Rocket Station Founder, Robert Nickell, Says COVID Has Changed the Landscape of Business Forever

By Brian Wallace Brian Wallace has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on November 7, 2020

We’ve all experienced a change in our lifestyle due to COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns that started this past March, but most people haven’t given much thought to just how widespread and lasting some of those changes will be.

Robert Nickell, founder of the virtual assistant agency, Rocket Station, has, though.

Up until recently. Most people were coasting along through the normal ups and downs of life, but once the lockdowns began, everything changed.

Many employers quickly realized that they had been wrong about the idea of a remote workforce. Most believed that a remote workforce was something only for young and desperate startups to use in an attempt to attract job candidates when they couldn’t offer competitive salaries. They also believed that employees working from home would be less productive, opting to binge-watch Netflix or play on social media all day instead of working.

They quickly realized that they were wrong.

The reality, they learned, is that offering the ability to work from home can be a valuable job perk. They also learned that a remote workforce enabled them to reduce costs and their employees were often actually more productive while working at home in a more comfortable environment.

“I always knew we would get to this point, I just thought it would be a bit further down the road. COVID expedited the process,” Nickell says.

Now that many businesses have seen the obvious benefits first hand, they are permanently transitioning to a mostly remote workforce, including the likes of Adobe, Facebook, and Microsoft, to name just a few.

For many employers, this transition has resulted in tremendous cost savings since they no longer have to maintain expensive leases on office space, or all the other costs that go along with that, such as snacks and coffee, cleaning service, furniture, certain types of insurance policies.

With costs down and productivity up, the only logical path is for more businesses to follow this trend in order to remain competitive.

Today, over half of America’s workforce is working remotely. And that’s a stat that Robert Nickell believes will continue to grow rapidly. His 600+ person virtual assistant agency has been running one hundred percent virtual since 2013, so he’s no stranger to managing remote teams.

He says that he’s continuing to see a growing number of companies making the transition to a remote workforce, but there is a bit of a learning curve to the process that employers need to be aware of. 

“When the lockdowns started, the initial reaction from most employers was panic, soon followed by excitement. Working from home was a new and fun novelty for many, and at first, everyone loved the cute little kids wandering into the background of their parents’ Zoom calls, and they were amused when spouses or significant others inadvertently did it. But that soon turned into frustration for employers as productivity plummeted.”

The key to building a successful and productive remote workforce, whether it’s with existing employees or new virtual assistants, he says, is multifaceted.

“It’s critical to have a clearly documented process for each task to be performed, and you need objective KPIs in place in order to accurately measure performance,” he explains.

Nickell points out that it’s also critical to invest time in making your team feel engaged since working remotely can lead to isolation and loneliness, and you need to have clear and comprehensive technology guidelines to reduce security risks.

Robert says that as long as you cover all your bases, transitioning to a remote workforce, either completely or partially, can be advantageous for almost any business.

He shared one client’s story who was hit particularly hard by the COVID quarantines when a large portion of their workforce chose to leave so they could take care of their children who were no longer able to attend school.

“They had over 8000 square feet of commercial space filled with 220 employees, but once the lockdowns started, a large portion of their workforce understandably chose to leave so they could take care of their children during the day. That business owner didn’t know how they were going to keep operations going. Fortunately, we have a team of nearly six hundred people, so we were able to develop a documented process for each of their tasks and quickly spin up enough virtual assistants to replace all of the employees they lost, resulting in a forty percent reduction in cost while increasing their productivity by one hundred and twenty percent.”

While it’s only logical that more businesses will take advantage of this tremendous opportunity in the very near future, employers aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits of a remote workforce.

With the ability to work from home, employees are no longer limited to the jobs in their local geographic area. This opens up significantly more opportunities, and often, at higher salaries. This is already leading to a mass exodus from high-cost regions with more expected to come.

And a growing number of employees want to work from home because it’s more convenient for them. This means less time, money, and peace are wasted on a daily commute while allowing them to create the exact work environment that best suits them.

It’s a classic win/win scenario.

Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows because some industries will be hurt by this transition. Particularly the commercial real estate industry and other industries that serve it, such as commercial cleaning services, certain businesses in the foodservice industry, and commercial insurance.

Fortunately, most experts seem to agree that while the impact on commercial real estate will be significant, it will be relatively slow, giving people plenty of time to adapt.

Real estate investor and founder of the Real Estate Influencer podcast, Matt Andrews, shared his opinion, stating:

“I don’t think we’ll see a commercial real estate collapse, but we are due for a significant correction in the next one or two years. There are two reasons for this. The first is because many companies have chosen to stick with the remote workforce they implemented to cope with COVID quarantine restrictions, causing a drop in demand for commercial space. The second reason, which is more ominous, is that a lot of companies will go out of business because of the financial impact of COVID and the quarantines.”

Andrews believes that because a lot of companies were already on shaky ground financially before the pandemic, we will see many more fail in the near future. This will especially affect companies with high overhead, including restaurants and retail establishments.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention because the news has been prolifically covering prominent bankruptcies as well as less comprehensive data on small businesses failing.

It appears to be clear that commercial real estate will soon be ripe with opportunities for those willing to pivot and adapt as many have throughout the COVID pandemic.

By Brian Wallace Brian Wallace has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Brian Wallace is a Columnist at Grit Daily. He is an entrepreneur, writer, and podcast host. He is the Founder and President of NowSourcing and has been featured in Forbes, TIME, and The New York Times. Brian previously wrote for Mashable and currently writes for Hacker Noon, CMSWire, Business 2 Community, and more. His Next Action podcast features entrepreneurs trying to get to the next level. Brian also hosts #LinkedInLocal events all over the country, promoting the use of LinkedIn among professionals wanting to grow their careers.

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