Why remote working needs more than just technology to succeed

As I write this I am half way through building a playhouse for my kids. It has evolved from something fairly simple to an ambitious creation that will provide them with a fun personal space they (we) can hang out in. This feat of architecture has been mobilised in part by: a) my children issuing threats to complete the job before Summer is over, and b) by the Vision Systems flexible working policy. 

Flexible working at Vision Systems is nothing new, in fact we like to think that considering the industry we are in, we’re way ahead of the curve. Given our close proximity to the emerging technology we use everyday and our nationwide operations, we’ve always used collaboration tools and trusted people to do their job around their lifestyle.

However, the disruption of the last couple of years has really cemented our approach to designing a policy that reflects our values as a business and takes care of our team – so we wasted no time in making it a reality. After recruiting feedback from across the business, our priorities included providing choices that would empower people to make decisions based on their needs, and ensuring we maintained our culture – a topic that remains divisive amongst organisations. 

This division often stems from a lack of trust and the inability to see the potential it offers both the business and the person; there has been a culture of clocking in and clocking out for more than a hundred years and while this visibility provides reassurance, it feels like an old fashioned notion not fit for purpose in an age governed by digital technology. 

Technology is connecting us in ways we could have never imagined 25 years ago and alongside that comes a number of challenges (and opportunities) to learn, iterate and configure the best framework for your team. Here’s a handful of my observations: 

Give people options and empower them to choose 

Don’t force stuff on people – fullstop. It is not conducive to a happy and productive workforce; everyone is different – family commitments, scuba diving and Taekwondo practice, horses to take care of (Yes, these are examples from my brilliant team!). For example, we offer several different versions of what flexible can look like to enable staff to optimise their week. They can work from home, work flexible hours or do longer days for a Friday off. Some prefer to work on a Saturday and take Wednesday off – the old world of the tradie working 7am to 4pm or 9 to 5 is gone – most people now walk three meters to their desk. 

Culture comes from within, not within four walls

I am very aware of the impact on culture when shared lunch breaks, watercooler moments and sitting round a table to map out a plan are limited by lockdowns and the advent of remote working. It often played at the back of my mind when we went into the first lockdown, but I realised the relationships that developed in an office can be developed online and safely IRL – with the right approach. For us, we considered the following: team building and collaboration. We introduced walk, talk and fork lunch dates for four people, which really helped those who felt more isolated. We hosted weekly Thursday night family quizzes doing hard lockdown and we’re considering bringing them back because they were so popular. We also organise really get-aways for our people to spend time together outside of work and in different teams – our last was an ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ experience and the feedback enabled us to plan the next one. 

Leadership needs to evolve 

I have a very hard and fast rule when hiring: I have to feel like I can trust you. As I mentioned earlier, if you cannot cultivate a culture of trust you will soon lose good people to organisations who do. Start by asking yourself what will make this a great experience? For me, being able to walk into the garden and bang nails into wood for 45 minutes is the kind of freedom I enjoy. For others it might be that their home is nearer the sea than the office and they can go for a lunchtime dip – whatever it is, acknowledge it. Studies show that productivity has increased and people are happier – remote working has removed commutes, reduced outgoings, and provided more family time, these are significant attributions when hiring great talent and creating a positive place to work. 

Enable with technology and training  

For some folks, they have worked in the office for 30 years and the sudden shift to home working may come as a rude awakening. Their life has revolved around a pattern and more often than not, shifting that mindset can be a challenge. These are huge adjustments to ask of someone who may not feel comfortable with the change: only seeing colleagues online, limited social scene or lack of confidence with technology. Provide the opportunity for training and the development of the soft skills now required to work in this new way. Not everyone came from the same school – make allowances for this and don’t judge someone because they’re struggling with Zoom or Slack. 

Finally, here’s my hot takes: 

  • Don’t over do it on the video calls – it’s exhausting and not good for your back, eyes and mental health. Consider 25 minute meetings so you’ve always got windows and ask people how long they want the meeting to take. 
  • Be present. Be both guarded and generous with your time – if you’re distracted by something, be kind and move the meeting. If you have 15 minutes with someone, give them your full attention. 
  • Remember common courtesy – often forgotten when we’re bouncing from meeting to meeting (case and point to my first tip!)
  • Want to stand out? Send a box of muffins and a round of coffees to people or clients if you have a big meeting. You’d grab a coffee with them anyway – but this makes you distinct. 
  • I haven’t worn a suit in months – but I still look casual-professional. 
  • Look at tools that will enhance your culture and collaboration. We use Slack, Zoom, Teams and Whatsapp. 

Sound like the kind of culture and team that you’d like to be a part of? We’re always on the lookout for our next Vision Systems superstars to join the team! If you’re ready for a new challenge, reach out – we’d love to hear from you.

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