Situation: A company has remote employees who are on a wide variety of schedules. Retaining great employees is a challenge, and with this consistent service due to turn-over. How do they improve the relationships that they have with remote employees? How do you assure consistent reliable service?
Advice from the CEOs:
Guarantee employee income for a period after they lose a client and as you seek another assignment for them. Limit your exposure by setting hurdles – an employee must have served the company for X time to qualify for this benefit.
Create your own “down time” bank. Say you pay an employee $10. Give them $9 and put $1 into a bank so that you can pay them once they lose their current client. The fact that their bank is limited to the amount of these contributions creates an incentive not to draw down the bank.
Offer a paid day off per month of service.
How do you shift your business from commodity to specialty, as a value add business?
What Peace of Mind features could you provide to your clients to create added value and stickiness? For example, can you provide a portal into your system so that clients can access information on the services that you’ve provided, or enhance their ability to communicate with their own clients? What about access to time schedules, account notes, etc.
Look for a solution that will shift the industry.
Look at menu driven packaging and pricing options. Examples include discount pricing for purchase volume commitments or iPads for a significant level of investment.
Situation: A small company wants to reduce costs by consolidating accounting and operational communications between remote divisions, with home office coordination. Can you more effectively reduce costs by consolidating services or is it better to set up parallel but complimentary accounting and operational communications in each division?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are a number of things that need to be considered, including:
Whether the existing legacy system is off the shelf with modifications or was custom designed for your operation.
Does the current system meet your needs, and do operators understand it? Is operational understanding diffuse or can only one or two people operate it?
How similar are the divisions in terms of product, customers and operations?
Do divisions serve distinct, non-overlapping customers with different product lines?
Are there important operational differences, for example are some divisions union, and others non-union?
On an ongoing basis, except for accounting, do divisions function as complimentary or distinctly separate businesses?
How complex are the product and pricing offerings? Could you consider a simple solution like QuickBooks or are there are complexities to your business model and accounting that the off-the shelf or web-based systems can’t address?
How much historical data from your current system is needed to support ongoing and future operations?
The simplest solution may be to run your current system off of a server, with multiple nodes connected to the system – a direct connection at your home office, and point-to-point lines connecting your remote offices. This will solve both your data transfer and communications needs.
Hire a computer consultant to set this up and assist you in establishing a link. It will cost some money, but will save you time and money in the long-run.
If you decide to change your accounting system, do so at the end of your current fiscal year. Trying to change accounting systems in the midst of a fiscal year creates an accounting nightmare for a small business.
Situation: A company just hired an individual to fill a key position. The position has a steep learning curve, and requires an on-site presence so the CEO made sure during the interview process to emphasize that he wanted a 3-5 year service commitment. Two days after the new individual started he told the CEO that his wife and child are moving to North Carolina and asked whether he could he work remotely from NC. The CEO said this was not an option. The employee says that he will stay, but the CEO is concerned whether this individual will fulfill his verbal commitment of service. How should the CEO handle this situation going forward?
Advice from the CEOs:
Verbal commitments made during an interview process are difficult to enforce. Further, under California law once you have hired an employee, you cannot fire or let the employee go except for cause – performance or company financial adjustments such as layoffs.
What should the CEO say to the employee at this point about the situation?
Thank him for his honesty. Let him know that if the situation changes you would appreciate knowing as soon as possible. Assure the employee that you will not fire or otherwise penalize him for giving you this notice.
Is there anything else that the CEO can do to protect his training investment?
As the employee moves from training into productive work, make it one of his responsibilities to thoroughly document the position and responsibilities. If he eventually leaves, this may reduce the learning curve of his successor.
Situation: A Silicon Valley company is considering starting a second office both to reduce costs and to diversify its geographic client base. What are best practices for starting your first remote office?
Advice from the CEOs:
Do you really need to have an office, or can your employees be virtual?
Look at your business model and what aspects of your business require an office. Within Silicon Valley, some companies have established local remote offices to enable staff to reduce commutes. These offices include full computer and audio-visual facilities so that remote office staff can participate in home office team meetings. There are an increasing number of cloud-based services that facilitate collaboration between widely distributed teams in different geographic areas. These include Go-to-Meeting, WebEx and Sococo. Can a model like this work for you? If so, then locating an office in a different region is not very different from a remote local office.
Outside of your current client base, what customer companies would you like to target?
Where are they located? Is there a significant geographic concentration of potential customers in other regions? This might tell you where you would want to put either a real or a virtual local office.
Locating an office in a location with numerous potential clients also increases the likelihood that you will find a trained and experienced local talent pool to staff your office.
Make sure that you analyze and understand your business model and what portions are exportable.
What is your culture and how much does it rely on interaction between home office and consultant staff? Avoid a situation where remote staff feel 2nd class.
The solution is to fully understand your model, and to manage both local and remote office staff through the model. Make it simple to monitor people and their activities.