In the days gone by, employers saw flexible working arrangement as a cost to the business.But today, clever businesses are reinventing the way they work by adopting teleworking, or working remotely. This, in turn, increases staff commitment and productivity and delivers fantastic business outcomes.
I am fortunate to have worked alongside some of Australia’s most successful flexible working companies. Throughout, I’ve noticed that many small businesses are also successfully using technologies to build a happier team. Are you curious about how remote work could contribute to achieving a successful business? I spoke to three successful small businesses that are thriving because of their remote, distributed work style.
Virtual call centre with remote workers
Ruth MacKay is the Managing Director at OURTEL Solutions, a virtual call centre provider serving the Australian business community since 2008. Ruth has around 30 staff members who work from locations across Australia and New Zealand. They offer inbound and outbound calls for sales, appointment setting, membership drives and fundraising services.
The company recently won a contract with a huge, high profile client – an organisation that had been highly resistant to do fundraising by telephone. The client was won over by the delivery model, citing OurTel Solutions’ mature workers who are able to protect the company’s brand.
Ruth believes her company’s current market leader position to the calibre of her staff – a loyal complement of mature workers who can be trusted to deliver outcomes that exceed the best her competitors can provide.
“Our workers love the remote work model – they feel they can work from where they are, without having to travel a huge distance. Using technology to stay connected, we’re able to attract and keep fantastic people because we offer a working arrangement they absolutely want,” says Ruth.
2. Remote working and freelancers
Jon Dee is the co-Founder and Managing Director of DoSomething! – a national charity that builds alliances between businesses, government and the community to solve environmental and community problems. He also co-owns a company developing a personal organiser software on the iPad for small business owners.
Six months ago, he changed the charity business structure to a distributed work model. He saved money by moving to a smaller office near his home and mainly hires freelancers now.
“The office overhead for our charity are now a third of what they once were,” says Jon. “With my iPad software company, my business partner is based in Russia and we’ve not had a conventional office for that set up, so the overhead costs there are minimal too.”
But cost savings isn’t the only benefit Jon gets. “The fact that we don’t have a Sydney office does not impede us in any way. Reducing our office overhead now allows us to get the best people for the job, regardless of where they are located. We have great systems and use Skype a lot – as a result the work becomes more outcomes-based,” he says.
Do Something! recently scored a big media partnership deal with NewsCorp, which he puts down to the flexible way they do business: “Telling people how different and cheaply we’re operating has been good for business – people want to know, what are the alternatives? We’re no longer tied to major cities to get our work done. We can get a better balance between work and family time.”
Would he make the change again to a remote working arrangement with his staff? “Definitely. Everything has turned out far better than I expected it to.”
3. Employing work-from-home mothers
Jo Scard is the Principal of Australia’s first virtual and flexible communications and government engagement agency, Fifty Acres. She employs eight staff who all work remotely from home. Jo also co-authored The Working Mothers’ Survival Guide with Melissa Doyle.
I asked Jo why she chose to establish her communications agency as a virtual business. “When I co-authored The Working Mothers’ Survival Guide, the lack of true flexibility for working mothers was the biggest issue. I vowed to build my company on a completely flexible model and we’ve achieved it. Not only that, we’re thriving because of it.”
“We have a really stable staff group that basically hasn’t changed since we started. Work-from-home mums are a very stable group of employees – they love working this way,” she says.
I asked Jo whether her company’s distributed work model has enabled them to keep costs down. “We don’t need an office, it seems like an indulgence – we just don’t need it. As a result we can avoid passing on office costs to our clients, which has helped to keep our charges down.”
Has she experienced any other business advantages because of the virtual nature of her business? “ Our clients know that we work innovatively, we’re getting a great reputation for working that way. I am also getting asked to speak a lot, which I think is because we attract and retain great staff members and have grown a great reputation for understanding our clients,” said Jo.
These three successful businesses know that flexible work is anything but a cost to their business. Their success is due in no small part to recognising the huge demand for flexible work and seeing it as an unparalleled opportunity – a strategic tool for achieving real competitive advantage.
Nina Sochon established and led the team that delivered the Federal Government’s national work from home (‘telework’) initiatives between 2011 and 2013. She now assists businesses to set up successful, cost-saving and powerful flexible and remote work programs. Read her free checklist for business owners: 7 ways to Prepare your Organisation for Productive, Cost-Effective New Work Patterns