Why flexible and remote working help small businesses get the best out of employees


By actively supporting flexible and remote work, businesses can position themselves as employers of choice in the ever-more-ruthless war for talent.  Plus, if they’re seeking to be national or even global in scope, enabling ‘distributed collaboration’ – i.e. the ability for people to work together as a team, albeit remotely – isn’t just a strategy for winning the hearts of existing and prospective employees, it’s also a necessary means of winning new business and operating efficiently. 

In the past, it was customary for white-collar employees to commute to an inner-city office where they would work from 9am to 5pm. A multitude of factors, however, now mean this is not always a viable option. For example, increasing population density in or near city centres, combined with soaring property prices, is making it increasingly difficult for employees to live within a convenient distance of their workplace. Consequently, many workers are having to spend hours commuting by car, bus or train to work per day. Not only does this drain people of energy, it reduces the time they get to spend with their families, meaning employers are at risk of their employees arriving at work each day already demotivated – a recipe for poor retention rates.  Wanting to strike a greater work-life balance, more and more people, including time-poor working parents and millennials, are demanding telecommuting and remote working options, such as the ability to work from home or on-the-go.

Furthermore, to remain competitive, employers are having to woo the best and brightest talent – an undertaking that increasingly involves looking beyond one’s immediate backyard. Those that ‘bonsai’ their talent catchment area or insist that far flung talent must operate from a central office, merely handicap themselves in the war for talent.

To optimise the productivity of geographically dispersed employees, and help them overcome the tyranny of distance, businesses must embrace enabling technologies. This means adopting online communication platforms (e.g. Skype) and collaboration tools (e.g. Microsoft® Teams and Microsoft Office 365) as well as file-sharing and cloud storage services such as Microsoft OneDrive. Having strategies to get the most out of a mobile workforce is also a must, which is where e-books such as “Managing Productivity with a Mobile Workforce” and “That Mobile Business: Seal the Deal on the Road” will be useful.

In the case of Relken Engineering – a consultancy specialising in reliability engineering plus asset management and optimisation –  leveraging new technologies to liberate staff from the traditional office environment has been absolutely crucial.

As co-founder and director Ben Mailler explained to Dynamic Business, Relken – 2016 Telstra ACT New Business Award winner – has a geographically-dispersed pool of clients and meeting their needs requires “bringing together the right knowledge, skills and experience in the right place at the right time”.

“We have had employees in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Newcastle, Sunshine Coast, Perth and Adelaide,” Mailler said. “Work locations are driven by the client need, type of engagement and personal effectiveness. This means we work from client sites, home, cafes or rented spaces – whatever best delivers the outcome!

“To enable our staff to achieve outcomes without an office, we’re leveraging collaboration, travel, communication and productivity technologies including Wrike, Microsoft Office 365, Cisco WebEx, Skype for Business, Zotero, Xero, Receipt Bank, TripIt, MailChimp, LinkedIn Tableau and NAB Connect.”

Mailler admitted that maintaining a common vision and a consistent work culture in an organisation with a dispersed workforce requires a greater dedicated effort than one whose workers are collocated.

“To keep everyone on the same page and foster a sense of community, we employ a combination of activities,” he said. “These include (but are not limited to): our annual, whole-of company gathering (‘The Conclave’) ; smaller workshops (‘Labs’) where teams are brought together, rent a house for a few days and work collaboratively to solve a particular issue while developing closer ties; weekly roundup newsletters; and virtual monthly drinks (via Skype or Cisco WebEx).”

Asked whether Relken Engineering’s work on the go policy has helped position the company as an employer of choice amongst prospective staff while boosting workforce productivity and reducing overheads, Mailler replied “absolutely”.

He explained, “From a value perspective, the avoidance of a fixed office space allows us to either minimise overheads or redirect funds into renting facilities that are appropriate for the specific activity we are supporting (not just the ones that came with an office that we could afford on a full-time basis). Flexibility, reduction in unnecessary travel and personal empowerment associated with remote/flexible working also contributes to the overall value proposition for staff.”


Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of Telstra or its staff.

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