At a time when remote work models were a mere futuristic vision for most, Mr. Alain J. Roy made it a reality for ASTA-USA Translation Services, Inc. As a pioneer in this regard, Mr. Roy was invited by the Forbes Business Council to offer advice to businesses who are considering making the leap to fully-remote operations:
The Past, Present, and Future of Remote Work
Between the COVID-19 crisis and the already rapidly accelerating wave of digital transformation, the global workforce was seemingly catapulted into a remote-only environment.
While the work-from-home (WFH) structure was popularized and normalized by the pandemic, it has origins that date back nearly three decades prior. Since then, the WFH model has become standard operating procedure for millions of Americans. In 2021, it was found that there were nearly three times as many people primarily working remote positions than there were in 2019. According to a 2021 American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year estimate released by the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2019 and 2021, over 17 million Americans adopted the WFH environment.
The Roots and Growth of Work-from-Home
In the early 1990s, when the evolution of technology and Internet computing began to connect web users worldwide, companies began to embrace remote work as a viable structure for the first time. The rise in cell phone use also heavily influenced remote work as business owners and managers discreetly handled business matters from their homes, golf courses, restaurants, and stores.
Yet when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in government lockdowns in 2020, thousands of companies that had yet to adopt the model in some capacity were now forced to explore their remote options. On the contrary, companies that had already been utilizing remote work were unfazed by this newly mandated WFH reality. In particular, the industries that were most impacted by this change were those that were primarily client-facing.
My company, ASTA-USA, has utilized a remote workforce since the 1990s. As a highly specialized language services provider, translating written materials and providing real-time, live, human interpreting services for corporations and governments, we rely on staffers all around the globe.
My company, ASTA-USA Translation Services, Inc., has worked diligently to establish a highly specialized and efficient remote workforce since the 1990s. Because we provide industry-specific translations for organizations and governmental agencies, it was essential for us to have access to a unique pool of talent. By adopting a remote model, we were able to collaborate with the most skilled subject matter experts, translators, and linguists across the country instead of limiting ourselves to those who were in a nearby vicinity.
I realize that every company’s situation is unique regarding remote work. There is a multitude of factors that can affect a company’s ability to utilize a WFH model. Certain industries were far more impacted by post-COVID workplace trends than others. Whereas a law firm may require frequent face-to-face client meetings, call centers have more flexibility in this regard, thanks to the industry’s reliance on cloud technologies. Hence, a call center would have an easier transition to a WFH model than businesses that necessitate in-person operations.
Because companies compete to recruit the best talent and clients within their respective industries, many are finding it increasingly important to monitor their competitors’ activities. If a competitor can convert to a hybrid or remote workforce and increase efficiency, other companies within the space will look to quickly adopt a similar model.
The growing popularity of remote work within the service provider industry can be attributed to demand from both customers and employees. With remote work, the latter can enjoy benefits such as increased time and cost savings thanks to reduced transportation requirements.
That isn’t to say that this new model negatively impacts service provider employers – quite the opposite. Employers that can fully embrace the model can reduce their overhead by closing full-time offices and replacing them with temporary workspaces, reducing the need to cover any transportation costs previously needed to get workers to where they needed to go.
There were changes in the world of cybersecurity that came with the adoption of the remote work model. In particular, service providers that dealt with sensitive information had to enhance security processes to ensure that important client information was safeguarded in a fundamentally less secure environment. At ASTA-USA, we developed a host of security protocols, secure document transfer portals, and advanced encryption standards long before the pandemic. This enabled us to streamline all aspects of our remote business model, from administrative tasks and project coordination down to the actual production of translated materials. As WFH environments became the norm in the spring of 2020, many of the businesses that had previous experience using the model began to assist their less-experienced partners to implement secure remote workspaces.
As I mentioned earlier, both employers and employees have been provided with opportunities to increase individual and group productivity through the remote model. While there have been some hiccups regarding recruitment and employee retention since the beginning of the pandemic, many employers have found it easier to recruit talent from different parts of the world today than just a few years ago.
Diversifying the workforce with global talent allows companies to onboard new team members who are operational specialists and subject matter experts. Bringing in new perspectives is substantially easier within a remote model than it is in an in-person environment. This has proven to be especially critical for companies that work with international clients. Having individuals dedicated to specific regions of the world help boost client retention rates and builds trust over time. The stats speak for themselves – according to CXC Global, U.S.-based multinational corporations employed over 14 million international employees in 2015, and the numbers have only increased since.
In addition to reducing office costs and transportation fees, employers can also minimize relocation costs as there is less of a need to move employees to be closer to company headquarters. However, it is important to note that with the impact of COVID-19 lessening more and more with each passing month, relocation demands and costs are expected to rise in the future.
A Balancing Act
Many employers will tell you the laundry list of challenges that come with retaining talent and reducing turnover. Remote work has proven to be an immensely powerful negotiation tool for companies seeking top-tier talent, as remote workers have been found to be happier and more productive thanks to the flexibility provided by the WFH structure.
In a recent study by Stanford University, employers who offer remote work to employees are 50% less likely to experience turnover. Plus, those employees are typically 17% more productive than their in-person counterparts. This data is backed further by findings from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which found that productivity decreased by 4.1% in Q2 of 2022 as workers returned to in-person work environments.
WFH Checklist for Success
If you are looking to implement and maintain a strong remote workforce within your organization, there are a few items to consider:
- Read the Room – Evaluate whether or not your business model could feasibly work in a remote environment. For service providers that can operate seamlessly online, this may be a quick assessment. For businesses that heavily rely on in-person meetings to advance client relationships, manage physical products, or perform in-person services, this evaluation will take longer, and for good reason. You don’t want to rush into the remote model just because it seems trendy – it needs to actually work for business.
- Fine Tooth Comb – Once you’ve determined that the WFH model is feasible for your organization, you will need to go through every single aspect of your business and lay out what will need to change with the switch. This includes operations, client communications, internal communications, HR, payroll, data security, financial transactions, and more. Attention to detail is essential – gaps caused by the transition can be very costly if not caught early.
- Tech Stack Rehaul – A revamp of software is almost always necessary. Your old communication systems, collaborative workspaces, security protocols, and other technologies will likely need to be enhanced as a result of the switch. Relying on outdated technology can be detrimental to the overall operational success and security of your business.
- Don’t Avoid. Adopt. – The companies that have utilized remote work models for decades were the ones that experienced little to no disturbances when the WFH model became standard in 2020. Those that fought to avoid using the model ran into far more complications than those that embraced the switch.
I believe the long-term benefits of WFH far outweigh the obstacles that the transition itself presents. It is unlikely that we will see a significant decrease in remote work soon, as businesses and employees alike reap the rewards. Once committed to the WFH structure, don’t “turn back” out of fear of the unknown. Accept this new reality for what it is and lean in favor of adoption when possible.