Could a remote office work for you?

When I started my job in 2016 the office was 100kms away from my home. Each day I’d arrive home exhausted and when you’re a working parent going from a busy working day back into the home to commence that role it’s not good for anyone.

The paradigm of work – having a job that I’d subscribed to was that the office had been set up there, I’d applied for the job so I should just suck it up. And this is just one of the reasons why I’d been self-employed for so many years. However, over time I came to realise that maybe, just maybe it was time to shake things up a little and maybe, just maybe I knew a thing or two about getting the most out of myself and employees that hadn’t been explored to date.

This thinking was compacted by two things (1) a change in my family circumstances meaning quite simply – my kids need me and (2) a very near miss on the highway where through no fault of my own I came very, very close to experiencing what would have been a horrific smash. I can’t even tell you how I escaped that but I can tell you that I marched into the bottle shop and purchased my first ever bottle of Scotch when I returned to my community. It rattled me.

My region extends across 249km North to South (not including the parts of the territory my car can’t get me to in the East). Each week I average 700km in the car and I simply do not need to drive an additional 200km each day to look at my computer and chat around the water cooler.

Roll forward 3.5yrs, the organisation no longer has a commercial lease (I do have a formal office in my home as do my co-workers) and the entire staff is working remotely. I won’t even pretend the process was easy but we can discuss that another day. Of course there were hiccups along the way and it’s important to realise that remote working simply does not work for everyone and every role type.

There has been some organisational changes along the way as well – for example phone answering is always one of the first things that comes up when discussing remote working “who will answer the phones?”

I am surprisingly a little old fashioned in this sense demanding that a human answers the phone at all times. That part of the solution was incredibly easy – there is an excellent locally based phone answering service who instantly shoots messages across to the required delegate. Working out how to divert the phone line from what was no longer a physical office to that service wasn’t so easy but fortunately I have a landline at home that’s not used so calls go from the cloud to my homeline and then bounce onwards to the call centre – unless I divert them elsewhere. Simple! There are other options which we are currently exploring.

Overall, the organisational (and personal) benefits of the shift far outweighs having the traditional (and far away) office. Here are just a few of the wins:

  1. Cost savings: No commercial office means cost savings across rental, electricity, security, cleaning, office supplies (think tea/coffee etc) for a start. When we are talking about rent in a major regional city this really adds up.
  2. More flexible work mentality: Now I don’t have a formal office I find that I can comfortably work from anywhere. Sometimes I’ll pull out the laptop in a foodcourt (and you’d be amazed how much I learn about the community as I’m surrounded by their conversations), at least once a week I work in a carpark while my daughter does her sports training, I’ve run a webinar sitting under the cool shade of a tree and I’ve run urgent REMPLAN reports pulled over (safely) on the side of the road laptop in my lap scooping up the wi-fi from my mobile phone. I don’t feel the need to actually get to the office to do work and in doing so my thinking about how work works has significantly shifted.
  3. Environmental benefits: I print so rarely that the printer needs a good clean before each occurrence. Certainly – my carbon footprint could shift with less driving (and that could be possible with SKYPE and other online meetings but that’s a challenge for another day). We are no longer for any of the office footprint and it’s remarkable how many things (like office equipment) we no longer need or use and have been able to gift, recycle or donate.
  4. Employee health: Work/life balance has improved across the board. While I require employees are available during traditional working hours I do not need them to be ‘in the office’ at this time. This works well for the two of us that have school aged children and for others who prefer to work non-traditional hours (yes, that is a thing). NOT driving 200km/day means that I can find time for exercise (when I’m not filling in that time with extra work).
  5. Employee health 2: Having been self-employed for such a long time I found it incredibly difficult to sit in an actual office. The lack of fresh air, the closed in environment just gave me thumping headaches every day (or maybe that was the commute?) Yeah OK maybe there could have been a more modern office, or even one with opening windows but here’s something that’s very important to know… Not everyone can actually sit in an air-conditioned box and be productive. As I type I can hear birds in the backyard, there is fresh air circulating around me and I’m sitting comfortably in one of my numerous writing spots throughout my home. I’m being productive, I’m feeling healthy.
  6. Employee productivity: Think your employees will slack off when you’re not watching them? Actually some will however if you’re looking at going remote these are not the right employees for you. The employees this works for are those that are self-motivated and just want to get on with the job. Quite frankly these are the people I want to surround myself with. As they say, happy people produce.
  7. Employee productivity 2: I find office environments distracting when I’m writing reports, doing research or other ‘quiet’ work. When there’s something to be done I like to put my head down and get into it sans distractions. Home is a very productive place to work from. If I need some input, advice or support I’ll set up a meeting on the phone, using Zoom or even in person.
  8. Customer reach: Now I don’t have to travel that extra distance to look at my computer I am more available for customers and other stakeholders. It’s true I still cannot go in two directions at once however the change has meant that the organisation is less reliant on my being physically there – therefore I can be out and about on a daily basis and there is no doubt I know more about the goings on in my region as a result.
  9. Leadership: What is the point telling business owners and individuals that they will have a better lifestyle if they move from the city to the regions if we are demonstrating the same old – same old… Sure, the commute is less polluted and perhaps a bit faster. Sure, people may live a little closer to their workplace. But come one ! It’s time to demonstrate that it really is possible to have a better work and life balance and if that means sifting through a few tightly held traditions and giving them a little shake – why not !!

I know, I know you’re thinking – but what about the team culture? Where does the stationery go? Where will clients find you? What about confidential documents and conversations? Rest assured, there is a solution for any of these challenges. Want to know more? Ask questions and provide comment below and I’ll share what I know.

Kerry Grace is a community engagement practitioner currently leading a regional development organisation in NSW Australia and managing her own company Evolve Group Network.

Kerry’s work focuses on sustainable small regional communities. She is a strong advocate of people leading the life that matters most (by their own definition), a mum and a big (read obsessed) fan of alpacas whom she adores to watch roaming on her hobby farm in regional NSW, Australia.

Kerry regularly blurts words about leadership, being a mum in business, self-care and adapting for an uncertain future.

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Originally published on LinkedIn 16/1/2020

Image credit: christin-hume-OQ2OjujcP9o-unsplash.jpg

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