For better or worse, advancing technology disrupts business – we all know that. But it isn’t just the hardware and software that push changes – the internet has offered a whole new way of working. More and more people do their jobs from home offices, managing their own time and fitting their paid hours into family life and other commitments.
Some businesses feel a bit nervous about that. If you can’t supervise staff – their start and finish times, their breaks, their output – they could just be slacking off. Or they could be using work time to do other things, like changing the baby or mowing the lawn.
The good news for business is, that’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay – studies show that remote working and flexible hours are more likely to raise productivity. In real-world terms, people who work where they can also attend to other important aspects of their lives are less distracted, more efficient and much happier.
It’s time for business to embrace this new, flexible way of working, and recognise the definite advantages both to staff and to the bottom line. Remote staff still need to stay connected, but flexible working means that a wider range of staff and skills could be available.
Thrive CA’s model is based around flexibility to work more efficiently and deliver more value to clients. For example we:
Meet virtually with each other and clients
Use team collaboration tools such as Slack to communicate and share information within the team
Work with international team members
Work with highly skilled team members who have other commitments
Have the ability to work from anywhere in the world – this was a priority when Thrive CA was set up as we wanted to ensure that we could live the life that we wanted and this included travelling whenever and wherever we want.
People work best in their own space and time
An eight-hour office day (or longer) has break times – morning and afternoon tea, lunch – that are almost set in stone. Yet staff often manage to stop more frequently – phone calls, bathroom breaks, nipping outside for a smoke. It seems that people really concentrate best in shorter periods – 1.5 to 2 hours – and actually should stop and walk around or do something else in between. However, this kind of work pattern doesn’t fit well into a standard office day.
Where it does fit is when workers have the complete freedom to work, or not, and the privacy and comfort of a home environment. Many workers report being more focussed when they do work, and better able to juggle family and other commitments. They don’t have the distractions of a busy office or a hovering supervisor and take a break whenever they feel they need it.
Quite simply, remote workers are happier. Another study by Staples Advantage even found that 76% of remote workers felt more loyal to the company and were more willing to work overtime.
Skills outside a standard working day
You can tap into a wider range of skills and locations by promoting flexible and remote working. Some people with special skills just don’t have eight hours a day to spare, but they might manage three or four. Others are based on the other side of the world – sleeping when your office is open.
At Thrive CA, we have a team of accountants working to ensure that our client needs are met from an office in Manila in the Philippines. We set our team in Manila up due to the availability of candidates with a huge range of skills that just were not available in candidates in NZ. The Manila based team work NZ business hours which means that they work 5am to 2pm Manila time. This schedule enables the team to miss the manic rush hour in Manila and have a life outside of work.
Save on overheads, from teabags to rent
If you’re a typical business, imagine what you’d save if half of your people worked from home, or all your people worked remotely half the time. You’d need half the office space, for a start. You’d save on rent, power, hardware and tea and coffee – a Global Workplace Analytics report talks about savings approaching $11,000 a year for a typical small-medium business.
As an added bonus – a very important one – you can afford to do so much more for your clients when you liberate yourself and your staff from some of the constraints and expense of a traditional nine-to-five office.
For instance, think of the costs, in both time and money, of travelling to and from an office.
How to make it work
Trust yourself, trust your staff
Trust that you’ve hired the best staff for the job then trust them to deliver, wherever they work.
Schedule regular get-togethers
Remote-working team members still need to stay connected. Plan regular face-to-face catch-ups to maintain your team dynamic and working relationships.
Be clear about your expectations
Deadlines are essential, as are your expectations around what your people should deliver. They’ll quickly begin to resent fluffy instructions or spongy timelines, and lose confidence in you and themselves.
Communication apps can help
Good daily communication is essential. There are still phone and email, but you’ll find you need other avenues as well. Skype is a great platform for video calls and screen sharing, you can manage your projects with Roll or Asana, and chat or share documents on Slack. Dropbox is great for file sharing and central storage, and your team can create shared documents on Google Docs. If some of these don’t work for you, there are plenty more platforms out there to choose from.
Different channels have different uses
It’s important to recognise that when you’re talking face to face, expressions, tone of voice, eye contact and gestures all play a part in the messages you’re exchanging. At a distance, criticism can seem sharper than you intend, or you may not signal the right level of urgency. That’s why while email is good for sending general information and notices, it’s a good idea to use some avenues, such as texting or Messenger, solely for communications that require immediate attention. Lighten or otherwise adjust your tone with an emoji on other platforms, to make sure your message isn’t misunderstood.
Schedule those phone and video calls
Conference-phone and video calls should be considered real meetings. That means scheduling them ahead of time, and making sure everyone involved is informed and ready to answer. Follow through with the ‘real meeting’ scenario – send a reminder with an agenda detailing what the meeting will cover.
Nip conflict in the bud
Wherever there is a team, there will be conflict. When your people are working remotely and the conflict isn’t right in your face, you may not know about it. If you do, it’s tempting to ignore it and wait for it to go away. But unresolved conflict will come to a boil eventually, causing a worse problem than the niggle it might have started as. Make a regular time to hash through any issues, even if you’re not aware of them.
Set the best times to make contact
In a team working remotely, each person will have an individual schedule, with times when they are not working. Make some decisions about when it’s a good time to make contact with any individual, and on what platform, and inform the whole team. For instance, emails can probably be sent at any time without expecting an immediate reply, but when everyone knows when each team member is ‘on deck’, that may be the appropriate time for calls or texts.
Remote working – better for everyone
Once you establish your systems and protocols, you’ll start reaping the benefits of a team that works remotely and flexibly – at least for part of the week. You’ll find you have lower overheads, better productivity, and a wider choice about who to add to the team.
Your people will love it too. And at Thrive CA, we’re proof.
Want to know more about remote and flexible working? Give Thrive CA a call.