As the world embraces working from home (‘WFH’), our team is looking back at the last seven years of working remotely – at how and why it works for us and what advice we would give to other companies in this turbulent time.
I formed The Effective English Company in 2013 to provide flexible support for busy communications teams as and when we’re needed, and we are now a team of 10 based around the UK (and sometimes further afield). We work 100% remotely with no physical headquarters, keeping in touch using a range of technology and software.
You might ask why I chose to set up a remote business in the first place. Truthfully, it was motivated mainly by the lifestyle I wanted to create for myself. I’ve always loved to travel and I wanted to be able to travel whenever I liked without being constrained to booking 20 days’ leave around other people’s commitments. I worked as a freelance communications manager in the traditional way for several years and then decided I wanted to take things a step further and switch the business model to enable me to work remotely so that I could work and travel at the same time. But working remotely has myriad benefits for clients as well as for us.
Don’t get me wrong; it hasn’t been an easy ride and we have faced challenges along the way. Building a business can be pretty lonely, especially a remote business. Most people don’t ‘get it’ and just think we’re on a permanent holiday!
And while there are certainly significant advantages to remote working, there are also advantages to having in-person contact. Going remote may not be a fit for all companies. I think for most there’s a ‘sweet spot’ between working entirely remotely all year round and insisting that all staff must be in a particular building during particular hours on particular days.
So, why does a wholly remote set-up work for us?
We can be very responsive to clients’ needs
Our USP is flexibility and a remote working model ties in perfectly with this. With a team of people all working remotely and no set working hours, the need for travel time is removed and logistics are simplified, maximising the hours the team is available to work. Our deliberately flexible set-up allows us to adapt and respond quickly to fluid demands and to balance short turnaround tasks alongside larger planned projects.
We can also cover a wide, if not unlimited, geographical area. If a client has multiple offices in several locations, or moves, or needs us to get involved with a project that involves other organisations based around the country – or the world – we can respond quickly.
We can align our working hours with our personal lives
Remote working doesn’t always mean flexible hours, and some companies still require remote workers to adhere to the traditional 9-5 mentality. But for us, it’s always been important to allow our team to control their own working hours, at least to some extent, and to align them with when they know they work best – everyone’s different in that respect.
This is especially relevant now; with schools and nurseries closed for the majority, many parents will be juggling working from home with looking after their children 24/7 and might find it easier to work outside of the typical 9-5 day, at least in part.
Being aware of how your remote workers like to work will help you both get the best out of a WFH arrangement; flexibility to choose time and place of work makes for happier employees, and happier employees are more productive employees. For us, it’s helped us build the lifestyle we’ve always wanted.
We can align our working hours with our clients’ needs
We know that busy comms leads often turn to freelancers for assistance, hiring someone to come into the office on specific days. But book your freelancer to come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the chances are you won’t have everything you need for them to get the work done until Friday. Or the person they need to interview is only available on Wednesdays. And what if it turns out you need them for more days a week, or not as many?
Working remotely gives us so much more flexibility, allowing us to squeeze in at least a half-hour phone call or a quick writing/proofreading task on pretty much any day, at any time, according to what our clients need.
Keeping in touch
Communication is key. It’s hugely important for any business, but when you’re working remotely it’s absolutely essential to establish open channels of two-way communication between managers and employees and within teams. People who aren’t used to working from home can quickly start to feel isolated; giving them a way to communicate and continue to feel part of a team and part of the wider company is vital.
We also ensure we are readily available and in close contact with our clients. We have a shared email inbox which several people can access and an office phone number which is always routed to someone who’s available, so our clients are assured of a quick response while we work to our flexible schedules. We also make use of video calls and we do have occasional in-person meetings when it’s appropriate.
Internally, we use WhatsApp for regular 1-2-1 check-in calls, which we do over video, not just voice. If the only contact you have with your team is emails and occasional voice calls you don’t get the same cues from body language, intonation or behaviour that you might if you were working in an office with them, so it’s harder to judge when there might be an issue.
We also have an informal WhatsApp chat group, which we use as our ‘watercooler’ – it’s a free-for-all in there. It’s a great way of helping build a sense of ‘team’ among a disparate group of remote individuals.
This team communication runs alongside a more formalised task management system which helps us keep track of workloads and projects. We used Flow for several years but have recently moved to Monday.com. Many companies also like tools such as Asana, Trello or Basecamp. There are lots of task management systems available but it’s crucial to use something.
Our operations manager has oversight of the day-to-day workload and liaises with our writing team, coordinating via Monday.com, supplemented with email and WhatsApp.
Our regular communication ensures we all stay on the same page and we have early warning of any potential issues, so we have a chance to address them. Without good open communication channels small issues can become major problems before you even know they exist.
This remote, flexible approach works well for us, and for our clients, but every business is different.
Have you made the move to a remote working set-up? Does it suit your business? Or are you finding it tough?
Remember, communication is crucial, both internally and with clients and suppliers; if you’d like any support, please give us a shout at email@example.com. You can also download tip sheets from our resources page with advice about how to work with a remote team and what sort of things you can outsource.