How To Embrace Flexible Working In Your Business
Implementing strategies for remote and flexible working in your business can benefit your brand and productivity long term
As Buffer and other tech startups have fully embraced the flexible working lifestyle, I made it part of our company ethos to welcome and embrace flexible working fully.
Being bound to your desk more than 39 hours a week at work also means you’re more likely to develop mental health problems (according to research from the Australian National University).
People like the one and only Tim Ferris have been praising flexible working for over 10 years (check out 4 Hour Work Week for more on that ). More and more entrepreneurs I talk to these days embrace flexible working as a way to communicate and manage a team.
My team works remotely most days, we communicate via Quip (most people use Slack these days), and I let them choose the days they are online — they both work part-time, which suits their own business dreams and goals.
In the UK alone, laws about working are changing. Conservative MP Helen Whately introduced a flexible working bill in Parliament this week which, if taken forward, would make flexible working the norm in employment contracts and require employers to advertise positions as suitable for flexible working unless certain conditions are met.
The reason we see more and more media on the matter is merely due to the fact that if companies and brands don’t allow for flexible working arrangements and location independence, they are going to lose out on good talent.
On paper, this sounds perfect. However, introducing flexible working in your strategy requires, well, a completely new set of skills.
This is why I thought I’d outline a few of the things I have learned about setting up an agile and “flexible” environment and ditch the 9-to-5 approach to work.
The hidden dangers of remote working
Flexible working usually involves freelancers and project-based team members (such as designers or producers, for example).
When it comes to introducing different people to your vision, time zones and communication will be your obstacle — when you’re dealing with different locations, of course, it will be an issue. When your team is never in the same place at once, it can slow down decision-making processes and creates more room for error.
One of the main obstacles when it comes to a big team can be communication — the majority of our communication is in text, whether via slack, email, or text message, and tone can easily get lost in translation.
Not working together face to face, it can be hard for new team members to get a feel for the culture at the clinic easily, or develop a relationship that makes it easier to deal with conflict or misunderstandings that inevitably come up when working with other humans.
Katherine Creighton Crook , founder, and principal therapist at Leyton Sports Massage found that the solution sometimes at the beginning of the journey for team members: “One of the things I implemented in the past year is an onboarding email series for new therapists when they join us. It introduces new team members to the software we use, our operations manual, and outlines (in a friendly way) how we work together and what our expectations are, including our clinic’s mission and values.”
Also sharing the same vision is hard when we have little or no face time — Ina Pescla, the founder of my mantra active, agreed with me on this:
“communication and vision I’d say are the two main things I’ve struggled to pass on to my team, especially the social media manager.”
Most clients I work with admit that language barrier with manufacturers can be a source of a few headaches, so practicing patience also comes in handy.
Make time for check-ins
Touching base daily with emails and phone calls helps to keep the team in check and fosters good working relationships. Another way to keep goals and systems clear and streamlined involves using software (just like Quip or Slack) to make life easier.
Checking in with your team is essential, and something Serena Oppenheim values highly. Serena runs Good Zing, managing a team made up of various consultants with hugely different skill sets, based around the world, from London to New York.
Good Zing is a platform, like Yelp or TripAdvisor but for finding and sharing everyday health tips: “We implemented a weekly Monday morning meeting to go through the content, plans for the week, issues that came up the previous week and much more. This has made a huge difference to ensure that everyone is on board with the same vision and it has also minimised miscommunication. If someone can’t make the meeting physically, they dial in or get an update from someone who was there.”
Jenn Wittman runs a successful portfolio of businesses with her husband. They run thyroid and autoimmune wellness business, a direct-sales lead generation business, a real estate business and a business strategy service.
As the team is small, everyone else is in charge of implementing projects within their domain — graphic design, website design, marketing, and administrative assistance.
They both hire for the team and are the project managers for all our projects: “Before we streamlined our system, we were sometimes both giving different instructions to our team which wasn’t efficient and was very frustrating to our team members.”
Using a shared system to organise their projects with the team has increased productivity and efficiency, cut down on miscommunications, and decreased confusion and frustration.
They started using Basecamp and that has done wonders for them. Basecamp allows them to communicate projects tasks in one place, to track our work and keeps them all on the same page.
Hiring becomes a skill in itself
Hiring also requires particular attention to details, and this is where onboarding comes handy.
Most of the mistakes you can make when it comes to flexible working can be spotted at the very beginning of the relationship.
“The onboarding sequence seems to help give new team members a sense of place when they first join us and has cut down on the number of teething pains we get” recalls Katherine Creighton Crook “I also encourage the team to swap sessions with each other, both to build skills as well as building that relationship. We have a slack channel especially where therapists can come in and share good outcomes of clients, or where they have a question.”
I had my fair share of employees, and I thought I pretty much developed a “sixth sense” for people.
However, I recently had to let go of my new virtual assistant because things were just not working.
I find this happens endless times when it comes to social media and content, especially for founders of small companies.
When it comes to social media we can be such perfectionists. Content is essential to share your vision with your audience, and it has to be in line with the company ethos.
“I had to step back into it and take a part of the task on myself again.” recalls Plesca, when talking about social media “It’s hard when someone doesn’t get your vision. There are two ways of dealing with it — you either fire them or take on the easiest task that they struggle with and do it yourself.”
Is flexible working right for you and your brand?
I believe most companies should adapt to a more “flexible” way of working.
I also believe that a lot of businesses are not truly aware of how they manage their time and tasks.
How ‘Time Dysmorphia’ Is Affecting Your Business on a Daily Basis
Write down everything you do to truly harness your zone of genius
Being aware of the pitfalls and how to prepare yourself for a shift in the way you manage your team can be the best thing that will happen to your own company. Just make sure you are ready.
Looking to work smarter, not harder? Download my work survival guide with 20 proven tricks to reclaim your time off.