Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small Business: Teleworking opens new horizons

Touchtech directors Adrian Falvey, seated, and Robin Marshall, on screen, are keen to embrace cloud technology to expand business.
Touchtech directors Adrian Falvey, seated, and Robin Marshall, on screen, are keen to embrace cloud technology to expand business.

Glenn McNae reckons he can do business anywhere - the director of Auckland-based event management company Events Direct says he has been known to fire off designs, budgets and presentations to clients from a paddock surrounded by cows.

Working out and about is par for the course in the events industry, making working remotely a necessity.

For others such as Jochen Daum, the founder of website business Automatem, teleworking allows him the freedom to work from home while still servicing clients far away.

Daum moved from Auckland to Tauranga in late 2012 - first working in a co-working space and then from home - but says it's been business as usual in terms of servicing his clients, which are all Auckland-based.

In fact, he reckons meetings with clients have become more productive and he's reaped significant benefits in terms of lifestyle, as well as cost and time savings.

Technology is the key to bringing it all together.

Professor Tim Bentley, director of the New Zealand Work Research Institute at Auckland University of Technology, says teleworking is defined as a flexible work arrangement whereby people work in locations remote from their central offices or production facilities with limited personal contact with coworkers, but with the ability to communicate with co-workers, clients and others using information and communications technology (ICT).

Not surprisingly, small business owners talk about employing an array of technological tools to help them telework effectively, and connectivity is massively import-ant.

Wellington-based firm Touchtech, which designs and builds bespoke cloud and mobile applications, has embraced cloud technology and amassed an arsenal of tech tools for communication, developing and sharing documents between workers and with clients.

Touchtech has about 10 staff in its Wellington office, and a further eight spread around the rest of New Zealand and the world.

Director Adrian Falvey says the advantages for the company are many - allowing for flexible working arrangements, boosted productivity, lower overheads and the ability to service clients around the clock.

And, importantly, the company can tap the talents of professionals it knows and trusts no matter where they are in the world, who may be travelling or just wanting to work part-time or for short periods.

Says Falvey: "We find people who have the flexibility to move are also able to garner new ideas in new environments that they may not have otherwise come across."

Q&A with Adrian Falvey, a director of Touchtech

What role does teleworking play in your business?
Our philosophy is to embrace cloud technology in the way we do business. Essentially everything we use to run our business is available to our employees or clients online.

We have about eight employees usually stationed in the office in Wellington, but we also have a further eight people working for us around New Zealand and the rest of the world. We also use our remote working systems to interact with clients wherever they are.

Remote working gives us a great advantage in being able to hire the best people with the highest level of skills. It allows us to access the skills of people who we have worked with in the past, but who may not be interested in working full-time, or who want to travel.

It also provides opportunities for people with young families and different schedules, as it means our employees can work at the times that are best for them, enhancing their productivity.

Professional development often involves international travel for some of our employees, and this system allows them to keep working while they are away.

Having people around the world means we can service a product around the clock, and it reduces our overheads so things such as our office space don't need to expand.

Most importantly, though, we find people who have the flexibility to move are also able to garner new ideas in new environments that they might not have otherwise come across.

What kinds of technologies have you found effective for teleworking?
For remote working, we need tools for communication, developing and sharing documents. We use a huge range.

We use Trello for project management, to keep track of what we do. It lines up different jobs with people assigned to them, and lets people write comments, converse, write tips or create to-do lists for each job and allows the project manager to always keep track of progress.

We use Harvest for time-keeping. It allows employees to set the timer running to track the hours they are working and they try to keep their timesheets updated daily.

We have our own intranet that lists the ideas and projects we are working on, as well as protocols, procedures, approaches, guides and other resources. We also use it to take opinion polls in order to get feedback from the developers on how they feel about certain projects.

We use Dropbox for sharing documents, as well as relying heavily on Google Drive. We use Hipchat for informal communication and Skype for voice conversation and conferencing.

Each member of our staff has a laptop, which they can bring to work and take home again, so they can work at any time if they feel inspired.

What are some of the challenges you've found with teleworking?
It is harder to stay in touch with people when they are remote working, and when they are set to "away" on our online systems we don't necessarily know if they will be away for a minute or a day.

It is also difficult to build a strong team culture when people are outside the office. As our remote workers are largely contractors, they are potentially not as engaged in the business as the people who are in the office.

But we combat this with our digital chatrooms, and many younger people are very comfortable in performing most of their social interaction through online social messaging. We also hold social team events and invite everyone.

Some remote workers miss the human connection of working next to people. However, web developers in particular are able to find large, supportive communities at any hour of the day online.

There are many websites and forums that are devoted to answering development questions and providing a sense of community. It can, however, be difficult for them to ask more complex questions when they are not sitting next to someone.

And it can mean late nights and early mornings for people in different time zones who want to connect with people in the office.

What are your top tips for other small business owners wanting to get the most out of teleworking?
1. Hire through your networks and seek out people you know and trust.

2. Have regular fun conversations - it makes a huge difference to the culture of a workplace, whether it be in the office or online.

3. Set extremely clear processes and expectations for both the employer and the remote worker.

4. Experiment with the tools you are going to adopt so you can get your systems right at the start.

5. Trust that your employees are adults and able to organise themselves. If you need to watch them to feel they are completing their tasks, this is not going to work.

- NZ Herald

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