The basics of building a hybrid or remote company

The basics of building a hybrid or remote company

Creating or transforming your business into a hybrid or remote setup can seem daunting, but for those businesses which are able to make the switch, it can be very fruitful.

For most business owners their understanding of remote or hybrid work was quickly forged during the pandemic when it was largely enforced upon them overnight. As lockdowns were mandated, businesses rushed to align to the new normal. Laptops were requisitioned, Zoom subscriptions purchased and staff began what would turn out to be a generationally defining period of home working. It was a confusing time of working out new protocols, new ways of working - and it was all done in a rush with an ever-present fog of instability and worry. Would your business survive. Would the market stabilize. Would everyone be safe.

The majority of businesses who adopted remote working had never considered it as a possibility before, had not considered how it could work, nor had the time or resources to plan out the details. Remote working was implemented overnight with little support, relying on general good will and the hope that the levels of change being inflicted on everyone could be absorbed and somehow managed. You grabbed what you could from the office, got home and began to work out what your new day-to-day looked like. Sweatpants. Home-schooling. General exhaustion.

As the pandemic played out, many businesses were forced to remained remote focused, and now three years after the initial lockdown panic, many businesses are still finding themselves supporting remote or hybrid workers. Some abandoned their office spaces to save money. Some hired nationally, and now have employees they've never physically met in places they'd never heard off, less visited. Some have found that getting employees back to the office has been harder than they thought. Others have found that hiring for in-person office based roles to be harder than remote roles, and that the people side of their business has changed definitively.

While remote is, for many small businesses, not a possibility given site-specific physical requirements like warehousing, manufacturing, engineering, retail sales and hospitality, the reality is that remote and hybrid work is here to stay, in some capacity, for everyone else.

Running a remote or hybrid work business is no more difficult that running a site-specific company. But it is a change, and like any change, there is a period of transition that can be hard. Change though, as we all know, can be hugely positive and change is inevitable when growing a successful business.

So if you're considering starting a remote or hybrid business, or find yourself running a business with remote or hybrid elements, it's important to look at the underlying foundations of what makes remote and hybrid work culture possible, and how those can be leveraged across your business to make this new normal an opportunity for growth, rather than something to be endured.

Hybrid is remote. Remote is hybrid.

You may have decided that your employees can choose where they they work. Or you may have mandated that they come into an office space two days per week. In reality it doesn't matter. However you define it, your employees are remote and you have to treat them as remote employees. If someone does any significant amount of work away from the office, and relies on context and communication to do that work - they are remote. So the quicker you treat everyone as remote and forget the subtle differences - the better things will be.

Communication, communication, communication.

To run a successful business you have to communicate, and it's no surprise that for nearly every business that found itself working from home, communication tools were the first thing to be bought and coordinated. But tools are just that - tools. Without processes, tools are largely ineffectual and at worst can be actively damaging. For many businesses, adopting Zoom was a great start in creating all-access communications, but Zoom also made it easy for us to fall into our old ways of working - but using new shiny tools. If you kept the same meeting cadences and agendas, if you just carbon copied your old ways of working into home working, then you may have missed a huge opportunity to reconsider how your business could leverage real change at a foundational level to increase efficiency in communications and empower those in your business.

The one basic rule of remote communications is - context is king.

You’re not always going to be sitting next to each other  in the same office at the same time and those not there will need to be looped in. Begin by treating any significant offline, in person conversation, as a sort of taboo  -  ask yourself if any element of the conversation you are having is critical for anyone else and their understanding of a problem, task or role.

The worst phrase you can hear uttered in a remote business is ‘I wasn’t aware of that’. People being unaware of critical information (even if you don’t consider it critical at the time!) is incredibly dis-empowering and quickly causes silos which inevitably devolve into high school cliques, and before you know it you have different groups of people with different levels of knowledge, rumours begin to circulate and then...he-said, she-said, they-said. Your role as the business owner is always to prevent that from happening. You're now chief communication officer, head of rumour control and the lead facilitator of knowledge. The more transparent you make your company wide communications, the more accessible you make knowledge in your company, the more efficient it will be. And while this might sound like a huge mind-shift, it has incredible benefits. If everyone has access to knowledge then staff sickness won't slow things down. Maternity and parental leave won't cause knowledge gaps and the need for intensive 'hand-overs'. Staff leaving doesn't have to cause a mad panic. Maybe you can finally take a holiday and not come back to complete chaos.

Making knowledge accessible isn't about having endless Zoom meetings. It's about creating documentation and having routines based around knowledge transfer. It's about creating clarity in the documents we create, and learning how to make them easier to digest, understand and use. It's about creating a way of working that adheres to a simple plan and a process that is universally agreed to and consistently deployed.

In making these plans, documents and processes, we have a great opportunity to look at how we can make them work for everyone and, by proxy, more efficient. Some people learn better through reading, others through meetings. Some never ask questions in person, but are inquisitive when using instant messaging services like Slack or Teams. The best way to discover the best ways of working in your company is to get everyone together and work towards a group solution. We're so good at solving problems for customers, isn't it time we solved our own company problems in the same way?

It's not just about people 'working from home'.

Let's get that phrase out of the way right now. It's not about where people work, it's about how they work. If you equate 'home' with 'lazy', then this will be the biggest issue you have in defining your companies future and you urgently need to consider how trust works in your business. Remote working is, in reality, a way of working that respects peoples choice of environment, cadence and personality. While there are many who work 'remote' from a home office and shun a long commute and higher house prices, there are an equal number who work in co-work spaces, with partners or friends, alongside other mixed discipline colleagues, or simply tour between clients and offices. You don't have to all work from the same office to benefit from amazing things like top talent sourcing, quick scaleability, simple holiday / sick day logistics, open knowledge sharing, diverse culture, hyper flexible working hours, clearly defined goals, plans and documentation.

We recently published a guide to remote hiring that looks into what benefits there are for the people in your business, and why remote work is increasingly being sought out and requested by those looking for new roles.

Understand asynchronous and synchronous working.

Today's customers and clients have big expectations when it comes to service. As more businesses move towards remote working, they're able to hire in different timezones, extending their ability to support customers and clients beyond the typical 9 to 5. As this becomes more normal, expectations increase. Beyond support, businesses are hiring key talent in different markets, giving them access to more skillsets at better prices. To make all of this a reality, business owners have to focus on making the knowledge in their business accessible, and part of this is working out the split between asynchronous and synchronous working.

Asynchronous working is where someone can do their job by never having to communicate 'real-time' with someone else in their organization. They check their to-do list, read the up-to-date documentation, grab the resources they need, and then get the job done. Synchronous working is where someone can only do their job when everyone else is online or around. They have to ask what to do, they have to wait on others to supply context and send them amended documentation, their fellow employees are their resources, and they can only get the job done when they're around to help them. Every business will need a blend of asynchronous and synchronous working. While asynchronous is clearly more efficient, it creates a huge overhead in creating internal knowledge resources, and it can feel like that employee is never connected to the company and its people. Culturally, synchronous working means you're forced into close working relationships with your coworkers and teams, but it can prevent an employee working more flexibly and more efficiently leading to frustration.

Finding the right mix of asynchronous and synchronous is crucial to developing the right remote culture for your business, and typically the best remote cultures orientate towards more asynchronous than synchronous. Working with your employees to strike that balance based on their needs is always the best approach.

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Rob Boynes is the Co-Founder of huumans

What is huumans?
A smart, cost-effective bookkeeping service designed specifically for small business owners, huumans provides same or next business day support, guaranteed weekly reconciliation and fixed, transparent monthly pricing. Your business numbers, directly calculated from your constantly reconciled accounts, are presented in a free, easy-to-understand, on-demand, shareable dashboard - and like your billing, it can be managed online whenever you find it convenient. Offering the most cost effective small business managed payroll services in Canada, we also provide specialized discounts for startups and new businesses, along with dedicated solutions for franchises.