If you’re one of those lucky workers out there who has found a place that suits you, whether it be in-office, remote or a hybrid of the two, congratulations! Having a place that you feel productive, content and comfortable can allow your talents to flourish and let you be your best is not always easy to accomplish.
I’ve operated my remote support agency for nearly 18 years. It took me a while to get used to working from an office set up in my personal space. I did eventually get used to a concept called ‘boundaries’ and now I wouldn’t work anywhere else. I’m the most productive in a quiet environment with no distractions. But that’s me; you will likely have a much different set of working environment needs than I do. And that is totally okay.
Having to live with a global pandemic these past almost two years has forced everyone to re-examine how and where work is completed. We’ve had to go that extra step and actually ask employees (rather than presume) what environment would help them be the most productive in their job. We’ve had to cross the line between a person’s personal needs and their work needs, and instead of saying in the interview ‘this is what you’re required to do, when and where’, we now ask in the interview, ‘what environment are you able to provide these deliverables?’ In this article, let’s look at the good, the not so bad and the manageable side of being a remote worker.
Forcing everyone to work remotely, especially last year, has helped us learn more about ourselves and what working environment we thrive in; doing so has also shown us what working environment we do not thrive in. This in itself is a great learning point and also shifts the relationship between employer and employee; just by asking what would help their employee get through their workday and by putting a telework agreement in place, tells the employee that their employer trusts them to complete their work, without being monitored. This alone can be a much-needed motivation boost. The remote worker may feel a sense of ownership and pride in their work knowing that they are in control, leading to a boost in productivity. Productivity can also result from the ability to work at a flexible schedule, taking advantage of more productive periods of the day rather than being in an office from 9 to 5 and being ‘on’ all the time. More ‘points’ scored there!
Some remote workers find they have a better sense of well-being with no commute to provide an extra source of stress, eating home-made lunches instead of office take-out and perhaps taking some of the old commute time and turning it into a work-out or walk. Even more points!
The Not So Bad
If working remotely suits you, as with any job, you need to be prepared. This includes making sure you have the proper tools to be a productive, content and comfortable worker. Working in a traditional office comes with many things that the worker is not responsible for providing, so it is important to understand what you will provide. For example, you may have a desk and chair at home somewhere, high speed Internet and some software. You need to ask what your employer will provide at their cost or pay you for, e.g. they may now reimburse your monthly Internet bill.
For all of these wonderful benefits of being a remote worker, there are some pitfalls that are important to address. While technology issues and a shortage of physical supplies or equipment may prove challenging, the solution for these is a simple fix, purchase or pick up from the office. However, there are some challenges that take a little bit more work and a little more effort to start some good remote worker habits.
Managing procrastination, distraction and time are key to get you in the best situation to be successful. Yes, it is true that these are also needed in the traditional office, but these things are even more important when you’re working remotely. Working in a traditional office when distracted or under the curse of procrastination can be managed easily as there are other people around you still working which can give you that little extra push to get back on track, but when you’re alone this is more of a challenge.
Either way, creating work habits that are conducive to getting the job done but leaving it when the work-day is over is incredibly important in being a successful remote worker. Consider having a closed office, letting family and friends know your work schedule (a.k.a. those ‘boundaries’), and having a good pair of headphones to cut down on noise will all help.
It’s likely that the time between work and home have now blended together, so leaving the home tasks for after work and leaving the work when it is time to take care of personal tasks can help (and stick to it!). For more ideas on dealing with distraction, flex-jobs has a quick list of solutions.
It’s inevitable. Change will happen whether you are expecting it, or not, in your personal lives, in society and in the workplace. Generally speaking, when we expect a change, it is more manageable to deal with and depending on what it is, it can be a good thing. Unexpected change is the one that takes a little more effort to get through as it may require a re-adaption to processes, environments and people around us.
So, what are some things we can do to manage unexpected change? We can’t plan for it. Forbes Magazine touches on a few methods to deal with change in the workplace, such as preparation calming fears, letting go of perfection, and so on.
Take a look at the situation objectively, removing thoughts that these changes are directed toward you.
Think of the potential that can grow from this change. Think positively about the “surprise”.
Keep up to date those things that have not changed by continuing to take care of yourself and maintaining your routines.
When change happens, it might be wise to take a look at the entire situation from an objective standpoint. Instead of focusing on how this is affecting you as an individual, take a look at the big picture. Was it perhaps necessary from an organization standpoint for your workplace to change in order to keep up with a changing industry? Are there redundancies your employer is trying to work with? At times, we may look at changes at work and think “What did I do to deserve this?”, but in fact it may not have been something you did or didn’t do, but something that just happens in the course of running an enterprise. No, it is not pretty and sometimes human beings have to make difficult decisions.
Consider that the changes at work are an open door to something new. Although change may be scary and it may not always be easy to flip around a negative impression already established, it may be needed to help you move forward. The opportunity to grow can found by moving past fears you may have about the change to come and making a decision that this change is going to be good. Maybe there is an opportunity to learn a new skill within your job as a result of this change, or maybe the new skills can be learned in leaving this job for another one. Either way this can be an opportunity to further develop your skillset and knowledge. If you are leaving to find a new opportunity, what you have learned in this job can help you determine the things you like or may not like in going to the next job.
During a time of work change it is very important to keep up with personal care and maintaining your regular routines. You might think “Well I’m not going into work so why should I bother getting up early?” Maintaining your schedule and using the time that would have been at work doing something productive can help stave off negative feelings and allow you to keep a sense of consistency during a time that may be anything but consistent. Regardless of the situation, stay strong and forge on to a better path carved out for you by change.
In order to break down the bigger picture of outsourcing your business tasks to a remote resource, let’s have a look at some of the ways to get started on the “how” of outsourcing (rather than the why, when or the where).
Starting with the basics, have a look at your business tasks and processes first, and look at your personal strengths and values (and be honest about it!) Ask people you know for feedback about you as a person. What do they think you are really good at? What things aren’t you so good at? Make a list and go from there, being brutally honest with yourself. Look closely at your list on paper – the pluses and the minuses – and determine what makes sense for you to do, and what is reasonable for someone else to take care of; it might be an ‘us and them’ kind of thing. Every business is different, so the first key to effective outsourcing is to identify exactly what you need.
Along with your ‘us and them’ list, start brainstorming and list all the things you will do to build your business once you have all that extra time that comes with outsourcing.
Recognize that outsourcing is a process that takes time and planning. It’s your business, and it’s your responsibility to ensure things are done and done right. Plan for your needs, tell people what challenges you might be having, always be on the lookout for exceptional people through your circles and networks and ask for referrals. Don’t discount family and friends, either, if you are comfortable having that kind of relationship with those closest to you; not everyone is so inclined! Take the time you need to find the right people for the right work. Hire slowly, fire quickly.
The number one caveat in all of this is to remember that outsourcing is not a “set it and forget it” way of getting things done. Dropping a task list in someone else’s lap and saying “Here, you do it!” is essentially business suicide.
The key to success is finding the right balance and developing a trusting relationship between you and the resource. It’s a very fine balance, too, and one that requires finesse and management. If you micro-manage your resource, they’re going to either quit because they don’t want you constantly in their face, or they won’t take initiative to get things done without your input. If you take a hands-off approach, and leave them on their own without checking in regularly, you’re setting yourself up for disaster, with tasks done wrong, a disregard for your timelines for completion or, worse still, tasks just aren’t getting done at all. All of these scenarios translate into spending more time that you don’t have, defeating the purpose from the outset. It pays to plan ahead and spend a bit of extra time finding the balance that allows you to delineate what they’re responsible for and what you’re responsible for, and also allows for how your remote resource likes to work and how they like to check in.
It’s your business and you’re responsible for managing the resources who work for you. Keep in mind that if you micro-manage your resources for fear of not being in control, you will miss the whole point of outsourcing. Commit to regularly checking in with your remote worker. You want to make sure they are doing the work as explained to them, identifying any challenges they might have, and ensuring that they understand that they’re expected to 1) report their progress to you, and 2) immediately let you know of any problems that arise.
If things aren’t going as smoothly as would be ideal, step back and ask yourself if you’re the bottleneck. Many business owners feel a commitment to their business much like a parent’s to a baby. They gave birth to the idea that grew into the business, they have all the business knowledge in their head and they have a need to do it all to ensure it gets done right. For someone like that, it’s very hard to let go and delegate
Having all the knowledge is critical; however, it’s smarter to get out of your own way and delegate the back office tasks so that your business can thrive and grow with you at the helm. By using remote support, your time will be freed up so that you can focus on high-growth activities effectively and get on with growing your business. It’s really more about mindset than it is about logistics.
One of the first things to do when talking about outsourcing to a remote worker is to state your expectations and requirements clearly from the outset and don’t assume anything. This holds true whether you’re hiring a Virtual CFO or a teenager to cut your lawn. The resource doesn’t know what you know and they are also looking at the task from a different perspective than you are. Opening conversations with a potential resource to identify deliverables is essential.
Have an open and frank conversation about what each of you expects in that relationship. Be clear in knowing how they operate, what their reporting style is, how they like to work, where they work, in a remote support setting. Remote resources can work anywhere, from a fully kitted out office in their house or from a dining room table. You really have to get into how they operate and what makes them productive and the circumstances that allow them to thrive in being productive.
The other thing to remember, in that open conversation, is that the resource doesn’t know what you know, as a business owner. Therefore, they’re looking at the tasks from different perspectives than you are. For example, as a business owner, you may know how an audit works. If the resource you’re hiring is going to do the bookkeeping, they may live for numbers and do their bookkeeping at lightning speed. However, if they haven’t experienced going through an audit, they’re looking at the bookkeeping from a different perspective and wouldn’t pick up on things an auditor would notice. This holds true whether you’re hiring someone to do your bookkeeping or someone to cut your lawn.
Ensuring expectations are clear begins with an open conversation that results in the business owner drawing up a specific contract that outlines exactly what was talked about and what the performance metrics are. The contract must outline exactly what is expected – remuneration, terms and conditions, confidentiality, security, who’s going to provide what – and will be as detailed as possible. Both parties can then carefully review and sign the contract before work begins. (It’s a good idea to have all business contracts reviewed by your lawyer.)
In this time of instant gratification, managing our frustrations when things don’t go smoothly is important, so get prepared and be patient!
Allow yourself – and your resource – time to transition. Letting go of tasks that you have always done yourself is not merely a matter of handing over a to-do list and walking away. A time investment by the business owner is essential for providing insight to the remote worker as to how things are to be done, as well as the time frame for completion. This can be as simple as open dialogue or a conference call with all stakeholders to discuss how and when transition is to take place, scheduling, etc. Once the handover is complete, let go and trust that all will be well.
If you have provided clear instructions (and it’s your job to do so), there should be no problems.
Be prepared for a learning curve on the part of the resource. Be patient and, with time, they will find their groove and you can let go of the task completely. Manage success by checking in at periodic and scheduled intervals.
The bottom line? It’s still all about relationships. The key to successful business is building and maintaining relationships in every facet of your operations. An absolute must for business owners is to network to build relationships and gain referrals. The same can be said for building relationships with outsourced suppliers: getting the right team in place, at the right time and for the right reason creates winning relationships and goodwill all around.
Keep these last few tips top-of-mind:
The lowest priced outsourced solution may not be the best; good people cost money and beware that even these days, you still get what you pay for.
Don’t outsource a task just because you don’t want to do it! There will be tasks that only you can do because they’re important to operations and your strategic plan.
Always strike a fair deal with your resources and treat them with respect. You’re relying on them to handle important tasks for you and your business so don’t take advantage of them.
These are unprecedented times we’re living in and with that comes uncertainty. With what has been coined “the new normal”, more people have found themselves working from home, and some are finding it increasingly challenging. Non-profits and associations are finding this new way of working challenging also because when you’re ‘being virtual’ it’s difficult to be in front of your donors and members with why they should contribute or why they need to continue to be a member.
In my 17 years of providing remote support to non-profits and associations, I’ve seen many changes and upheavals in the past year because of the pandemic. For me and my team, not much has changed operationally and because we operate the way we do, we were able to provide advice to our clients to help them change and adapt their operations helped them work remotely. The interesting thing is that because they were up and running again quickly, they were able to focus on new ways to stay in front of their donors and members. I have stepped back from time to time amid all the ‘chaos’ and thought, ‘aren’t we lucky that we have the technology to manage everything we need to manage? ‘
There is always a human side to that ‘remoteness’ regardless of what sector your organization is in. In my view, we really do need to take care of ourselves in these times of upheaval and uncertainty. We need to stay in top form so that we can help others around us but also to be more resilient to change. Take care of you. You’re important.