A decade ago, Telecom released a series of TV ads that were, essentially, blue-sky dreaming about the effects of improved telecommunications. One ad featured a high-powered executive in a meeting. The big reveal? She was video calling, and actually at her luxurious beach house. Remote working clearly was the stuff of legends – merely an exciting possibility – and almost certainly only reserved for CEOs and other very important people.
While remote working has become far more common these days, it can still be a scary prospect for some businesses. How do you know if your people are working if you can’t see them? What if they’re on Facebook, or doing laundry, or napping? A more evolved company’s answer: so what if they are? It’s this very flexibility of time and attention that makes remote working so valuable to both workers and businesses. While most studies have inherent flaws, taken as a whole they suggest remote working improves productivity, rather than reducing it. Office-based work still has its place for a variety of reasons, but it’s clear that for most people, remote working for at least some of the week is ideal.
The Selective’s model would be unworkable without technology to bring our team of twelve specialists and clients together from other sides of the country. Remote, flexible working is so embedded into our business that between us we manage large and long-running projects, without a shared office space or 9-5 hours. Here’s why that works for us – and why it could work for your business too.
Give people the space to work at their best
The way we work now was designed in the industrial era, when factories needed bodies on the floor, twisting bolts or sorting widgets for hours and hours.
While most of us don’t work in factories, our days are still structured just the same. And why? Some say human productivity comes in cycles and that we’re better to focus our energy in 90-120 minute chunks, with breaks in between. That doesn’t fit into an eight-hour day – most employers would hate to think they were paying for breaks every 90 minutes, yet in reality, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Employees take leisurely bathroom breaks, go for a cigarette, check Facebook or chat to a colleague in the kitchen.
By contrast, people who are given the freedom to create their own work day often report they are more focussed, while also having more time for other important activities – without any of the ‘I should be working’ guilt.
And that’s good for morale. According to one study, 80% of remote workers reported higher morale. Similarly, a study by Staples Advantage found 76% of remote workers were willing to work overtime, and felt more loyal to their company.
That’s been the experience of The Selective’s website developer Michael van Dinther who spent four weeks working from Bali. While some of his clients knew he was there, most didn’t – and for all of them it felt like business as usual. Michael was able to structure his days to suit his passion and sunny environment. He worked early in the morning when he could catch the NZ working day, and later in the evening during the quiet cooler hours. That left the day for surfing and exploring. Did his work suffer without a 9-5 restriction? No, he says.
“The idea that people won’t work isn’t an argument – either you’re delivering or not. I obviously care about my clients, but that’s the same for workers. You either care about doing a good job and you do it, or you don’t and people catch on pretty quickly.”
Tap into expertise that doesn’t fit a 9-5
The Selective’s copywriter Helen Steemson runs a little team of writers, all women, all with children. While she says that was a fluke at first, it’s become almost a policy to hire people who don’t suit a 9-5 work day. It means she accesses a largely untapped segment – employees who are highly skilled, and very keen for work.
Being flexible about when and where work happens is the key. While they do have an office, Helen and her team spend a fair chunk of time working from home. This takes the pressure off day care drop-offs, and allows for other chores during the work day. It also helps combat the dreaded ‘mombie’ days, when people try to work subpar. Helen explains, “If you’ve been up all night with a sick child, I don’t want you trekking in through Auckland traffic when you could be napping. That way you bring your A-game, instead of just struggling through the day.”
The Selective’s account manager and branding specialist, Rebecca Henderson and Chris Hay, are also the main caregivers in their respective families. Without remote, flexible working, they say they wouldn’t be nearly as effective in either their roles, or as parents. It allows them to use their time more efficiently, working with full focus and contributing their expertise where it will add most value. This leaves time for other tasks, while still completing their projects on time and to a high standard.
Access people right for the job, not someone right next door
Our clients span the country. With our established remote-working protocols, it’s as seamless to work with clients in Christchurch as it is with ones on the same street. That’s good for us – we have access to a much broader client base – and it’s good for our clients, who don’t have to settle for people they think might not be quite right.
Translate that to your own business and it opens up your options when it comes to choosing suppliers and employees – get your remote working sorted, and you can have your pick of NZ’s best.
Pay for work, not overheads
Working remotely makes sense in hard dollars saved – a Global Workplace Analytics report suggests a typical business (that is, not a large corporate) could save as much as $11,000 per year just by letting their employees work remotely for half of their time. We see that first-hand in our day to day – we can offer our clients far more value than if we had the kinds of overheads a traditional agency has to maintain.
Even at project level, we’re saving money by doing things like avoiding travel time. For example, we save one client 34% of the cost of an ongoing project just by Skyping in for a monthly meeting.
More than that, being able to structure our day means we can avoid rush hour (or commuting altogether). That doesn’t just save time – it also reduces the emotional toll of rush hour driving. We can arrive to work (or log on at home) feeling fresh and upbeat without agonisingly slow traffic and infuriating drivers setting a bad tone for the day.
Tips to making remote, flexible working work
These are just some examples – there are plenty to choose from.
Create protocols for communication
When you’re not working face to face, your communication lacks the usual nuances, which can mean you miss vital subtext. For example, negative feedback may seem harsher and tasks can seem more or less urgent or important than reality. Create protocols for communication. For example, the much-beloved emoji can add lightness to an otherwise harsh-sounding message, and reserve certain platforms, like texting, for messages that need attention right away.
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. It means lower overheads, better productivity, and more choice about who to add to the team. Your people will love it too. And we’re proof – our team has a six-year history of successful projects under our belts without a shared office or set hours. It’s dubbed the future of work for good reason. Because if you can get it right, it can really work for everyone.