What we can thank the lockdown for…
As a web development agency most of our work is – by necessity – online. Prior to this lockdown situation, we had discussed remote working for a few years, but in 2019 after research and investigation, decided it would work for us. The main reason was about redressing the work life balance for our team, reducing intellectual interruptions and increasing productivity. The idea being a move into a more remote working pattern – not 5 days a week but at least a split between office and home working.
It's tempting to look at the negatives, which are a perceived lack of control, communication, reporting, and contact, however they're all countered with the right systems in place, as well as appropriate culture adjustments. We know, we read a lot about it and recommend reading Remote, (Fried, Heinemeier Hansson, 2013).
There have been many benefits for our team and our business as a whole:
- Lessening commuting time - as a socially-responsible business, this is important to us but, in addition, it also reduces the cost to the employee and time wastage as the walk to workstation is significantly lowered!
- Immediate home/life balance improvements - less stress on the individual and more ability to
- More efficiency - home workers tend to be more efficient as there are fewer interruptions from background/daily office life: calls, "quick" questions, office banter.
- Different perspective - stepping away from the day-to-day and working somewhere different, not necessarily at home, enables a more open mindset
- Task-orientation - focusing on the task, rather than the time, means it's less about clock-watching and more about completion of the work, allowing for quicker billing, especially with fewer interruptions
- Flexibility - a great benefit for not only the employees but for the business as well, because things can change and adaptation is paramount
- Reduction in bills - in order to prepare for the move to remote working, last year we decided to downsize our office space, knowing that we wouldn’t need as much room going forward. This has halved our rent and bills for utilities!
Although we made this decision early in 2019, we had dragged our heels on actually making the move (yes, the office banter is that good!), so when COVID-19's lockdown started, it became full-immersion remote working without the safety net of the office! And it's been incredible.
From this we’ve learnt a few things that we thought we’d share…
- Trust is key – whilst we've been forced to work from home, actual working is condensed into tasks rather than just "being there", so that means trust in team members is paramount, but also the processes and tools in place to ensure trust isn't just a byword for letting people manage themselves. If you're a good manager, trust is an integral part of any relationship so this should already be in place, leaving you to think more strategically, however if you're the type of manager who justifyies their salary through micro-management, then you’re going to find the lack of control difficult to deal with; maybe yours is the level that can be removed!
- Get your kit sorted – the same rules for home working apply as in the office, so workstation safety and ergonomics are paramount. This means remote team members need to get off the sofa and onto an adjustable chair, height-adjustable monitors and mouse and keyboard distance need consideration. Of course remote and flexible can mean laptops, but it can also be remote access to systems, printers and therefore printer paper; make sure you know what’s needed and put it in place.
- Use the time – being away from the day to day minutiae of the office can often lend a different perspective and for those of us that find it easy to get caught up in fire fighting it can be a good chance to spend time working on the business, rather than working in it.
- Get your systems sorted – when everyone works in the office there is a chance that tasks are easy to pass down the pipeline, that queries are easy to hand off to the right person and that task duplication is minimal. However, when a team are not all sat together this flow is not quite the same and you have to ensure that you put systems in place to handle potential blockages to workflow. This may also mean truncating the process and taking out steps or people that can hold up or confuse decision-making.
- Communication is key – if your culture thrives on collaboration and communication then removing the team from the office environment has the potential to have a detrimental effect on your productivity, so make sure you sell the benefits to the team, get them on-board and create new communication channels that are open to everyone. These should be used for formal catch-ups such as team meetings but just as importantly for casual catch up and conversation, idea sharing and that crucial team banter!
Deploying remote working as part of your business model should never be just a knee jerk reaction (even though it is one right now!), as handled correctly can serve your team and business well. Yes, it may be tempting to go back to the "old ways" after lockdown, you need to make sure that it is right for your business, providing efficiencies and productivity increases, but be open to adjusting, fine-tuning it and overhauling it, as most processes can be handled remotely, however if you do choose to go ahead, or even continue it when we have the freedom, the benefits are clear. At least to us!