We Have Virtually Done It!

Twelve months ago we closed our Brisbane office and gave our team the option to live wherever they wanted. Six people, including me, immediately moved to be closer to family or friends, spreading our team to Perth, Gympie, Surfers Paradise, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Coolum. We've had many questions from clients and colleagues on how our virtual office is working, so I asked Karli Furmage, our CEO and instigator of this initiative, to share her thoughts. At this point I'll hand over to Karli...

Sleeping in, wandering around all day in your pyjamas, hanging out the washing, watching TV and lying by the pool. These are some of the perceptions I've come up against when I tell people I work from home.

The reality is a little different. While the working environment for our team has changed, the expectation of what we deliver hasn't. It has been an interesting journey learning to manage outcomes and not people, finding ways to stay connected, collaborating on projects, dealing with technology challenges, and keeping everyone aligned and motivated. Each of these areas has prompted us to continually examine how we do things.

The emerging technology, commercial benefits and desire of people to have more flexibility means working from home is a growing trend. Staff can eliminate the frustration, time and money associated with commuting; and businesses can significantly reduce office overheads. And most importantly, in our case anyway, clients can still be effectively cared for.

So why isn't everyone doing it? One reason appears to be a fear that "If I cant see them, how do I know they are working?" The reality is, even if they are sitting in front of you, can you really know they are working and not playing Farmville on Facebook? But the main reason for the reticence, in my view, is people fundamentally crave connection. For us, Skype has been an invaluable connection tool. Instead of gathering around the coffee machine in the kitchen, our team now gather on Skype to swap their funny stories.

The reality is, I do stop working and hang out the washing, I take the dog to the beach in the middle of the day, I lie on the couch and talk to my clients [it should possibly be the other way around sometimes!]...and I do my job. I am more committed than ever. The flexibility I have to work when I'm in my zone has actually increased my productivity. And then there is the 6 step commute to my office. As an introvert I thrive working this way. For the extroverts in our team it's been a harder adjustment. But as I said, there is a team Skype chat open all day where people share random thoughts on what’s happening in their world. Sometimes the stream of comments are hilarious.

7 lessons that work for us

To summarise, here are seven things that have become important for us:

  • Regular scheduled face to face catch ups, in small teams and as one group. For instance we get together at a quarterly team retreat.
  • Short sharp daily meetings, 9am every morning. Given the different time zones, we negotiate up front whose 9am to use.
  • Being clear on expectations around responsibilities and getting into the habit of checking if there seems to be any confusion.
  • Learning to manage outcomes and not people.
  • Having solid IT systems to ensure efficiency and confidentiality, and being tight around data storage policies and procedures.
  • Having a Work From Home policy in place with home offices set up properly.
  • While we mainly use Skype voice and chat, we regularly use video streaming so we can also see each other.

By the way, your franchisees work virtually, they don't come to your central office, as do your field team - and we seldom hear complaints about these groups not working hard or productively.

Now if you'll excuse me I'll hand back to Greg while I go lie by the pool and drink my coffee.

Thanks Karli. As you have read to the bottom of this tip you’re probably curious about this topic. We’d be interested to hear your thoughts or experiences on working from home. You can post these here.

Until next time,

Greg Nathan

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