Remote working has become more and more popular in big and small teams alike.
As Buffer and other tech startups have fully embraced the flexible working lifestyle, here at the HBC we too welcome it and embrace it fully.
Being bound to your desk more than 39 hours a week at work also means you’re more likely to develop mental health problems (according to research from the Australian National University).
People like the hacker and entrepreneur Tim Ferris have been praising flexible working for over 10 years (check out his awesome book 4 Hour Work Week for more on that).
If you yourself are feeling the need to be flexible in your work life, why would you keep your staff confined in the 9-to-5 conundrum?
Below we have five examples of boss ladies who embraced alternative team structures and what they learnt in the process.
Phoebe Greenacre — co-founder of Silou London
I am the co founder of Silou — a London-based activewear brand — a yoga teacher, and creator of Wood and luxe. I run the day to day operations of all three businesses while travelling around the world.
My business partner for Silou is based between London, Latvia and Miami, my marketing assistant is based in London, my designer is based in NYC, our brand team is in Australia and our manufacturers are based in Lithuania. It can get a little hectic at times!
It’s not a perfect system, and things could run smoother, but the structure currently allows us to each be location independent, yet integrated as a team. I think if companies and brands don’t allow for a flexible working arrangements and location independency, they are going to lose out on good talent.
Time zones and communication have been my main obstacle — when you’re dealing with that many locations, of course it will be an issue. When our team is never in the same place at once, it can slow down decision making processes and creates more room for error. Also sharing the same vision is hard when we have little or no face time. Language barriers with our manufacturers also gives me quite a headache, so practising patience also comes in handy.
Touching base daily with emails and phone calls helps to keep the team in check and fosters good working relationships. We also work across online document sharing platforms like Google Drive and have one online to-do list called Wunderlist that we use to collaborate on tasks and projects. I’m very open to new ideas, so each week we find new ways to streamline processes and work better as a team.
Ina Plesca — Founder of My Mantra Active
I am the founder and owner of My Mantra & I run everything myself. I do have a team of nomads based online who help me to do little things in between — like a few photographers around the world, a designer in New York, a social media manager and a member of the team who deals with despatch and returns.
I work remotely from around the world as I travel with my second brand newhorizonescapes and this way I can manage My Mantra solely online. I have planned all along to create a brand that will allow me to work from an internet connection and I love it. Running a team online has its ups and downs but ultimately it’s all worth it.
Communication and vision I’d say are the two main things I’ve struggled to pass on to my team, especially the social media manager. I used to let her choose the content that she put out there. I trialled her for two months and tried to explain my vision but she just never got it.
So in the end I had to schedule Instagram posts myself and she would then spread the content out onto the remaining social channels. Where there’s a will there’s a way!
I had to step back into it and take a part of the task on myself again. It’s hard when someone doesn’t get your vision. There are two ways of dealing with it — you either fire them or take on the easiest task that they struggle with and do it yourself.
This way of working simplifies my life and gives me less grey hairs! When it comes to social media I’m such a perfectionist. So by approaching matters this way, I can still put my vision in there, but without spending endless hours in front of a computer.
Jen Wittman — founder of Mindful Mavericks
My husband and I are both the head of our team for all of our businesses. We run a successful thyroid and autoimmune wellness business, a direct-sales lead generation business, a real estate business and a business strategy service. We both hire for our team and are the project managers for all our projects.
My husband and I both run the operations, however he is in charge of the infrastructure behind-the-scenes and I’m in charge of representing our brands and coaching. As our team is small, everyone else is in charge of implementing projects within their domain — graphic design, website design, marketing, and administrative assistance.
Communication has been one of the main challenges in the past; making sure my husband and I have communicated project details with each other before issuing tasks to our team.
Before we streamlined our system, we were sometimes both giving different instructions to our team which wasn’t efficient and was very frustrating to our team members.
Using a shared system to organise our projects with our team has increased productivity and efficiency, cut down on miscommunications, and decreased confusion and frustration for us all.
We started using Basecamp and that has done wonders for us. Basecamp allows us to communicate projects tasks in one place, to track our work and keeps us all on the same page.
Katherine Creighton Crook — Founder and Principal Therapist
We are made up of six therapists in total – myself, 4 other massage therapists, a reflexologist, and one part-time virtual assistant.
One of the main obstacles when it comes to a big team can be communication – the majority of our communication is in text, whether via slack, email, or text message, and tone can easily get lost in translation.
We all have different schedules, as most of the therapists also work in other roles, some at other clinics and some at other office or freelance jobs, so getting everyone together can be difficult as well. In addition, one of our team has a new baby, while I have two (6 and 3) myself, which we try to be supportive of as well.
Also, not working together face to face, it can be hard for new team members to get a feel for the culture at the clinic easily, or develop the relationship that makes it easier to deal with conflict or misunderstandings that inevitably come up when working with other humans.
One of the things I implemented in the past year is an on-boarding email series for new therapists when they join us. It introduces new team members to the software we use, our operations manual, and outlines (in a friendly way) how we work together and what our expectations are, including our clinic’s mission and values.
I’ve found that every individual comes into a new role with a different experience or ideas about what’s normal, and the biggest mistake is that what’s ‘common sense’ to you isn’t common to everyone. By having an on-boarding sequence (which they keep for future reference) they get a sense of how we work BEFORE we run into problems due to differing expectations.
Another thing that helps is having an in-person team meeting once a month for the therapists, and a fortnightly skype call with the VA. The team meeting is mainly for professional development (we always include some sort of training for the team) but it also allows us to build a relationship that comes from spending time together.
With regards to childcare, when my two were younger (babies) I would bring them along to the team meetings as much as possible, and I encourage our team member with a baby to do the same. Sometimes I’ll still bring my little ones to team meetings where they’ll be able to sit and colour. Realistically, there are some times where it’s not a good idea to have little ones with us. Most of the time, it’s not an issue, and I like that we can support our team members with little ones.
I also encourage the team to swap sessions with each other, both to build skills as well as building that relationship. We have a slack channel especially where therapists can come in and share good outcomes of clients, or where they have a question.
The on-boarding sequence seems to help give new team members a sense of place when they first join us, and has cut down on the number of teething pains we get.
The on-boarding includes a tour of the online operations manual we use, which cuts down on a lot of back and forth with questions, as they can easily find answers to most of the questions that come up as they’re settling in.
Despite not seeing each other every day, the communication channels we have in place foster a real sense of community and support in the team. Therapists have told me they’ve had a difficult time finding this sense of team and community in other clinics, which is understandable given the fractured nature of clinic work.
Lastly, by communicating our values very clearly, in our team meetings, in our ops manual, and in our on-boarding sequence, I find the majority of mistakes are in line with our values (i.e., err on the side of our client). These mistakes are a lot easier to fix.
Serena Oppenheim, Founder
The Good Zing team is made up of various consultants with hugely different skill sets, based around the world, from London to New York. Good Zing is a platform, like Yelp or TripAdvisor but for finding and sharing everyday health tips.
I am the founder of the company and work three days a week in a London office and two days from home or in meetings across the city. In the days I am in the office, we have a team varying from Creative Director to our digital marketing advisors and different interns. The structure is informal with everyone ultimately reporting to me.
There are two main obstacles we are currently facing: the first is time, and the second is keeping everyone on track with a similar vision and communication.
With everyone having different time commitments to the company – from other jobs, family commitments, days they can work and so on – trying to project manage the team members and their different skills so that the work ties in together has been a great learning experience. The second part of the time issue is people working from different time zones. For example, both of our developers are based in the East Coast, with constant travel across the US. This means you are coordinating between a +5 and +8 hour time zone. Trying to organise calls and get quick urgent work done can be extremely challenging. For example, a lot of our developers’ work is done over the weekend or late at night. This means that if they have questions it might be 4am in the UK and so I cannot respond as quickly as they need.
Before we started working out of one office for a few days a week this was a real issue. Now, sitting together, even if it’s only one or two days a week means that people understand people’s issues (such as a tech feature problem, or a new topic being put out). However, as our developers are not in the same country, this is still a very hard issue and one we are struggling to solve.
One of the positive key things has been flexibility for everyone. If for example, people need to move around the three days in the office to fit their other job/family commitments – everyone tries to shift things around to ensure that there is a least two or three days where we are all together in the office.
We recently implemented a weekly Monday morning meeting to go through content, plans for the week, issues that came up the previous week and much more.
This has made a huge different to ensure that everyone is on board with the same vision and it has also minimised miscommunication. If someone can’t make the meeting physically, they dial in or get an update from someone who was there.
With regard to the developers’ work – we know what needs to be done to solve that problem, which is find UK developers. However, due to the great work and relationship we have with our developers this is a problem which is not going to go away.
The culture I wanted to create at Good Zing was always one of flexibility and family coming first. As a bootstrapped company, this flexibility has meant that people can join the team before that might not have been able to.
In addition, this has created a better quality of life for the team – being able to attend a family christening in the morning or visit an ill family member for a few hours in the day for example, gives a sense whereby you don’t feel like you’re sacrificing one thing for another.