It’s 2013 – why do you still force your staff to come in to the office?

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out of the officeCommuters suffering long arduous journeys on trains stuffed to the brim will attest to the fact that working in the modern age isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Before the turn of the century we were sold a future full of flying cars, gesture controlled computers and a life free of the nine-to-five drudgery.  The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth, and despite technological advances it seems we are unable to defect away from working patterns that have been the norm for centuries.

Millions upon millions of people endure a daily commute to an office environment 5 times a week.  The commuter statistics in the UK are frightening:

–          Workers spend 21.8 million hours travelling to and from work every day

–          That’s roughly £266 million ($411 million) worth of working time wasted on travel every single day

–          The average time spent commuting to and from the work place each day is 52.6 minutes.  One person wastes 210 hours every year

Imagine a world where just 20% of the time spent commuting was injected back in to the economy – the gross increase in worker output would be phenomenal.    Now take a look at your company, what if 20% of the time your employees currently waste commuting to your offices was converted in to additional productivity?

Turn your remote on

So you’re thinking about letting some or all of your team work remotely?  The first step is to ensure that your team meets the personality criteria for remote working.  Ideally your remote workers should be self-starters, people who are capable of managing their time and workload independently without having to be given daily orders.

Secondly – it’s imperative that you have communication processes and methods nailed down.  Expectations need to be laid down from the outset, when do you expect remote workers to be available?  What regular meetings are you going to hold to keep everybody in sync?  What tools do you plan to use to enable communication?

Regular meetings are incredibly straightforward and should be in place from the outset.  A common approach is to hold a meeting every Monday to kick off the week.  You’ll discuss:

–          What we did last week

–          What we’re planning to do this week

–          Anything that is blocking us or we are concerned about

With the meeting wrapped up somebody should be in charge of documenting the outcome of the meeting, and sending that to each team member as a record of what was agreed.

What about ad-hoc communication?

There are a number of tools for remote communication that make life easier.  Here’s a list of the most commonly used:

Google Hangouts

Google hangouts are the lifeblood of our organisation. We have persistent hangouts for every team available at URLs that everyone knows. We spin up one-off hangouts for quick video chats. We use them for meetings, for demos, for teaching… for everything.

Staff Squared (obviously)

A central system to record everybody’s contact details with information about when people are off will keep your HR overheads to a minimum.  And that’s only ever a good thing.

Skype

Skype is possibly the best known persistent chat app, but there are alternatives such as HipChat.  Chat is great for conversations that don’t need to be in real time and aren’t urgent enough to require a phone call or SMS, but are more urgent than an e-mail.  Being asynchronous by nature people can get back to each other when they’re not busy.  We would go so far as to suggest that even if you don’t have remote workers every company should have a chat system.

Email

Email isn’t perfect, but it still has its uses.  Save emails for anything that can wait a day or so for a response.  Email is useful for communicating a status update or confirming a decision.  Email is the best way to distribute decisions from your weekly update meeting.

Trello

An app like https://trello.com is a great platform to record who is working on what.  We also use Trello to publish the Staff Squared road map.

Google Docs

We wonder how we lived without Google docs – it’s a great way for sharing documents in real time.  We use Google docs to share feature specifications, meeting minutes and spreadsheets with financial projections and summaries.

These things take time

You need to be steadfast about your processes for such a large change to take shape, and with the best will in the world and the most dedicated team you’re still going to need a few months for the positive effects of the remote transition to take shape.  Good luck!

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