Remote Working – Does It Work?

6 April 2020. Thoughts in Industry by

Our Boss Doesn’t Believe It Can Work for a Creative Agency – We Hope to Prove Him Wrong  

Coronavirus has forced many governments worldwide to put in place a shutdown to ensure that the virus does not spread any further. In South Africa, the national lockdown is in full swing, and many of us are working from home. It has been found that social distancing and self-isolation can go a very long way in flattening the curve, i.e. minimising the spread of coronavirus. The virus is spreading rapidly in South Africa and many countries around the world, which has necessitated remote working. Many companies have had to rethink their stance, and even policies, on remote working. Some businesses are struggling to adapt and adjust while others are coping because remote working is part of their modus operandi. If anything, the lockdown will allow companies to experiment with ways in which they can incorporate remote working into how they do things, and it will reveal to many if and how it is beneficial. 

Creative agencies are no strangers to remote working and flexible work schedules. Most creative agencies have a workforce that comprises full-time employers and remote freelancers. Interestingly enough, there are still some creative agencies that are reluctant to explore remote working as an option for their employees; this is due to the stigmas surrounding remote work and the mistrust that most managers have regarding on-time delivery and productivity. 

In 2013, businesswoman and former CEO of Yahoo Marissa Mayar came under fire for doing away with remote working at Yahoo. In a memo that she sent to the staff, she stated: “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

Sharing Marissa’s sentiments, the MD of Kaitoma is against working from home (WFH), stating that he prefers working with people as he draws energy from being in the office and that energy inspires creativity. Marissa and our boss’s thoughts on remote working are valid and make sense, however, they do not take into account the fact that all employees are different and that just because one is at the office, it does not mean that they are productive or inspired.  

Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, remote working has its benefits and companies need to find a way to harness them so that they can get the most out of their staff. 

The advantages of working from anywhere

A company’s most valuable asset is its workforce; without talented, skilled and knowledgeable people on your team, you won’t be able to meet your strategic objectives or give your clients the high-quality work they require. It is common knowledge that a happy employee is a productive employee. Therefore, ensuring that your employees are satisfied ought to be your number one priority, second to meeting client expectations. If implemented strategically, remote working can benefit both the organisation and its employees. Below we have listed a few advantages and benefits of working remotely.      

Remote working increases job satisfaction

Job satisfaction requires a multi-pronged approach and remote working is certainly one of the key prongs. The option to work from home or a quaint coffee shop offers employees the kind of flexibility they need to meet their work obligations while also taking care of their personal needs. In other words, remote working makes it easier for people to maintain, as far as possible, a work-life balance, which leads to job satisfaction and an overall feeling that the employee is valued by their employer. Job satisfaction, in turn, results in employees placing the needs of the business, and the clients, first. 

Remote working saves time and costs 

If you live in a city like Johannesburg, you’re familiar with the traffic jams that besiege main roads – it’s an absolute nightmare. Working remotely means that people won’t have to spend hours in traffic on their commute to and from work. The less time one spends in traffic, the more time and energy one has to work on their tasks for the day. Additionally, more time will go into meeting deadlines because no time will be wasted on meetings that can be emails. Regarding costs, there is a potential to save on office real estate costs such as lights, water and rent. 

There are fewer distractions

Whether its office chatter or catching up on the last episode of a popular show, distractions abound in the workplace. Working from home, if you live alone of course, or from a coffee shop, makes it relatively easier to focus on the task at hand. Moreover, no one will be distracted by line managers who come up to you every 15 minutes to ask about a task. Productivity increases where there are few distractions, it’s pure maths. 

Improved quality of work due to flexibility

*Refilwe Mashigo is a 30-year-old consultant who works for a company that “disrupts HR using artificial intelligence.” The workforce is dispersed across the world, with their CEO working from Switzerland. It’s a small tech startup with around 80 to 100 employees, mostly based in Africa and Europe. They have a global client base, with clients based in the Americas and Asia. Recently, her team held a reflective session to improve the way they work and it was revealed that most of the team members were introverts who thrived when working from home. The company decided to experiment with working from home policy that had them coming to the office three times a week, and coming in on the other days if a project necessitated it. Remote working is part of the fabric of this business, and it’s working for her team. “What helps us to be successful at it is the solid collaboration that we have within the team and the tools that we use to drive this collaboration, so the typical tools such as Google Docs, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom and WhatsApp. We set up groups on Google Docs and Microsoft Teams we set up groups that are relevant to a particular project. I set up a framework on a shared drive and invite my “collaborators” to be a part of the journey from the concept phase to the final product. So, it’s a very iterative and collaborative process.”

Refilwe’s team makes use of deadlines, and they set up online working sessions every day to make sure that each group member is working towards the deadlines. The team has also established rules of engagement to ensure that there is continuous communication, they do this via daily standups, not longer than 15 minutes – this helps team members know when they can expect certain deliverables. 

What the above case study proves is that people are most productive at different times of the day and that environment plays a major role in productivity and effectiveness. Some people thrive when they are around people (extroverts), and others do better in isolation (introverts). In cultivating a work culture, employers need into account the fact their teams are made up of different people with different personalities, and this does impact how people work. Moreover, what we learn from Refilwe and her team is that communication needs to be constant and continuous for remote working to be effective. We also see that there are tools that can make distant working a seamless way of conducting business. 

What are the challenges of working remotely? 

As with everything in life, remote working has its disadvantages. Refilwe has shared the following challenges that she has observed.

  1. Loadshedding: This affects one’s ability to access the internet. Some colleagues have invested in other sources of power to combat the effects of loadshedding. Refilwe usually shares her area’s loadshedding schedule so that they know the times at which she will not be readily available. She makes sure that she has downloaded documents beforehand so that she can keep on working offline.

  2. Limitation in social interactions: This makes it hard to get to know the people that you work with. But, what we try to do is to have quarterly team connectivity dinners. This happens when our CEO and director come to South Africa. 
  1. Conflict resolution: It is challenging to have difficult conversations online and remotely. So we meet for lunch or coffee to have those tough discussions.

  2. People may not get their work done: Some employees might lie about the amount of work they’re actually doing. 

For creative agencies, remote working might not work when it comes to creative collaboration or brainstorming but that only means the team must meet for those sessions and then go off to their respective spaces to work on their tasks. Remote working gives creatives the freedom to work in spaces that inspire creative ideation. Being stuck in the office all week, 9 to 5, can stifle creative thinking. The challenges that come with remote working can be resolved with intentionality from the boss and the employees. In order for companies to be successful, the employees and management need to work hard to create a working system that works for the staff and the business. This could look like balancing remote working with working at the office as a team.  

As technology advances and the workforce gets younger, remote working has become an option for many businesses, big and small. It allows for flexibility, and that contributes towards job satisfaction and productivity. The ideal situation is to balance remote working with coming into the office. It may not be necessary to meet every day, but twice a week should suffice. We have all the technology at our disposal to drive efficiency and communication in the virtual workplace. If COVID-19 and social distancing have taught us anything it’s that companies need to learn how to adapt to unexpected changes or else they will lose out, not only financially but also in terms of accessing highly talented people who value flexibility.   


You may also be interested in the following articles