The Remote Working Experiment – A Management Review

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Our experiment with remote working has been interesting, giving both positive and negative outcomes.

Setting the scene

I run a boutique Data Intelligence company based in London, though with staff in Austria and Cambodia. These diverse locations have meant that we chose to engage with remote working technology. We have had an office in the City for about 4 years and wanted to challenge the business in a ‘disruptive’ way. We decided to get rid of our comfortable eleven-person office near Liverpool St.

Our preparation

We ensured everyone was setup to work from home as effectively as possible, with reasonable internet connections, a space to work (as much as we could), and technology. We had invested in using remote technology – a combination of Office 365 (Teams, Skype for Business, Sharepoint, Onedrive) and Atlassian (Jira, Confluence, Bitbucket). We also scheduled meet ups every two weeks, often with some training and team building in central locations in London, to keep communication open and engagement high.

Analysis

Mostly the experiment went well. Our staff remarked at how much extra time they had in their day and how enjoyable it was not to have to squeeze onto commuter trains and tubes. We had a three and six-month review of the time and the feedback was generally positive. Ollie Frost wrote his views on this a few months ago. 

But we have now spent twelve months in this state and it’s time to draw conclusions and implement improvements.

The positives

  • More time to use personally and socially. This was especially noticeable during the longer summer days.
  • Increased flexibility during work time. Some staff had a gym break at lunch time for two hours, then worked later. The ability to ‘pop out’ to the doctor was really appreciated.
  • Most of our staff said that they ate better when working from home, though one individual ate too well!
  • Savings were made on train travel, which is the southeast of England is eye watering already.
  • Our business is very client facing, but we tend to visit our clients at their premises, so after explaining to our clients what we were doing, business continued as normal.

The negatives

  • Some individuals had less-than-ideal working conditions at home – noisy neighbours, inconsistent internet speed, a lack of a private working space in the house – and so needed to sometimes escape to a local coffee shop or library, with mixed efficiency.
  • About half the staff reminisced about the time that we spent in the office together.
  • There was less banter in the ‘Teams’ chat, so the working environment was not as fun as being in the same office.
  • There was notably less cohesiveness as a team and perhaps a drop in the engagement of staff in the company.
  • As a team, we lost the ‘water cooler’ moments, where snippets of conversation would be overheard that would spark important other conversations.

Other observations

We have a well motivated team that have worked together in various ways over the last two to five years, but some found it harder to maintain motivation without the direct encouragement of others.

Additionally, it was expected that some future activities would present some problems. Particularly, the hiring and integrating new staff. These people would not be known quickly and easily and would take longer to get to know through daily standups and fortnightly meetups.

Going forward

Overall it was a positive experience, and we have looked at various options to move forward, but are going to pursue a new office space in the city, although it will be a smaller space than before, and all desks will be hot desks. We will maintain the efficiency that more robust tools supports and the flexibility that they provide.

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