While self isolation and social distancing is now a recent recent addition to the Australian lexicon, my own business (Altitude Media) went down this path just coming on 5 years this April. All by choice though.
To quickly give some background context, I own a digital marketing company, the type that provides digital services to our Australian wide client base, such as PPC, SEO, and Web Development.
Due to a parting of the ways in my previous business (same industry), I suddenly found myself as a sole director with no staff and had a blank page of what this new business could and would become in the years to follow.
Having spent the previous few years in an unpleasant and unproductive office environment, the decision was made that the new business would be (mostly) location independent, with a remote workforce. When I say location independent, this isn’t jumping on the digital nomad trail and heading to a Thailand beach to work and run a business. This was more of a case of setting up an entire organisation that worked remotely of other team members, and also remotely from our client base.
Remote staffing was not a new concept, as for the previous 6 years I managed a full offshore team. After some initial trial and error in the recruitment area, I can honestly say that it’s entirely feasible to build a remote team of full time, dedicated, hard-working team members that will grow your business, all from the comfort of their own homes.
Until a couple of years ago, I was still working out of a reclaimed small shed in our backyard, in isolation of clients, our kids, and other distractions that keep you from productive work in any normal Australian workplace. Nowadays we have gone even further in our isolation and have relocated to a 5-acre property out of the city, with purpose-built office facilities well away our house.
The Transition of Isolation
Working from home is not easy for everyone, and an adjustment time will likely take place. There are distractions, distractions everywhere. News on the TV, Netflix, Facebook, family, friends who don’t keep regular work hours, the list goes on.
In the early days, I recommend a strict(ish) routine. Set the alarm, get dressed for work, then sit down at the desk and undertake your workday just like you might have when in the corporate office. All those small rituals that you used to do in the pre-COVID-19 work environment, keep doing them until you have adjusted.
The adjustment and social isolation might seem quite tough at first, however, you can quickly put in controls to make this your new normal, and even begin to enjoy it. Before you know it you can be pumping out twice the work you did in the corporate office, while wearing a pair of trackies and ugg boots.
Appreciate the bonuses that have already come your way. No early alarms in order to do the commute. No battling traffic, trains, buses, etc. If you are as much of our population, you may have already found yourself with an additional three hours of time on your hands each day. This time is a gift, use it how you will.
Got Kids at Home?
OK, this is the big one. If you have young kids at home and you’re being forced to work remotely right now, this can cause tensions and family fights that even a Long Bay riot team will think twice about breaking up. Reasoning with little kids at least in my experience is like pushing a big wheelbarrow of cow manure up a steep hill.
You may find you need to self isolate within your already isolated home. This may mean locking yourself away in the garage, a bedroom, or anywhere that is farthest from the source of noise that children are famous for.
Once you understand that reasoning with your kids is likely not going to bear fruit, then it’s time to start bribing them, in an effort to keep their noise down. Toys, lollies, screen time, anything is on the table in the early days until your tribe adjusts. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Still can’t keep them quiet? Invest in some noise-cancelling headphones, use a white noise app, listen to music through headphones. You’ll find a way to get around the noise.
Your Client Wants a Meeting
This is 2020. We’re all mainly time-poor. I also appreciate that many people still have a tradition of doing everything faces to face (they still pay me via cheque too).
In this era of Covid-19, face to face meetings are a no-no and you shouldn’t experience any push back here. Still, you might have a client who needs to discuss contingency planning and is wanting a sit-down. A few years ago I learned this trick that even today saves me many hours of wasted travel per week…
…Client phones me to come to a sit down meeting.
Client: Hey, we need you to come in and discuss something about the current marketing campaign.
Me: What precisely do you wish to discuss about it?
Client: A, B, and C.
Me: Great. Seeing as we’re talking on the phone right now, let’s get this knocked over so we can action that for you.
Client: Um sure, OK.
You have just saved yourself possibly several hours of travel and downtime. You are able to quickly find out what’s on your client’s mind and nimbly put into action a solution.
If your client says they really want to see you and talk face to face, then now is the time to say “sure no problem, shall we Face Time, Skype, or Zoom?”. Once you do this once, your client will get comfortable with it and it shouldn’t be an issue any longer.
Find Clients Interstate, then Rinse and Repeat at Home
For me personally, taking on clients from NSW, Victoria, and Qld was a defining point in my business growth. It took away all expectations of physical meetings from day one. It allowed us to have scheduled video meetings all from the comfort of our own offices, and quickly get back to our respective tasks. The clients win, and we win. The client’s get great results and great service, and we are able to service them and produce better results due to us having more time to better serve them.
Once having the experience of these interstate clients work so well in this model, I was able to introduce the same philosophy to our local Perth based clients. I’m an hour from the CBD, and while that’s not my client’s problem, they completely appreciate that they would rather I don’t take any travel time and instead dedicate that time towards improving the product and service we deliver them.
Team Communication for Efficient and Productive Work
12 years ago we had Skype, and that served the purpose of internal communication with team members. Then about 6 years ago came along a web app called Slack, a game changer for our business. Slack is at its core an instant messaging system for work use. You have different channels, for different client projects, and have different team members in each channel dependant on who needs to be in there. 95% of our internal communication is inside Slack. It has the ability to do other really cool things to, although we’ll get into that another day.
Slack allowed our business, and at no charge, to transform overnight how we communicate with each other internally. Our client projects and the output are the winners here.
While we have phone lines, we rarely if ever use these for internal communication. With Slack, everything is logged and recorded as an archive. Nothing gets missed, forgotten, or lost.
The Future for the Remote Office
I started this business so that it would be remote for my own selfish reasons, and also taking a gamble that the rest of the world would follow suit as technology and attitudes caught on. Not for a second did I envision a pandemic virus would make the remote lifestyle what we are seeing today.
Our business while feeling some of the effects of Covid-19 is in a much better position than our more traditional peers in the industry. It’s business as normal here, and we have been able to give full focus and support to our client’s marketing accounts, as opposed to scrambling around trying to sort out our own logistics of moving to a remote workplace.
Being remote saves man-hours. It saves money. It makes money. It makes team members who come on board much more happy and efficient. It makes all within the business grateful for what we have and allows us to be dedicated to our client projects. Our clients are grateful of the product and service they receive.
Once you get your head around the remote office, you might never wish to step back in the corporate office again.