7 lessons learnt from running a business where everyone works remotely

7 things I’ve learnt running a business where everyone works remotely

Running a virtual law firm meant I had a head start in the race to survive when Covid-19 exploded. For us – it was business as usual. Now it’s going to be usual for a lot more businesses, with 70% of workers surveyed in the 2021 Microsoft Work Trend Index saying they want flexible remote work options to continue. I’ve summed up 7 of my biggest learnings after six years of running a business where everyone works remotely.

#1 You don’t need a door to be a real business

When I started my law firm in 2016, I used a home office. At the beginning there was niggling doubt. Clearly I wasn’t a serious lawyer. I didn’t have an office with rooms full of law reports and a receptionist. I didn’t have a proper business at all. 

But I’ve been proved wrong time and again. I’ve gone from solopreneur to a team of 6 who all routinely thank me for creating a flexible work opportunity. Revenue has grown year after year. Our client list is long and referrals are regular. No one ever goes elsewhere because they can’t walk through a door.

Don’t listen to your limiting beliefs about what is a ‘real business’. Do what works for you.

#2 It expands your thinking

Although it’s 2022, the legal profession is still very traditional. It’s dominated by law firms with surnames in the title, big fancy CBD offices, and high hourly rates. 

Letting go of the expectation to have a fixed central address led me to consider the entirety of the legal practice model. To question the “this is how you do it” thinking. There’s no surname in my business name. Hourly billing – no thanks. Instead, we have productised services, fixed fees and we’ve recruited from across Australia. The flexibility of location has provided space to think flexibly more broadly about how work is performed.

#3 It’s not for everyone

All of the roles in my business are 100% remote-able. But not all people are suited to working remotely. People might love the idea, but they don’t always love the reality.

Last year I hired a new team member.  They were ideal. A parent who lived in the outer suburbs of the City, who wanted less time commuting and more time with family. They’d experienced working remotely during lockdowns and wanted more. It lasted 3 weeks. 

Turned out they couldn’t switch off at night. Their workstation was central, so work was never far from thought. They missed the physical interaction. 

People who work remotely need to be self-motivated, able to form relationships quickly, and able to self-regulate, to set and uphold their boundaries with work. The last thing you need is people resigning, or worse, burning out, because they don’t have the environment or personality to work remotely. Choose wisely.

#4 You need to get onboarding right

The first days and weeks of a new job are crucial for both employee and employer. In an office, it’s easy to do lazy onboarding. You walk people around, introduce them to those you see, sit them down with work to do, and tell them to visit with any questions. Job done.

When working remotely you need to think about how you can make people feel part of your team when they aren’t physically with you. We do this through a combination of a welcome gift, a “getting to know you” welcome meeting, and a clearly scheduled sequence of events including training, 1:1s and team meetings. 

#5 It can be lonely

In 2019 37% of workers surveyed in Australia reported feeling lonely at work. You can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely. It can be even worse when you work remotely. There are no casual chats in the kitchen while making tea, or “popping” into someone else’s office for a chat. Workers can be left alone for days without ever needing to talk to anyone.

My own loneliness experiences working remotely led me to try co-working arrangements but what has worked best is ensuring that I schedule regular catch-ups with my team. We make time to connect. We don’t just talk about work. We share stories about weekends, tell jokes, send each other gifts, and generally show we care. 

#6 You don’t need to sit in the same office to connect, but it helps

For an effective and productive team, you need great relationships built on trust and connection. A significant part comes from small talk and socialising. 

We have made sure to build this into our remote team interactions, but I’ve also found that a solid in-person get together, at least once a quarter, can be a great reinforcement and take the connection up a notch. It’s also something to look forward to – a fun strategy session or just a casual lunch.

#7 The benefits outweigh the challenges

It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. Going remote has given me and my team the ability to work flexibly when and where we want to suit our lives. There’s no better time than now to decide how you can reinvent your business to take advantage of the opportunities from remote work.

Oh, and don’t forget the essential item for all remote businesses, an internet connection that works!

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