Covid restrictions are lift, companies are asking themselves the questions about what the new way of working will look like. I have been asked a few times how our ‘remote company with an office’ operates. I thought this is a good opportunity to write about it in my overdue blog!
Bays is a 12 person company, with an office in Guildford that some of our team will never set foot inside because they live too far away, and certainly wouldn’t be big enough if we all tried to be there at once – but we don’t need space to seat the entire company. Our office is a managed office in a building full of co-working areas and business lounges. It is a productivity tool we use when needed, and it’s not the defining feature of our working day.
Our company ethos has always been one of flexibility. That is true today more than ever with the majority of the company being parents, with caring requirements, or with other circumstances for whom being chained to a particular desk from 9-5 wouldn’t work. As a result, I was able to work remotely from India while I was accompanying my wife on an overseas posting there, and also that on return to the UK, I’ve been able to balance childcare and supporting my wife around full time employment.
Remote working has also meant that we have been able to recruit the best people from across the UK, without worrying about whether they will want to relocate, and without them having to factor in commuting costs into their budgets.
However, remote working shouldn’t be confused with simply working from home, though that is often a large factor.
For some, working from home is ideal – they have the space, the peace, and the personality to relish being able to fit work in and around their home life. The ‘commute’ is easy, and you can fit your hours in when suits you. I know a couple with a young child who did work and childcare in 3 hour shifts throughout lockdown. I also know many people who became so much happier once they didn’t have to commute, that their productivity increased to the point of increased rewards at work. But it doesn’t suit everyone.
I find a bit of company helpful to keep me focused. I don’t have a dedicated office space in my house either. It can be a little distracting to work from the kitchen table when my wife is trying to coerce my nine month old son into eating vegetables. Often I head to the Bays office to try and mitigate these issues. This comes with its own set of problems – the commute is infuriating (especially after a four year break from commuting after working entirely remotely or within spitting distance of my office) with delays and cost both by road and by rail. Sometimes at the end of this, I am then alone in the office, which I feel defeats the point a little, especially after a miserable journey.
So, Bays has gradually developed a few ways of working that help flexible working for everyone in the company.
To combat coming into the office and being alone, we have an online office booking system as part of our HR tool to mean everyone knows when everyone else plans to go to the office. This makes it easier to ensure there is someone else there for those who like company, or not, for those who prefer the silence.
We’re also taking full advantage of the benefits of using a managed office. Our management company has a number of national buildings, it also has a tie-up with an international management company. This gives us access to a place of work wherever we are. This has meant we are able to leave the house to ‘go to work’, but not have to spend an hour on the train. You also get to have others around you, even if they are not your colleagues, to stop you just looking at the same four walls. For me, this is a 20 minute walk to a business park with a pond, which is far enough to clear the head but near enough to be pleasant.
On a more technical side, we use cloud-based tools wherever possible. It means that we can dial into our systems from anywhere, and even ‘bring our own device’ if needed. This has also forced us to keep a closer eye on our access controls and cyber security, which we have done by following the Cyber Essentials Plus and ISO27001 frameworks. Although it has felt like a bit more work, it is really something we should be doing anyway.
This is the first company I have worked in, where everyone wanted to have more virtual meetings, so we got to see more of our colleagues. Thanks to leaps forward in software, we are all now able to edit the same document simultaneously thanks to SharePoint, Miro has replaced a physical whiteboard for our agile ceremonies, and Jira, Microsoft Teams and Slack have enabled us to keep in touch and on track as closely as we would have been able to in an office. Admittedly, overhearing other conversations and having an opportunistic chat, or ‘watercooler moment’ is not, in our experience, a small price to pay for the flexibility we have.
Bays has not tried to force all of the team to stop their caring duties, give up two or more hours a day for a commute, and dragged them ‘back’ into a bigger, more expensive, office because it is the way things have always been done. Instead we have opted to embrace the benefits of remote working, and given the option for co-working in an office where it is preferred. This flexibility for the individual in how we work in turn gives flexibility to the company in who works for us.