These days, everyone’s talking about flexible working.
Once upon a time, high salaries and a higher status were a job-seeker’s top objective. Now, the balance has shifted. Work/life balance has become more important and technology enables workers to get the job done virtually anywhere.
Yada, yada, yada.
You’ve heard it all before. It’s great. But what we really want to know is, how does flexible working actually work? (To learn how a virtual office works, check out our guide).
Every company has their own special way of effectively managing a distributed team. For instance, here’s how software giant GitHub does it. But who better to ask than a job search platform that ONLY lists telecommuting jobs?
FlexJobs is the beating heart of the flexible work industry. Founder and CEO Sara Sutton Fell is an advocate for flexible working and has made it her mission to cut through the noise and advertise real, hand-screened bonafide flexible jobs. Their website lists tens of thousands of telecommuting roles, freelance and part-time jobs from thousands of different flexible companies, including giants like Amazon.
What’s more, FlexJobs practice what they preach.
“At FlexJobs, everyone works from home 100% of the time,” Sutton Fell explained to Alliance Virtual. “We’re a distributed team, so we have people working in about 25 states in the U.S. and across all time zones.” Their core team includes full-time, part-time and freelance workers.
“Pull” between work and home
She explained that more people than ever before are looking to break away from the 9-5 and work flexibly. She has seen first hand the growing number of people looking for flexible work based on soaring interest via their jobs portal.
“A lot of this is due to the pull people feel between their work lives and personal lives.”
In a recent survey of over 2,600 people looking for flexible work, FlexJobs identified these main drivers behind their search:
- Work-life balance (81 percent)
- Family (56 percent)
- Time savings (56 percent)
- Commute stress (48 percent)
It’s clear that more people want to work remotely. But in the cold light of day, how is it carried out effectively?
“Each company really needs to design a program that works best for their business objectives and teams. Not every type of flexibility is going to work for everyone,” she said.
“For example, our client services team members have set schedules because we need them to be available to current and potential customers during set hours. But our writing and research teams have very flexible hours because their work is primarily independent.
Communication, communication, communication
Through speaking with various dispersed companies (and based on our own experiences at Alliance Virtual), we’ve found that one of the most consistent priorities for remote teams to remain productive is good, solid communication.
It’s the same for FlexJobs. And according to Sutton Fell, it’s the same for virtually every remote company they have come into contact with.
“On our sister site, Remote.co, we feature interviews with over 50 remote companies and they all say that strong communication strategies are the key to staying in close contact, developing working relationships, and being a productive, efficient team.
“Some remote teams adopt ‘core hours’ — a set period of hours during a normal business day when all team members are required to be working — so that every day there’s the chance to collaborate in real time.”
Tools of the trade
As for choosing a communication medium, it’s all about choosing the right tool for the job. Or in this case, the right technology to suit the team and the company culture.
“Remote companies and teams also rely on a variety of synchronous and asynchronous communication tools to stay in close contact,” she says, citing the most popular as instant messaging and project management software.
“At FlexJobs, we use a wide variety of communication tools but we’ve also tested many that didn’t quite work for our needs.
“We have a virtual office environment called Sococo that has really helped us to feel more connected as a team. We also use IM and a message board called Yammer a lot. Email is of course the most dominate of our communication tools.”
At Alliance Virtual, video conferencing software has become an important part of maintaining team connectivity, using Google Hangouts, Skype and GoToMeeting. But as Sutton Fell explains, it’s just not the right fit for FlexJobs.
“We do a lot of web conferences, but as a team, the video portion is not something that we’ve warmed to yet. But other remote companies use video with great success, so it really is a preference that each company needs to decide for itself.”
Tips for home-based workers
In addition to team productivity, one of the most important benefits of regular, effective communication between team members is that it helps stave off feelings of loneliness and isolation for home-based workers.
“While working from home can be fantastic, there are definitely some challenges to understand before you jump in,” she added.
“It may feel isolating to work physically alone all day. To combat that, workers should seek out other ways to get their “people fix,” like working from a coffee shop occasionally, or meeting up with a friend during the day for lunch.
“Another pitfall that people don’t anticipate is overwork. Because your work is always right there, in your house, remote workers may find it difficult to shut off work at the end of the day and transition to home life.
“People need to remind themselves that working from home is a way to achieve greater work-life balance, and to set clear boundaries for themselves and their family members or roommates to help support that goal.”
Ultimately, flexibility has become an important currency for today’s workers. It’s not all about working from home, because not every employee wants that. Similarly, home-based roles don’t suit every organization or every job. Rather, flexibility can take many different forms from flexible hours right through to choice of location. The opportunity to mold and shape the working day can have a profound positive effect on the morale of employees, leading to enhanced productivity and an improved bottom line.
But before you jump into flexible strategies, remember it’s important to find the right balance.
“Companies should conduct a thorough audit of each of their teams and roles, and what types of flexibility would work best for each,” Sutton Fell added. “That way, they can build a program that really supports both the needs of their workers AND their overarching business goals.”
It works for FlexJobs. The multi-award winning organization has helped hundreds of thousands of people find flexible roles since its inception in 2007, and continues to add new job listings to its site every day. The current tally is over 27,000 from more than 4,300 companies, and counting. FlexJobs and its founder have been featured on a vast array of media channels from CNN and Forbes to NBC and Wired. So it’s safe to say they’re part of the reason why everyone’s talking about flexible working.
Got something to add? We’d love to know how you keep your dispersed team working together effectively. Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.