How to build a flexible quasi-remote workplace

woman working from home, facing a computer where an online meeting is occurring

In a post‑lockdown world, the term flexibility is more than just another buzzword.

It is a valuable, and arguably inevitable, part of modern business that can be a decisive factor in employee happiness. To varying degrees, COVID‑19 has shown that businesses can start to accommodate for flexibility, regardless of their size.

But the benefits of flexible working go beyond the obvious wellbeing and lifestyle factors.

For businesses … offering flexibility can lead to increased retention, productivity and business growth.

For an employee … working for a business that offers flexibility has been shown to instil a sense of empowerment and ownership.

In small to medium‑sized businesses, offering staff flexibility might present a unique set of hurdles. Without HR departments and large budgets, SMEs might approach setting up a quasi‑remote workplace with caution.

The first step?

Take some time to plan how your business can offer employee flexibility.

Here is how to define boundaries, systems and new patterns of workflow to gain flexibility in your workplace.

1. Create guidelines on what you can offer

Outline rules and boundaries. It all comes down to what is ultimately going to work best for your business. Look at your business structure and overall staff workload. Then work out what actually needs to be site‑specific, and go from there.

For example, if you need to have definite in‑office days, work out which days work best for your business requirements. If it’s a roster system, plan it out in advance and run it by your staff. If you leave the decision up to your staff, ensure you clearly communicate this and their location is documented so you know where to expect them.

2. Ensure your staff have a practical home setup

Regardless of the setting, well‑equipped workspaces can create a stable environment and encourage productivity and organisation. While you can’t visit your employees’ homes and start interior designing, you can invest in flexible infrastructure.

For example, you can purchase staff laptops instead of desktop computers, and choose a cloud‑based file system to enable employees to easily move between the office and their home space.

Here are some other options for improving work from home environments:

  • Supply office chairs and branded materials such as notebooks or calendars.
  • Offer certain equipment to employees to take home.
  • Create digital assets such as Zoom backgrounds to ensure employees are comfortable joining video calls.

3. Set up a routine of team contact

Clear lines of communication will ensure a seamless transition. Depending on what guidelines you set up, you want to ensure a communication routine is in place that is helpful to your employees no matter where they are.

It could be as simple as setting up morning meetings via a video link that is embedded in everyone’s daily calendar invite. Wherever they are, whether it’s at home or in the office, jump on daily, or weekly, and chat through priorities.

If your business is particularly collaborative, invest in corporate technology such as a workplace video conferencing camera. This will allow you to host standup morning meetings or whiteboard meetings without the dodgy internet.

Outside of planning and task lists, consider cultural catch‑ups such as regular group stretch sessions and a quick catchup to find out how everyone is going with their day.

4. Implement instant communication outside of email

Whether you’re in‑office or working from home, there’s no denying that email anxiety is a thing. In today’s fast‑paced work environment, it’s not necessary or practical to run internal communications via email. At the same time, running a quasi‑remote business via phone calls can disrupt focused work.

Find a communication tool that works best for you. Slack or Whatsapp are a great way to communicate on the go. If you are using a project platform, integrate a chat system or try out Hassl, which has a built-in chat feature. Set up project and/or team group chats to make sure everyone’s still in the loop without any cc‑ing. If you work with external stakeholders such as consultants or clients, consider onboarding them onto the tool to remove even more non‑critical communication from your inbox.

You’d be surprised how much more efficient a great chat system makes your workflow.

5. Measure productivity, in‑person or online

Find ways to measure productivity to ensure consistency and allow you to see what’s working and what’s not. Let your staff know this is necessary for both the business and themselves to ensure that there is 2‑way trust and accountability.

Here are a few ways to check in on productivity:

  • Regular one‑on‑one catchups with your team to talk over their workloads – a safe space where staff can voice any concerns, whether they are in the office or working remotely
  • A time tracking tool or feature – this time tracking feature provides managers with an overview of each team member’s capacity week to week
  • A timesheet tool such as Deputy where staff log their hours at the end of every week.

Remember this isn’t about micromanaging. Instead the purpose is to make sure no one is overworked or unaware of their priorities in this new quasi‑remote environment.

6. Understand the limits of your business

A combination of new cloud‑based tools, COVID‑19 and employee expectations have led to a reinvention in how we all work.

This is really exciting.

But at the same time there are boundaries that need to be set. As a business owner or employer you may find that over time, in‑person works better for certain tasks or projects.

Take time to regularly check in on the health of the business and reflect on how your new quasi‑workplace is affecting your bottom line and business growth. A great way to do this is to measure a baseline of business growth or stability before launching your flexibility guidelines and comparing this on a quarterly basis.

7. Don’t forget culture

In a quasi‑workplace, treat your business culture with more importance than ever. If you’re running a business online or partly in‑person, ensure that everyone benefits from some form of team environment.

Here are some ideas:

  • Host regular in‑person team events and revisit your shared vision and values collectively.
  • Supplement formal team building and goal setting with a social calendar run by employees – think lawn bowls, gallery visits, team lunches and group exercise.

Culture will ensure you engage your staff with the business and each other no matter the physical working arrangements.

No matter how much flexibility you decide to offer in your business, taking the time to set your team up for success will ensure your employees can positively benefit from flexibility while your business continues to thrive.

Lauren Crystal

Managing Director | Hassl

Lauren Crystal is the Managing Director of award-winning agency Your Creative and co-founder of the project collaboration tool Hassl, a web and mobile app that lets you manage your projects, files and communications from one platform. Hassl, chosen as Forbes Under 30 Summit’s ‘Ideas of the Year’ as well as 2019 Google startup participant, offers a simple way to manage teams remotely.

Lauren is a prominent speaker on creative growth strategies and team productivity, most notably speaking at Pausefest Summit, Property Council and TEDx Melbourne.