Why we went remote-first
SMLWRLD is a London-based tech company developing intranets and tools to support remote working. We felt that in order to gain a more in-depth insight into the benefits and pitfalls of working from home, it was essential for us to practise what we preach.
In a recent survey, Flexjob found that there’s likely to be an estimated saving of $4.5 trillion per year in the US alone as a direct result of remote working by 2030, due to improving productivity, reducing fixed overheads and increasing agility.
By having the first-hand experience, we’ve been able to pinpoint and develop the solutions that will be most practical and beneficial for our clients, helping them to tap into these savings.
We began phasing in remote working when the company was acquired in 2018, starting with working from home for half the week. In September 2019 this went to 4 out of 5 days.
The team instantly received this news well, and there is now a mixture of remote-working patterns. Some staff still prefer office space to work in, and we have team members based internationally. Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing some of their perspectives and top tips on going remote.
Remote working means freedom for employees
Since going remote, our employees have gained the freedom to plan around their personal lives and productivity patterns, and have been able to move outside of London.
Cedric, who lives in Belgium, attends the office twice a month. Jakub lives in Poland and comes in once a quarter. Our furthest member Kyrstle lives in Australia, so is entirely remote. The opportunity to work from home has reduced their travel costs and, hopefully, their stress levels.
For us, a London-based tech company, remote working is cost-effective, has reduced our carbon footprint, and increased our staff retention. And as time goes on, this trend could be vital in reducing overall emissions. In fact, Global Workplace Analytics have established that there are 54 million tons of greenhouse gas that could be reduced each year if those with remote-compatible jobs worked at home half the time (equivalent to taking 10m cars off the road).
However, remote jobs can lead to isolation
The biggest hurdle for us to overcome on our remote working journey has been the social aspect. When you're in an office environment, you can turn to your colleagues and ask them for advice and input.
Face to face interaction leads to organic conversation, cross-pollination of ideas and a difference of perspective that is absent when working alone. When we first went remote, the office became much quieter, and I worried about losing the sense of a team, and employees becoming isolated.
The SMLWRLD solution to remote working
To begin with, we aligned the times we were all crossing paths. We also introduced a monthly, office-based get-together, and online stand-up meetings via Microsoft Teams three times a week. We have a camera-on policy, as we feel that this provides a sense of human interaction, and we use the sessions for staff to give updates as to what they are working on individually.
The meeting provides an opportunity for the team to discuss ideas or ask for help on projects they are working on, and means that no one is left feeling isolated or forgotten.
In order to address the challenges that remote working poses in terms of collaboration, we reimagined the way we share knowledge internally. Previously we kept our documents on a network drive, which became unsustainable once we transitioned to remote working, as it was not easily accessible from home.
We also found that using a cloud service became unfit for purpose after a time, so we developed a knowledge-sharing platform as part of our intranet that was expandable and scalable.
This tool has proved to be incredibly resourceful and easy to search, meaning that the whole team has instant access to documents and information, and saving time from a management aspect. Having an intranet also maintains a brand identity, and becomes a virtual hub for all team members.
Would we recommend remote working?
If another Managing Director asked me whether they should consider making their company remote, I would say "Don't be scared, do it! There will be issues, but you will overcome them, and everything will fall into place." And with Polycom advising that 70% of 18-34 year-olds say they regularly take advantage of anywhere working, I believe it’s important for directors to stay ahead of the trend.
I think the biggest fear amongst leaders is the uncertainty of staff productivity. I never had this fear, as I trust my team. I am not so concerned with clocking in and clocking out, more about individuals taking the responsibility to meet deadlines and attend meetings.
If you ensure your team has access to the tools they need to share and communicate efficiently, remote working can only enhance their productivity.
The future of remote working: where do we go from here?
For the future, we are discussing reducing the time in the office to once a month, and increasing our global hiring. For our clients, this could mean 24-hour support, and more straightforward communication where language barriers are concerned.
For the people who work for us, we hope to be a more inclusive employer for those who have the skills, but would otherwise find an office-based work-life difficult.