Remote and flexible work go hand in hand, and together, they present the future of work. As we mentioned in last week’s blog post, we might soon see half of the UK’s workforce telecommuting at least some of the time. Meanwhile, having some flexibility over the hours you work is a very attractive perk, especially for millennials, 75% of whom said they’d choose flexible working hours over a pay rise.
But how do you actually make the shift from a traditional, office-based 9-5 business to a flexible, location-independent one? In today’s blog post, we’ll go over this process step by step, from hiring the right people and easing existing staff members to the new way of working to managing accountability, trust and work-life balance within your teams.
Is your company suitable for remote or flexible work?
Not all businesses or teams suit a fully-remote business model. Some areas of work require a brick and mortar location from where you serve customers and have employees work together on projects. However, that doesn’t mean that all businesses can’t adopt some degree of flexible and remote work.
For example, hairdressers can’t really telecommute to the salon for their appointments, but they could have some team meetings virtually and do admin work like ordering more products from the comfort of their home. Similarly, they could take bookings for 6 am or 9 pm to suit their own schedule and serve people who can’t make it into a salon during the day. So in short, with a bit of imagination, most businesses can adopt aspects of flexible and remote working into their business model.
Easing your business into remote working
Making your company fully remote isn’t an overnight transformation. It’s a business decision that takes time to plan and implement. Maybe instead of having all of your staff go 100% remote at the same time, you could have certain teams start working from home a few days a week. Treating this as a bit of a trial period and asking participating staff members to give feedback and suggestions based on their experience will enable you to make more informed decisions if you do make the shift to a fully remote business – though this doesn’t have to be your goal!
Working from home allows for a more flexible business model, which is something we recommend you take advantage of. What this means in practice is that your employees won’t be tied to a strict 9-5 schedule: they can go pick up their kids from school or hit the gym in the middle of the day, completing work on a schedule that works for them. Being able to get to work at the crack of dawn or tackling your to-do list late into the evening means your staff is able to reap the benefits of working at a time when they’re naturally most productive. Just make sure people don’t overwork themselves.
Creating new routines is also an important part of the shift to remote work. The daily commute is an important routine for office-based people, allowing them to make the mental shift between work and home. Encouraging your staff to find a routine that works for them and promotes a healthy work-life balance is key, whether that’s setting up a home office in the spare room or walking the dog before and after their working day.
Hiring the right people for remote work
Telecommuting works with some people’s personality types better than others’. Someone who is self-reliant and internally motivated is more likely to be able to hold themselves accountable and complete work independently – both of these capabilities are vital for people who work from home. Meanwhile, someone who loves the watercooler chat and being able to walk over to a coworker’s desk for a quick question or a bit of a natter several times a day might struggle with remote working.
A good candidate for remote work is also great at both verbal and written communication – this is key to good online communication and helps avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings. They should also be confident with the technology that makes remote work possible for your business, or willing to learn.
Fostering company culture and work-life balance
Running a remote business doesn’t mean you can’t have great company culture. It’s also important to shield your employees from burnout and other mental health issues even if they work from home, as a remote business model presents its own challenges.
While the ability to work from a setting you feel comfortable in and on a schedule that suits you can be very beneficial to avoid burnout and similar issues, some people can find working from home isolating and struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
That’s why fostering a company culture where people feel like they can talk openly with their coworkers and line managers is very important. We recommend you host one-on-one catch-ups between managers and their employees regularly – at least once a month. These can take place in person or via a video conferencing tool.
Having regular, informal hangouts with other members of the team is also important. Remote companies like Buffer and Toptal bring their staff together regularly for both themed virtual hangouts like cook-offs or virtual yoga classes and in-person company retreats. While large, multinational companies can afford to fly their staff out to a villa in Thailand on a regular basis, small businesses with a UK-based staff can all get together in a city that’s easily reached by all for a day or two of coworking and mingling.
When you work from home, it’s easy for the line between your work and home life to get blurred, meaning that you’re checking emails at night while your personal life takes a toll. So encourage your employees to set working hours they stick to whenever possible and that they turn off notifications at other times. They should also let their coworkers know these hours so that they can respect them.
Trust and accountability in a flexible business
Offering remote and flexible work requires you to trust your people. Shifting to this business model means you need to take a look at how you evaluate performance and productivity at present and how that might need to be adapted to suit your new way of working.
If you currently think time spent physically in the office is a good indicator as to who your most productive staff members are, you’ll need to rethink this. Showing face isn’t a good indicator of the quality or quantity of work being completed and if you want to offer your employees the chance to work from home, you have to be able to trust them to get the work done even when there’s no one “watching” them. If you find yourself unable to make this mental shift, you need to consider if the fault is with you or if you have the wrong people on your team.
Remote working means your employees have to be self-reliant and able to complete tasks without too much hand-holding from their managers. That’s why adopting a more flexible organisational structure can help with productivity and communication within remote teams. When employees are able to make suggestions for the projects they’re working on and complete tasks without needing to get everything approved by their manager, their confidence grows and they’ll start feeling more comfortable working independently and from home.
If you’d like some more information on the pros and cons of remote working, check out our article on whether working from home is right for your business. Our recommended suite for remote companies is Office 365 – read our article on how its cloud-based tools support location-independent collaboration here.