For the last 3 years I have worked remotely from my team, and in fact, my team members have largely worked remotely from each other and our clients. We have team members spread across the country and even located internationally.
For an organisation that provides advisory services in the real estate sector this can be viewed with some scepticism; how can this possibly work when 'client centricity' is the name of the game?
Contrary to popular belief, we found that our team not only worked well together but actually prospered. Over the last three years the Savills Advisory team has:
- Doubled in size
- Achieved major financial targets
- Received many client endorsements and references
- And, not one person has resigned or left the team (one fact that I'm particularly proud of)
What is ‘connectivity?’
Many would suggest that technology allows people to work remotely. This is true but not the whole answer. Allowing a team to connect with each other and their clients is critically important, but the true meaning of 'connection' needs further explanation.
Not only should staff who work remotely have access to an appropriate technology platform, it’s essential to provide them with a sense of purpose too. Without the usual daily connections that many of us experience in the workplace, a team working from a number of differing and remote locations need to feel as if they are contributing to something other than the 'bottom line'. This is true of most organisations, but especially relevant for teams and organisations scattered across the country.
Establishing a sense of purpose is no easy exercise and many organisations, both large and small, struggle to answer the question... why do we exist?
How to improve performance
On a practical level, there are a number of measures that can be implemented to improve the connectedness and performance of a team working remotely. Here are my top tips:
- Establish clear expectations - Whether communicating with a new team member or a new client, it’s critical to establish clear expectations for all parties concerned from the outset. I have generally found clients very supportive and often interested by the way in which we work. Rather than see this as a negative, most clients will embrace our method of working and adapt their communication protocols to integrate with our own. As an example, this might mean replacing face-to-face project and team meetings with video conferences.
- Pick up the phone - Our first reaction is often to text or to email. Instead of responding as we would typically, it is better to pick up the phone to respond to a question or initiate a conversation.
- Hold regular team meetings via video conference - Most teams need to connect, share ideas and discuss challenges. The only difference with us is that we use technology to support our team meetings, which are held at least once every two weeks.
- Gather to celebrate - As a team, we only get together three to four times a year. Each time, the focus is not work but to celebrate our successes and enjoy each other's company.
- Get personal - I'm often asked about where I work, and in response, I recently circulated some images of my home and workplace to my team. In turn, others followed suit. Sharing something personal or bringing part of your private life to work (even in a virtual environment) is important as it allows your team to connect with greater meaning.
- Be prepared to move - There may be times when a client will demand a face-to-face meeting. Rather than avoiding such meetings, I would recommend that you move quickly and make every effort to meet with your client at a time of their choosing. Having said that, I can count the number of times on one hand that this has occurred to me during the last three years.
- Trust your team - The most important tip that I have is that you must trust your team to do the right thing. If expectations are clear and you impart a high level of trust, you'll be surprised by the team and individual responses. As with most initiatives, there have been some unintended consequences. One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is around how you can control and maintain high levels of productivity when you have no visual and very limited physical contact with the team. The reality is quite the reverse. By trusting my team members, giving them greater levels of autonomy and by simply letting go, I'm finding that my concern relates to the team over-working rather than not working.
By offering the team greater levels of flexibility in the way they work and when they work, we have been able to retain and attract exceptional people that would not have stayed or considered our business in the first place.
So, if you are approached by a team member or a potential employee about the prospect of working remotely, jump at the opportunity... you won’t be disappointed!