This week, Small Business editor Caitlin Sykes talks to business owners about flexible working.

Ryan Baker is CEO of appointment booking software firm Timely, which has 27 staff who all work remotely.

Why have you chosen to have a team that works entirely remotely?

We were remote from day one. My co-founder and our CTO Andrew Schofield and I were in different cities - I'm in Dunedin and he's based in Wellington - so it was more a question of working out whether or not working remotely was just going to be a phase. But once we saw the benefits of providing a flexible working environment for people, it was clear it wasn't. We love it.

What are those benefits?

There are lots but probably the big one is around recruitment. As a small business it's hard to compete with more established companies for new staff. For example, most of our tech team are based around Wellington and our product is built on the same tech stack as Xero, so we're competing with them for people and that's tough. But being able to offer people the ability to work from home and flexibly around their lives, whether they're into climbing mountains or they're looking after kids, really strikes a chord with some people. We've been able to attract some really talented people because that's the way they want to work.


And obviously an important factor is we work this way because we can. It's a model that wouldn't work for a lot of workplaces just by virtue of what they're doing.

Do most staff work from home?

Most do, but we've also got a couple of people who work out of coworking spaces. We also have our own offices in Wellington and Dunedin, but people don't work permanently out of those; they're there for people to drop in and out of for meetings and other tasks as they need to.

What policies do you have in place to help make flexible working work in your business?

Our main policy is that people love their jobs because when you have that culture right everything else tends to fall into place. But there are a couple of things we do differently from some other remote working companies just because they suit us better. The first is we mostly work at the same time around pretty regular working hours, with some degree of flexibility - rather than having staff spread across time zones - because we like working with each other.

We also try to have people living near other team members. For us it didn't feel quite right not to see each other regularly, so we thought we could come up with our own formula that allowed people to get the benefits of working where they wanted but also to easily say 'how is everyone placed to get together tomorrow to talk about this project?'.

What are some of the tools you use in the business that help make your flexible working arrangements run smoothly?

We use a bunch of tools that are all cloud-based. Slack is a communication tool - it's core function is instant messaging - and it has been a game-changer in terms of centralising our communication. I think it's one of the misconceptions of remote working that communication is harder because you're not in the same place; overall we've found communication is easier and there's more of it.

Despite the policies and tools, what are some the challenges that still remain for you as a business owner related to managing flexibility in the workplace?

The biggest challenge is people working too much. The first thing I'm usually asked about working remotely is 'how do you know people are productive?', and I think it's an unfortunate perception that an 'unmonitored' person won't be productive. We literally have the opposite problem. We have regular one-on-one catchups with staff and those are the times when we talk about those issues.

What role do your hiring practices play in making this all work as well?

The first point about making this work is you need to bring the right people into this kind of environment. It doesn't suit everybody, so it's important to have those conversations up front. It tends to suit people who have worked this way before in some capacity, or have genuine reasons to make it work for them.