While issues such as trust, accountability and productivity often cloud the subject of remote working, businesses around the UK are embracing the practice and making it work by layering it into the company culture.
If any entrepreneur could epitomise remote working both personally and in business, it’s Janvi Patel, co-founder and chairwoman of legal service provider Halebury.
Founded in 2007, Halebury, which has a team of 43 and based in London, provides flexible legal services to its FTSE-250 and SME clients – including BT, Sky and Virgin Media. When the companies need extra lawyers for busy periods, projects or ad-hoc work, they turn to Halebury for help.
No two members of Halebury’s in-house team of 35 lawyers have the same working pattern, and Patel herself operates between Los Angeles, where her family is based, and London. Remote working for staff vary from full-time working from home, to part-time working in the office – and without it, the business would simply be unable to exist.
“From day one, offering flexibility was a core pillar of our flexible model,” she revealed. “We fundamentally wanted to reshape the 9-5 office-based system. Our team have to take ownership of their own career and a key part of this was the autonomy to determine their working practices.”
She went on to explain that the ability to work remotely for her team members, many of whom have children, is “essential”. For the business, it means clients benefit from reduced travel costs because of fewer commutes, and from the flexible working hours of lawyers that suit global time zones.
Patel believes engaging with remote working has meant that she has been able to provide a more cost-effective and flexible resourcing model that she would have otherwise been able to provide if she required her entire team to be on-site for the full working week. Then there are the personal benefits: “For me personally, being able to work remotely is huge. I live between LA and London and therefore being able to work remotely has been vital.”
Putting remote working at the heart of the business has also had a profound effect on the way the performance of Halebury’s lawyers is measured. It’s about achieving targets in the most efficient and effective way possible. “By shifting from requiring on-site presence and presenteeism to value-add and output-based metrics, we have fundamentally changed how we provide legal services to our clients and at the same time empowered our team to take control of their careers,” explained Patel.
Any downsides to engaging so heavily with remote working are outweighed by the benefits, she added. But key to making it work is by paying a “great deal of attention” to communication, particularly between the headquarters team and remote-working lawyers. “This is a good problem to have as it helps us to think outside the box and make an effort to keep in touch.” Patel’s last word of advice to entrepreneurs about engaging with remote working is to “focus on outputs, not on time, and trust your team”.
Another internationally-minded young and very successful business is TransferWise, an online service for sending money overseas founded in 2010 by Estonians Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärman, after they realised how much money it cost to transfer money between the UK and Estonia.
With a head office in London, TransferWise has grown to more than 1,000 employees and nine offices globally, including New York, Sydney and Singapore. The business is keen to offer staff the chance to take advantage of international working opportunities, which remote working helps facilitate, explained TransferWise’s people and environment manager Rachel Lloyd.
“We’re really proud of the travel opportunities we offer to our staff and actively encourage employees to visit other offices and interact with their colleagues around the world,” she commented. The company creates permanent relocation opportunities abroad for its employees and helps them to move between offices by providing accommodation and flight support. “Remote working is needed here for employees travelling often, where trying to come into the office after a long flight just isn’t feasible,” she said.
Engaging with remote working also ensures TransferWise caters to its staff who need flexibility in their working hours – parents, for example. “We get that working a standard 9-5 doesn’t suit everyone,” said Lloyd. Remote working differs from team to team, which are autonomous and each accountable for its own work. “It’s up to teams to decide what works for them and of course some teams are better suited to it than others. Customer support requires less team interaction, so taking their laptops to various destinations is less of an issue than teams who need to speak face to face more often,” Lloyd explained.
It’s clear that, at TransferWise, the ability to work remotely and flexibly is more than a perk. It has become an integral part of the way the international company functions. “Flexible working is an important facilitator in the exchange of knowledge and an understanding that people work better at different times,” added Lloyd. As a global business with employees frequently needing to travel to visit teams in other countries or work form a different office, remote working is hugely important. “It makes a huge difference to employees that they’re given a choice other than being tied to their desk every day. This is particularly good for attracting talent, as candidates value the flexibility,” she added.
Like Patel, Lloyd noted that effective remote working is conditional on excellent communication. When communication isn’t face-to-face it can become more difficult, and risks hindering a direct and efficient workplace culture. Lloyd suggests using the right tech tools, like Slack for messaging and Zoom for video calls, help staff stay connected. “Ensure you provide your colleagues with the tools they need to make remote working a success – provide laptops and a good AV system so external calls work without hassle,” she advised.
Ultimately, however, making remote working a success means instilling a culture of trust – giving employees the chance to be responsible and accountable for their own work, and for managers and leaders to ensure they treat them fairly. The final word from Lloyd? “Remote working can help business to thrive.” You get to hire the best talent and work more efficiently.