Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Value Of Working Remotely

With all the hype surrounding remote working and the number of technological tools available to enable collaborative working, it would appear remote working is still a controversial and complicated topic, with a lot of people keen to list the cons first.

I outlined our experience of remote working at Azrights in my last blog, and want to explore this topic more here. With companies like IBM and Yahoo, both big tech companies (and it seems that a lot of tech companies love working remotely) reversing their positions on employees doing just that, what message does that spread to the rest of the business world, with regards this form of working?

As you’re probably aware, I am a huge advocate of working remotely. It has not only allowed me to fall in love with my business once again, but it has given me the gift of time and the freedom to get on with the task of running the business, rather than simply managing the office.

But does this time and freedom come at a detrimental cost to my business? I wanted to know why these large corporations had changed their minds on a practice that they once couldn’t get enough of.

 

Case study: IBM vs Dell

At the same time as IBM made its reversal announcement, Dell released a statement saying that they were wholeheartedly embracing remote working. Dell stated that they understood the value in having their employees save time by not commuting daily, and that the company itself would make tangible savings, to the tune of $12 million per year, by not having to pay to accommodate these workers during the working day. Dell has a goal to have 50% of their workforce work remotely by 2020.

For IBM however, who at one point had 40% of its workforce work remotely, the fact that employees were no longer in the same room, was deemed to be negatively affecting the company’s creative output.

IBM believe that having their employees back in the office, will lead to better collaboration and faster output. Which is surprising, considering the recent advancements in technology to enable remote working.

So for IBM, technological advancements may be incredible, but nothing compares to having actual human relationships, contact and discussions in person.

IBM’s reasoning echoed that of ex-Yahoo chief, Marissa Mayer. She firmly believed that employees working side by side was critical for the company moving forward. That impromptu meetings and hallway chats were what drove a company towards greatness, that they created opportunities for speed and quality, something that couldn’t be done when working remotely.

For IBM and Yahoo, having someone breathing over your shoulder would seem to drive productivity. This can’t be right.

The value of working remotely

But what about employee happiness?

Of course working remotely allows the company to save money on office rent, but can you seriously put a price on someone’s happiness and the value it adds? Forbes reported that workers were happier, felt more valued and were more productive when allowed to work remotely.

The secret they said was maintaining good communication and ensuring that employees have complete clarity as to what is expected from them.

So maybe for vast organisations like IBM and Yahoo, it proved too difficult to drive the sort of culture change that is needed for successful remote working to be effective. Reading David Heinermeler Hansson’s book Remote provides invaluable insights for anyone leading a smaller team who wants to create a successful culture of remote workers which actually enhances the business.  I’ll be applying many of these ideas as we expand the team to include more remote workers.

Does Working Remotely Work?

Does Working Remotely Work?With distant memories of Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer putting an end to remote working at the company back in 2013 I was unsure what the latest thinking on remote working was when I took the plunge and moved the business to remote working for all.

Doing some quick Google research seemed to validate my decision. The thinking seemed to be that if you want to increase your team’s productivity then remote working does the trick. I found some views to the effect that if you need to increase your team’s creativity, then it’s  better to bring them together to collaborate in a physical environment.

As I’m keen to understand how  companies are managing remote workforce, I’ll be examining  this topic in future blogs.

 What is remote working?

Essentially remote working transfers the experience of working from the physical realm of an office, to a digital environment.

For me remote working is attractive not just because I avoid the commute, or can get an extra in hour in bed if I want to, but because it saves so much time from office distractions. I am a lot more productive now. That’s mainly thanks to no longer having to move between my home office and work every day, and also because all the time consuming tasks of managing the office have been removed.

Having the flexibility to be able to fit work around your life and other commitments is the holy grail of working for many entrepreneurs, and for those with young families or elderly relatives to care for. But what do you need to do to make it work? And how do you balance employee satisfaction with managing a well-oiled, cohesive team who are scattered to the four winds?

 Advantages of remote working

While the advantages of remote working are self-evident, not all employees are happy to work from home. Younger ones often want the social life that goes hand in hand with working, especially if they don’t have a partner at home.

And what about employers? What is the advantage for them, apart from reduced overhead costs of dispensing with expensive office space?

  1. Encourages self-motivation. When you give your team the go ahead to manage their own time, under the proviso that the work gets done, you encourage them to take more responsibility.
  2. Increases productivity. By giving your employees more time as they are released from the daily commute, you also increase their sense of freedom, even if they’re working office hours.

Productivity also increases simply because people can work in ways that suit them. Many will actively remove themselves from distractions, and work harder, to ensure the status quo keeps working for them.

Better employees. The ability to work remotely and work flexibly is in demand and you can attract good quality candidates when you have an opening. Opportunities are few and far between so you attract team members from far and wide once constraints based purely on geographical location are removed.  As you can cast your recruiting net wider, it means you can hire the best person for the job, not just the person who is closest.

Chances are that team members value the flexibility you offer, and will be more loyal and stay in the job longer. Autonomy is rare in the employment arena which is why so many people turn to self-employment. So, giving employees flexibility and autonomy is likely to appeal to many of your team members who don’t necessarily want to set up their own businesses, with all the challenges that can entail.

What are the cons of remote working?

  1. Lack of oversight. If you don’t feel you can trust your employees sufficiently to get on with the job in hand, you will struggle. Working remotely isn’t for everyone, not every individual is a self-starter with the ability to get on with their job without having someone check what they’re doing.
  2. Security and IT. You are relying on your employees to work in locations with a secure internet connection. You need to train them to fully understand technology and the systems you use, and to be mindful of the risks that remote access security presents.
  3. Brainstorming. Impromptu brainstorming is no longer an option. Up to 10,000 non-verbal cues can be exchanged in one minute of face to face interaction. To maximise your sessions you either need to arrange video calls (something we haven’t used yet), or physically get together regularly, which won’t work if you’ve got employees living on the other side of the country, or the world.

Closer Scrutiny of What Works

In future posts I will be exploring the opportunities and hurdles that remote working has entailed for other companies that have done it successfully. The aim is to understand best practices to implement.

Should You Be Ignoring Business Advice And Creating Your Own Strategy For Success?

It comes as no great surprise to me that a recent report by the Office for National Statistics showed 4.7 million self-employed people in the UK in the first quarter of 2016. With the freedom and benefit that breaking free from traditional working chains affords, there is no doubt that number will continue to rise.

The original driver behind my business

Before I set up my business back in 2004/5 I had tried doing ad hoc freelance projects. However, I decided to take a job part-time in an international law firm because freelancing was time consuming and erratic.  Marketing wasn’t a skill I had developed. All I wanted was a regular income working flexibly. I thought a part-time job would give me the desired flexibility to manage my work/life balance. I was wrong. The hours I worked for this firm may have been part-time, but the flexibility was non-existent. And flexibility was key to making my life work as I had young children to pick up from school, and look after.

Setting up my business seemed the obvious way to get the balance I was searching for, albeit, I sensed it would be time consuming to get the business off the ground. Entrepreneurship worked for me because I was willing to put in the long hours to achieve my objective of having  the freedom to pick and choose when to work. For example, I wanted to break up my day by taking a few hours off in the afternoons, and work later in the evening instead, once my daughters had gone to bed.

The business slowly got off the ground. My learning curve was extremely steep. Gradually,   business began to come in thanks to a networking circle I joined, my website, and also due to repeat business from existing clients.

The new dilemma

Fast forward twelve years and I found myself once again facing another work/life dilemma. I had originally set up my business to allow me to work on my own terms, which is what I needed all those years ago. Now I was feeling more and more like a slave to this monster that I had created: my ambitions for the business had me renting a big office and recruiting a large team to fill it.

I realised that what I had worked so hard to achieve was no longer working for me. The life I was living was not the one I had envisaged when I started along this path – the flexibility I had once craved was no longer there. While I don’t have young children to look after now, I still crave the freedom to work flexibly, and not to be chained to an office. Yet I had to come into the office every day because that is where my team was. I dreamed of working from home, getting out and about meeting interesting people, popping into the office only when required. If only I could grow the team to a size where it would be feasible to pay a highly experienced manager to run the office.

Growing the Business

I needed to bring about change again. Only this time I didn’t need to create something new, I just needed to readjust my thinking on what it means to run a successful business. I had to stop listening to all the business advice out there which had led me to believe that there was a particular way to grow a business. I had to listen to my own needs and find a way to achieve my ambitions on my own terms.

While I still firmly believe you need the right team around you, and that they are crucial to a business’ success, what I’ve subsequently learned is that they don’t need to physically be around you, and nor do they need to be permanent full-time employees.

And so earlier this year I made the call to downsize the office space and have a team that works remotely – coming together at the office only when necessary, such as for meetings.

Despite the huge changes…

So far it has proven to be the best thing I could have done for myself and the business hasn’t suffered even though the transition has coincided with huge changes within the business. For example, we were moving to using new systems to replace our legal case management solution with Microsoft Dynamics.  That had been on the agenda for more than a year. Moving to the  new platform we use, not just for CRM, but also for managing our cases and files, has entailed a new accounting system, time recording system, new processes in the business for taking on clients, and countless other changes. Doing all this at a time when we moved to remote working has been doubly difficult. We lost a few team members along the way too.

Nevertheless. all this change has been worthwhile because I had fallen out of love with the business, and now I’m enthused again.

Everything I’ve learnt about entrepreneurship tells me that the mindset and attitude of the business owner is crucial to success. So, I knew that I had to look after my own needs first, just as in an emergency on a plane you need to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. I now know how vital it is to find your own way of doing things in business. You have to be happy and engaged in your business if you’re to succeed. So, don’t put your needs on hold, like I did with mine for all those years.

Now, four months on, I am really loving my business again. Working remotely allows me to attract a wider pool of quality talent from far and wide. Some are freelancers who work on occasional projects, while others are more regularly involved in the business.

I’m outsourcing the maintenance of our CRM database, and development of business processes to a specialist who has done this sort work many times before. Instead of giving such tasks to paralegals, I now use experts to deal with everything I want to delegate.

The general advice about growing a business had me retaining a team of paralegals in order to be ready to deal with the increased work once it came in.  As they were not fully occupied in the meantime, I had spare capacity to use up.  So, I would assign tasks like writing web pages, brochures, researching blog posts and the like to the team of paralegals. The goal was to grow fast in order to engage a manager to run the office so I could be free to work from home.

It seems ridiculous in retrospect. The approach of increasing capacity with the aim of growing proved expensive, and ultimately unsuccessful as team members were not particularly interested in doing work outside their area of desired expertise. Even though it’s important for lawyers to learn how to sell legal services, few of them actively want to learn the skills that go with it.

Outsourcing such work to freelancers with the right expertise is proving revolutionary because it saves so much of my own time. Instead of virtually having to rewrite everything, I often just make a few tweaks, and the job’s done. And by not having to go into an office every day my time has been freed me up, so I can now focus on what really matters.

Embracing Change

My point is this: to run a successful business doesn’t involve following a linear path that others take or advise. This book by John Lamerton Big Ideas… For Small Businesses perfectly captures my philosophy about business. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. Forge your own path. Do what works for you, and for your customers. Be very wary of following advice out of context. It may not work for you personally. Instead assess what it is you really desire for your life. Then be true to your own needs, and you will find a way to develop your own roadmap to business success.

In a future blog, I’ll discuss why our new approach of remote working now runs through every aspect of the Azrights brand. It provides us with engaged, motivated team members, who are attracted to working with us because of the flexibility on offer. The benefit to clients is that we can provide an extremely high quality of expertise at affordable prices. So, ultimately, remote working better caters to our clients’ needs too.