Computers, employees

As all business owners and managers reading this will know, the government recently introduced the right to request flexible working for all employees. This is expected to boost the number of people who regularly work from home and could be the catalyst that transforms 9-5-office-work for good.

Analysis by the TUC (Trades Union Congress) shows there are now more than 4 million people regularly working from home, an increase of more than 80,000 since 2005. And who can blame us? Long commutes, expensive travel costs, busy offices and difficultly achieving work-life balance, are all common factors in people seeking a better way of working.

Trust is earned

The AA, National Express and Johnson & Johnson are among some big name companies that have built-in remote working, but it’s not for everyone.

Yahoo, Reddit and HP, previously champions of remote working, have since banned the initiative. Stating the practice was detrimental to collaboration and productivity as their reason for the decision, many managers of remote workers believe the real reason comes down to trust.

Trust is crucial for managers of those who work away from the office. Firstly not all people are suited to remote working. It takes discipline to work without someone looking over your shoulder. As well as trusting employees to get the job done well and on time, mangers need employees to be aware of (and honest about) their own limitations.

For those who need a clear distinction between home and work, the office is generally best. Businesses that are already office based and are looking to introduce home working will be able to give their employees the choice. Those looking to set up a business based on a remote working model will need to be careful about the people they hire, ensuring they have the right skills and personality. In which case, imposing a trial period, implementing time management tools and carefully measuring output will help.

Freelancers fuelling the revolution

Freelancers a safe bet for small businesses that aren’t ready to commit to full-time employees. They have already proven they can work from home or remotely and can motivate themselves.

The freelance economy is also growing rapidly – it’s probably the single biggest factor in the evolution of office work. Employing freelancers allows businesses to pick the best people for the job and bring in fresh ideas, without the long-term commitment and costs associated with increased head count.

However without the perks of permanent employment, freelancers can leave within a short notice period and don’t always have the same level of loyalty as permanent staff. In some cases this can be advantageous, but it can also impact negatively on the core team if not carefully managed.

Technology for teamwork

So how do you manage a team of remote workers and/or freelancers effectively? Online tools such as Skype make face-to-face meetings from anywhere in the world a reality. With tools such as Trello allowing teams to keep on top of tasks, everyone can see who’s doing what and when.

Regular reporting and check-ins with team members is key. Channels of communication need to be open but there should also be processes in place to make sure calls are productive and kept on topic. We allow for 5-10mins of the first Skype of the day to catch up on what we got up to last night or over the weekend, after that it’s down to business.

Of course face to face will always be important – there’s no better way of reading a person and building rapport than when you’re sat in front of them. But it’s not essential for every conversation and it’s up to managers to make the call.

Additionally, whether an office or a meeting place, having a central location for teams to catch up is important. For our team, it’s London as it’s the easiest for everyone to get to. Most of our client meetings are also there so we can often kill two birds with one stone. And that’s the whole point of remote working – being more efficient and working smart.

Variety is the spice of life

With less time spent in the office and a greater emphasis on smart working, what might offices of the future be like?

Rather than rows of desks with monitors and phones, I imagine creative spaces designed for collaboration, meetings and team building. Offices can be downsized and even relocated. We may even see the dawn of the pop-up office.

Soon we might even stop restricting ourselves to just working from home. The technology at our fingertips enables us to work anywhere and still get the job done to the same standard, if not better. New experiences enrich us, encouraging innovation and fresh ideas. So what’s stopping you from taking a working holiday to Berlin or relocating to the Bahamas? As long as there’s an internet connection, the world is your oyster.

By Jasmin Robertson, Co-founder at virtual PR and digital marketing agency This Is Publicity