The decision to change the Azrights business model and just retain a meeting room wasn’t one I took lightly.
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 in 2017 to move the business to remote working for all.
I did some quick Google research which seemed to validate my decision that it would be a good idea to follow the trend among law firms and move to a remote working business model.
If you want to increase your team’s productivity then remote working does the trick it seems.
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. Given that the only business I was operating at the time was a law firm, I reckoned that having fewer distractions of an office environment would probably increase overall productivity.
Interested as I am in understanding how other companies are managing a remote workforce, I’ve been keeping an eye out for books and articles on this topic. I found Remote: Office Not Required by Fried and Hansson very interesting and learnt a lot from their experience at their tech company 37signals.
So, what do you need to know if you’re considering moving towards remote working?
What is remote working?
Essentially remote working transfers the experience of working from the physical realm of an office to a digital environment. Team members are either located in their own homes or in co-working spaces near them. However, they are not surrounded by colleagues and instead work alone.
For me, remote working is attractive not just because I avoid the commute or can work from anywhere, 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 my life and other commitments has given me a sense of freedom I have not had since I moved into offices shortly after setting up Azrights. Yet this freedom is the holy grail of working for many entrepreneurs.
For those with young families or elderly relatives to care for remote working is an excellent option. 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 scattered to the four winds?
While the advantages of remote working are self-evident, not all team members are suited to working remotely. Some of them, particularly younger ones, want the buzz and social life that goes hand in hand with working, especially if they don’t have a partner to spend time with at the end of a day. So, I’ve seen a gradual change in the composition of our team.
And what about businesses? What is the advantage for them, apart from reduced overhead costs of dispensing with expensive office space?
It 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 ownership and responsibility. This should increase the sense of engagement they have with the job.
It increases productivity. By giving team members 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 increases for those suited to remote working, simply because people are able to work in ways that suit them. Many will actively remove themselves from distractions, and work harder, to ensure their output is satisfactory so that the status quo can keep working for them.
The ability to work remotely and work flexibly is in demand and we attract good quality candidates whenever we have an opening. Opportunities are few and far between for remote working so we’ve attracted team members from far and wide once constraints based purely on geographical location are removed. Being able to cast our recruiting net wider has meant we’ve been able to hire the best person for the job, not just the person who is closest.
Chances are that team members will value the flexibility on 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 team members who don’t necessarily want to set up their own businesses, with all the challenges that can entail.
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 who can get on with their job without having someone check what they’re doing.
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.
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 or physically get together regularly, which won’t work if you’ve got employees scattered all over the world or country.
In the last few years, I have transitioned the Azrights law firm business to remote working and as a result had time to set up my second business, Azrights International Limited. Now I’m managing two businesses. There is no way I would have had time when I was going to an office every day to create two online training courses and spread my time across two businesses. So, personally, my productivity has risen as a result of remote working.
However, having experienced the opportunities and hurdles that remote working entails for the business as a whole, I suspect that when I aim to grow my law firm more I’ll need to have a base where people can come to work some of the time.
For my second business, which is an online training, events and coaching organisation, we’ll be meeting up at events regularly so that will provide us with an opportunity to meet and collaborate in person.
Shireen Smith is an intellectual property lawyer focused on trade marks. She has authored two books: Legally Branded, and Intellectual Property Revolution which aim to raise awareness of intellectual property and internet law. She founded Azrights Solicitors (www.azrights.com) in 2005. Her separate company Azrights International Ltd provides online courses on branding and risk management on IP for small and medium sized businesses. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @ShireenSmith or @Azrights.