"Where's the boss? The future of managing your business…” #68 #cong16

By Adrian Corcoran.

Who loves going into their office every morning? I’d say no matter how much you love your business, how excited you are to see it growing and developing, you don’t relish the idea of the drive or walk into the office or the shop, with a set amount of time to get done (or more) before leaving. And in Ireland that can be especially depressing in the winter, when you work from dark to dark!

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right tools, a sprinkle of trust and a great attitude, you can manage your business without being in the office 9-5. How would you like:

  • A happier team?
  • A healthier team?
  • Better work life balance for everyone?
  • More freedom to travel abroad?
  • Reduced travel expenses?
  • A more efficiently-run business?
  • The ability to work from anywhere?

Sceptical? So was I...until we did it. Now we have a happier team, are more flexible when something in our personal lives needs attention and are more able to respond and help our clients when they need us. Plus nothing beats working beside your stove when it’s a wet winter’s day in Ireland.

If this sounds like heaven then read on and find out how you can do it too! The simple fact is that managing your business remotely or with a dispersed team forces you to do it better and more efficiently. Think about this for a minute, if your team can only function when you are around so they can ask questions, if there are parts of the business that “only” you can do, and if only you have have access to key information in the business, then you will never be truly free of the business. You will always be working in the business as an employee. Maybe a better-paid employee but nonetheless, the business cannot function without you.

Another thing to consider is work-life balance. This is something which is vital to both your health and your team’s health and is becoming more and more important in the 21st century. I believe the key to happiness is to be healthy in body and relationships and to have worthwhile work to do which matters. This will more than likely apply to your team as well, so why make them make the trip every day to your office to do their work? Surely they will thank you if they can save on time, expense and stress by doing their work at home?

Technology is making remote working and management not only a possibility, but a “why wouldn’t we do this?” proposition. With increases in broadband speed, better software and increased awareness, working from home or remotely is not the pipedream it once was. And most importantly, it’s not just a city fad or something that only “big” companies can do. The time to do this is right here, right now. Let’s find out how…

So. You’re excited. You want to try this “working remotely” idea. So where do you start and what are the things to watch out for? There are some major advantages to managing your business and working remotely, there are also some easy mistakes to make along the way, which I can help you avoid.

It all boils down to Trust, Tools & Teamwork.

TRUST When I mention how much time I spend out of the office and how free our team are to work at home, one of the first questions I get asked is “But how do you know they [my team] won’t just skive off and not do any work?”. The answer is simple: trust. I simply trust that they will do their work, happily and on their own initiative.

This usually gets me a sceptical look :) Followed by “yeah well...that wouldn’t work in my business”. My attitude is that it all depends on the culture of the business, which flows from the manager or the owner and the work ethic of your team. Trust is not immediate. It must be built on both sides and it takes time. However it has to start with you, the owner. You must be the first to extend the trust. And if you can’t do that, then just forget the whole idea of working or managing remotely. It won’t work.

Your attitude needs to be that you trust your team to do the work, that you won’t be checking their timelogs and that you expect and believe they will do it. Think about that for a second, if someone did that to you, would you let them down? I thought not. You will always get people who will push the boundaries, who you could not trust to work effectively unless you were standing behind them. My answer to this would be “why are they still part of your team?”.

If you believe in your team, set them an example and simply expect the best of them, you will very rarely be disappointed.

TOOLS The right tool for the right job. It’s more applicable today than ever. These days, to manage and run a business you need a good laptop, a good phone and a good roaming plan. That’s it. With those three things, you can perform any tasks, call whoever you need to and access the internet without wifi, from most places in the world. My own personal preference is a Macbook and iPhone, simply because they are reliable, fast, powerful and have long lasting batteries. With these two things, I can help clients, create websites, invoices, charge credit cards, set up servers, conduct a client meeting, video conference with my team, access our projects, our accounting software, our bank accounts...you get the idea? In the service industry, you don’t manufacture anything, so why tie yourself to one place?

Great software such as Basecamp for projects, Highrise for tasks, Google Hangouts for video chat, Slack for team chat, Sage for online accounting, AIB internet banking, Google Drive and Dropbox for storage and collaboration on documents, Bit bucket for code, Adobe for design...the list goes on and on. 

Anything you do on a desktop, you can do on a laptop. Most things you do on a laptop, you can do on a phone. And with a good roaming package with data, there is literally no reason you can’t do the same work, or take the same phone calls from anywhere in the world. I should know, this year alone I have managed my business from Finland, Japan and Canada, usually without our clients realising until they saw me on Facebook!

TEAMWORK As I said before, this will not work unless you make it work together. Remote working and management will not work if you and your team do not have set ways of communication and keeping each other informed on the business. So you need defined times when you are available to your team. If your team are confused over something and are waiting on your input, then you need to take responsibility for improving how you communicate with them. 

In our business, we add tasks for each other (even sometimes just a “letting you know” task) to keep each other informed. When adding a task we have simple rules such as always adding a phone number for calling back, letting the client know roughly when they will be gotten back to, categorising tasks as important or not essential. By following these simple rules, it means that simple things are not missed and the business runs smoothly. It’s very easy to see when something is missed because you will hear the phrase “I thought you…” or “I didn’t get the phone number…”. Then you simply analyse why it went wrong and fix it for the next time :) By improving your communication in this way, you improve the efficiency of the business and at the same time, make it less reliable on you being present. Which is a step towards owning rather than working in the business.

So do we ever see each other? A good question and the answer is “Yes”. We conduct a weekly team meeting in our office at the start of the week. This brings everyone up to date on what needs to be accomplished that week, who needs what from who to get their job done and also gives us a chance to discuss the business and what can be improved. Also, although we work from home some days, it is still important to meet physically to reinforce the team spirit and morale and have the craic.

Once we started managing our business in this way, other possibilities and benefits bcame apparent. For example if one of our team had a sick child, no longer did they need to take a day out of their holidays. They simply rang up and said “I need to work from home today”. No problem. In the winter when there is particularly bad weather, sometimes one of our team actually gets snowed in at home. No problem, just work from home. We don’t need to risk our team’s lives by asking the them to drive in bad conditions. If someone wasn’t feeling a hundred percent, they can work from home without bringing a cold into the office and affecting everyone. As manager of the business, if I want a mid-week or extended break, no problem. Just bring the phone and laptop and I can still conduct business in the morning and sight see in the afternoon. 

So what does the future hold? One hundred years ago, the idea of travelling to Australia and coming home was absurd. Now it’s done by teenagers and backpackers. Thirty years ago, travelling to Dublin for shopping was only saved until “The Big Trip” at Christmas. I should know, I was brought! Now we don’t think twice about crossing the country for a meeting. Today, remotely managing your business is new and somewhat strange to some people.  One hundred years from now, the idea of travelling every day to a certain building in order to use the tool you have in your hand and to talk to people you can communicate with from home will seem equally absurd. I would imagine it will be a story that our kids will tell their great-grandkids and they’ll start with “Back in my father’s day…”

Read More If you like these ideas, check out this book. It was our inspiration for how we do things in our business now.

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie