Most business owners I have met start off in home based offices, usually spare rooms and cubbyholes, and dream of getting their first office. The natural transition is that after a good period of growth these businesses acquire offices and recruit members of their team and become recognised as professional, established businesses.
My experience has been quite the opposite, after working from home for a few months, I decided I needed an office and quickly moved into a space with everything I needed to be productive; open plan, lots of businesses to network with, parking and most importantly a desk and comfortable chair.
So after 5 years of running my own business, having an office and building a team to 7, we decided to trial remote working for everyone on the basis that one of my team would soon be a father and wanted to spend more time at home. It has now been over 12 months since we started remote working and a lot has changed. Mike asked me to write this guest blog to provide an insight into some of the pros and cons of remote working in relation to time management and productivity.
I will attempt during this blog to summarise some of the key lessons and tools from Green Gorilla Apps’ perspective.
What is Remote Working?
Firstly, I think it’s critical to understand that for me ‘remote working’ does not mean ‘working from home’. It is the ability to be productive wherever you are, in any location. I much prefer the term ‘nomadic worker’.
The reason for this distinction is that if you have to be at a specific location to be productive and can only perform your role from that place, i.e a home office, then it is not remote working.
This may come as a surprise to you, but I am most productive in a coffee shop, hotel lobby or library than in a home office.
Communication, Distractions & Interruptions
One of the questions I get asked by business owners is how do you manage your team and communicate if you are all in separate locations. There is a natural reaction of skepticism and paranoia! Sounds simple but… we use the Internet!
More specifically, we have a scheduled video call at 9:15 every morning using Google Hangouts with the whole team to set the objectives for the day and report back on progress.
We also use a great tool, Slack, throughout the day to message and chat to each other around project work and banter. You can still have fun whilst working remotely. It’s critical to keep all team members connected and feel part of a team and not isolated.
As a result of integrating Slack, email is pretty much dead for internal use at GGA.
One of the real benefits of remote working is that you instantly become more respectful of other people’s time and your own personal time management.
For instance, in an office environment, if I got back from a sales meeting, I would be the annoying person who would interrupt you to get an update, offer a coffee or just to touch base with the team on a personal level.
With remote working, these interruptions are massively reduced. We schedule everything!
If I need to discuss a particular project or get a progress report, I use Slack to request a meeting at a time convenient for all. I message the relevant team members and they respond when it’s convenient for them.
A huge benefit I didn’t anticipate is that are clients perceive us as innovative and have adopted many of our working practices.
We work with clients all over the UK and travel time has reduced massively. Once we start working with a client we have a kick-off hangout to introduce the team, no travelling required, and this session sorts out any teething problems with technology. If there is a discussion required at any point during a project, we can schedule a hangout to discuss with the relevant people and these meetings often last less than 15 mins rather than the obligatory 1 hour as no one has spent hours travelling anywhere.
Probably, the biggest question I get asked is how do you know your team are actually working and being productive. I must say at this point that I not only trust my team but also have metrics in place to support this. We are an agile software development team and before we started remote working we had processes in place to measure and report on team productivity.
Since we started remote working we have seen these metrics and KPIs improve. As there are less interruptions and distractions, more work is completed. The biggest victory has been in terms of the quality of work too.
One observation I have drawn is that your team need to be ‘self starters’. Remote working is not for everyone and does require the individual to be responsible and accountable for their own work and deliverables.
Life Work Balance
The most significant impact overall has been on the quality of our personal lives. As a team, we are getting fitter and spending more quality time with our families.
Initially, as you become more connected to everything you need to do your role, it requires discipline to switch off. When I had an office I believed strongly in sending my team home at 5pm. If a problem wasn’t solved by the end of the day, throwing more hours at it wasn’t going to help. As a manager and owner, you need the same discipline for your remote team. It’s hard to switch off when there is no commute and all the technology is at your fingertips. Turning off notifications after hours is a must!
With the time saved from commuting to and from work each day (an average of 1 hour per team member per day) we now have more time to spend with our families doing school runs, going to the park, doing errands and exercising.
The impact of your own mental wellbeing and energy can not be underestimated.
The ability to attend school sports day, important personal events, pick up the kids or work around deliveries and chores is fantastic.
I have an adult relationship with my team. They are trusted and we operate flexible working hours to accommodate each other’s lives.
Above anything else we share the same values and approach to quality work. We have core processes that mean operationally we are organised and have the freedom to choose how and where we work.
In summary, remote working is not for everyone, but if you want to give it a try all you need is an open and honest discussion with yourself and your team about how to get started, that’s what we did.
My Thanks to paul for writing this guest post, he would greatly appreciate your thoughts
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Till Next Time
Mike Gardner is The Time Doctor