9 Workplace Experts on the Benefits of Remote Working

CAREER ADVICE   |   5 minutes  |   February 8, 2017

34% of surveyed business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in London said more than half their company’s full-time workforce will be working remotely by 2020.1

Why then, in 2013, did Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer declare the end of remote work at her company, later influencing several high-profile companies, including Best Buy and Reddit, to follow suit?

Her motivation:

“There is a need to improve the “speed and quality” of interactions and benefit from the decisions and insights [that] come from hallway and cafeteria discussions.”

In comparison, Unilever has over 100,000 of its 171,000 employees working wherever they want, when they want. They managed to master the limitations of remote working, and champion processes that favour flexibility over the traditional office system.

Unilever is not alone.

Meet these nine global New Professionals and learn about the benefits of remote working as they reveal the secrets to their success.

Nick Francis

Co-Founding CEO of Helpscout.com
Boston, USA

Remote-Work-Freelancer (3)

What are some of the common drawbacks or pitfalls of remote working that companies should be cognisant of before diving in?

We need to be aware of the tradeoffs that exist in remote companies, and design the organisation to address them as best we can. Things like scheduling time to socialise with teammates have to be arranged because there is no proverbial water cooler.

Which remote working best practices do you employ in your business?

The most important thing for a remote company to do well is to make sure everyone has access to the same information. It requires the company to be very transparent and free-flowing with data so that no one ever feels left out. If people in the office ever have an advantage over people that work from home, two cultures develop, and that can be toxic for the organisation.

What are your top tips for companies looking to make remote working a success?

It’s very difficult to dip your toe into remote work. You have to go all in, embracing the tradeoffs from the first moment. Also, make sure that video conferencing is happening all the time. Just because you aren’t in the same physical space as someone doesn’t mean you can’t speak with them face to face.

James Thomson

 Recruitment & Education Technology Entrepreneur at Continuum Education Services
Cape Town, South Africa

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What are some of the paradigm shifts your company has made to fully benefit from remote working?

We stopped trying to control people’s time and micromanage them, but rather focused on working with them to identify and then help them achieve their personal goals and ambitions, which more often than not were closely tied in with those of the company and its successes. This lead to a far more engaged remote worker.

How did you build a successful remote workforce?

We started to focus more on who we hired and made sure they fit into our culture, rather than how to manage them remotely. Hiring the right people ensured that the management burden often decreased significantly as they were self-motivated to make the remote working option a success and were accountable to their deliverables.

What can other companies do to manage remote working effectively?

Ensure that you hire people who amplify your company culture in place, then give them the right tools and support and they will reward you with the right level of accountability and responsibility to work remotely. If you get this right, these team members will usually deliver work of a higher standard as a result.

 Sarah Koopman

Freelance Writer
Cape Town, South Africa

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In your experience as a freelancer, what are some of the challenges or disadvantages of working remotely?

Working alone and away from a team can feel a bit like working in a vacuum where the only thing I am aware of is what is happening on my desktop or in my inbox. Sometimes instructions or briefs can get lost in the distance between me and the client and require a few emails or phone calls to make sure everyone is on the same page. This can be tedious and time-consuming, but is really important to manage output and expectations.

What are the benefits of remote working?

I enjoy being able to change up my working environment – from working at home to settling down in a coffee shop for a change of pace – and drawing on different energies depending on what I need in order to get done. Writing requires a certain environment and editing might be different.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to other freelancers looking to work remotely?

Communication is key, especially when working separately from a team. I need to be contactable and stay in touch with whoever needs to reach me so that we can keep the cogs turning. Because my team can’t see what I am up to, I need to keep them in the loop with the progress I am making or things that are holding me back from reaching a deadline. It is the most important part in making a remote working relationship work – and work well.

Ryan Brauer

Marketing & Performance Manager at GameBet Consulting
Cape Town, South Africa

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What are some of the challenges or disadvantages of remote work, and how did you overcome them?

Having worked out of shared office space in Bree street and in the Cape Quarter, it was very easy to continually bump into friends when popping out for a coffee, and I had to stop getting caught up in long catch-up chats. I also needed to avoid getting caught up in in-depth political and sporting debates and discussions with guys that I worked in the shared space with, as well as not getting too involved, and offering assistance or insight, in their businesses and projects.

Which tactics, apps, systems or tools do you use to make remote working work for you?

I try to book meetings and telecoms as close together because if they’re spread far apart, it can eat into a lot of time before and after, and it’s hard for an ADHD sufferer like me to maintain focus with regular distractions.

Using a project management tool like Asana or Trello can be very helpful, but also requires a great deal of work to keep it up to speed, so I prefer using Workflowy to keep short bullet point to do lists. Google Calendar also became my best friend by ensuring I kept on top of my schedule and did not forget important things.

How do you communicate effectively with clients or teams when you’re working remotely?

It’s vital to have regular contact, whether by email, WhatsApp groups or phone calls, as well as a weekly face-to-face (if possible) otherwise Google Hangouts or Skype video calls are great to ensure that employees are on the right track and not wasting a lot of time heading down a dead-end.

Kate Harvey 

Content & Search Marketing Manager at Chargify.com
Arizona, USA

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How does your organisation entrench company culture and build strong relationships with your remote teams?

At Chargify, we’re very proud of our awesome company culture.

We’ve been exemplifying our core values since the beginning of the company, but documenting our values and making them public was important for both our internal team and our customers.

Chargify also has annual meetups to allow remote workers to get important face-to-face time with co-workers.

What can business leaders do to ensure effective management of a remote workforce?

Communication and trust are key. Ultimately, if you don’t trust your employees when working remotely then attempting remote is setting the company up for failure. Full transparency helps with trust: communicate everything (the good and the bad). One of our developers advises, “If you have to choose between being annoying and not being transparent, be annoying. Be mercilessly transparent. All the time.”

Mark Fawzy 

Director at Boxchamp (Pty) Ltd
Cape Town, South Africa

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Which tools and systems did you put in place in order to benefit from remote working, and why?

We implemented systems such as Slack and Trello, to constantly communicate, provide support and stay on the same page at all times. This means that working remotely is very feasible and you can still be “online” and available. Above all, it is imperative that you trust your people.

How can a remote manager be more effective in their business?

Expectations of employees need to be clear and laid out in order for them to be accountable for their results. I believe in incentive-based working. If the right incentives, (not just money) are in place, people perform.

Also, remote working can be destructive if it is overdone, due to the fact that people lose that personal team interaction. To keep team dynamic and culture, there needs to be regular check-ins, in person.

Kate Ashton

 Senior Human Resources Consultant at Inspired HR Ltd.
Alberta, Canada

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What is the key to making a success of the remote working model?

The key to successful remote workplace options is to stop worrying about what the employee is doing if they are not physically present in the office. You need to set clear accountabilities and goals for work to be completed while working remotely. That way it’s not about the number of hours worked, but rather the quality and effectiveness of their work.

How could any company set up remote workers for success in 2017? 

Start by defining how much of the employee’s work week is remote. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Starting out with the option to work remotely on an occasional basis (bad weather, sick child at home, etc.) can often be a great start.

It is important to set clear accountabilities in work tasks, expectations for what is required for communication with their manager and client groups as well as setting specific meeting times where they are expected to be present at the physical office location.

Leon Barnard

 Designer and Writer at Balsamiq, LLC
San Francisco, USA

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What are some of the paradigm shifts your company has made to fully benefit from remote working?

At a certain point over-communicating for the purposes of keeping up with everything became more trouble than it was worth. We are now more selective in our communication, to allow employees to focus on their work.

What did you start doing differently to safeguard the success of your remote team?

Reassessing our tools regularly. As we grew, our communication tools needed to evolve to suit the company we were becoming. This is probably not needed as often with an onsite workforce.

Dave Nevogt

 CEO at Hubstaff.com
Indianapolis, USA

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What are some of the paradigm shifts your company has made to fully benefit from remote working?

We needed to stop assigning more than five projects/tasks at a time. In remote work, it’s better to be working on fewer things and bring them to completion. We also needed to start focusing on the true priorities in the business and make those priorities public in order to get everyone aligned.

What’s your advice to business leaders looking to make remote working a success?

My advice would be to take small steps, focus on the right priorities of the business and then assign focused tasks around those priorities and then work them to completion.

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