We’ve been able to keep a lot of really valuable people for a lot longer. It’s good for people’s families and it’s just the right thing to do,” reports Kelly. She stresses that the move has been fueled by the desire for employee retention and doubts that it would work well for new employees. “There’s just too much training at first. I don’t know how we’d manage that long-distance.”