Keeping staff morale high is a challenge for any growing business, and high stress environments can cause mental and physical burnouts in the most dedicated employees. You’d love to give them extra holidays but that’s a luxury you can’t afford. So how do you keep everyone happy without losing out on productivity or profits?
Mike Del Ponte (CEO of water filter company SOMA) has found a genius solution to the problem of unhappy employees...And it’s a game changer. It’s called theWork From Anywhere Week (WFAW) and it’s already taking the internet by storm.
For one week every quarter Mike lets all his SOMA employees spend a whole week out of the office - still putting in 40 hours of work, but doing it from wherever they want. Some of them simply stay home; others go jetsetting to far-flung countries with their laptop.
Mike’s novel approach has spread across the business blogosphere like wildfire; resonating with managers and employees alike. And it’s no surprise it’s proven so popular. Here are 7 awesome benefits that a WFAW could bring to your business...
Creativity is the driving force behind any start-up business. It’s essential for problem solving, innovation, and generating new ideas. Unfortunately there’s a notorious creativity killer which can dull the minds of even your best and brightest staff.
It’s called routine.
When you perform the same actions every day your creative thinking suffers. This doesn’t just apply to boring workplaces. Getting the kids out of bed, doing the same morning commute, eating lunch at the same cafe, rushing after work for the 5.30pm bus...All these little things can make the average worker’s life feel like GroundHog day. Even if they love their job.
Holding a WFAW breaks your employees out of their routine by providing a precious change of scene. They might go overseas, go on a local adventure, or simply sit in their sunny backyard. Wherever they wander, the change of environment is bound to inspire - and hopefully unleash their dormant creativity.
The experience of Soma backs this up. After holding their WFAW they said that most employees returned brimming with new ideas. Make sure you schedule a catch-up on the first day back for everyone to share their experiences and thoughts.
I’ve written before about finding your ‘state of flow’ at work, and avoiding activities like compulsive email checking. Most people produce their best work when they’re in a state of deep focus. After a single interruption it can take your brain 25 minutes to resume full concentration.
Let that fact sink in… Now think about how many interruptions happen in the average office. Email certainly isn’t the only threat to productivity - it might even be the least of your worries.
Your project manager wants constant updates, and sidles up to your desk uninvited. The phone rings and it’s a client with 12,000 questions. Worst of all, maybe you’re stuck next to a singing colleague. Stephanie if you starting humming another Disney song, I will strangle you.
And let’s not forget meetings… So many unnecessary meetings.
Holding a WFAW gives your employees a brief respite from all these distractions. They can make themselves comfortable and focus on their actual work - without worrying about colleagues, ringing phones or office politics. You might find that remote working actually boosts their productivity and output.
Who remembers Office Space? The 90s film was so relatable it became a runaway hit. Pretty much every 9-5pm worker on earth has felt like Peter Gibbon at some point in their lives. Peter was trapped in a job he hated, he had no motivation, and his boss Lumbergh was an insipid jerk.
The film probably bears no resemblance to your own workplace (things have changed a lot since the 90s!) but it teaches some important lessons about motivation. Misery is the killer of productivity. If you want employees to perform their best work, their happiness and wellbeing should be your priority.
Holding a WFAW is an amazing gesture of goodwill from any manager. It shows your employees that you trust, value and respect them. And in turn they’re more likely to develop feelings of loyalty towards your company. This means they’ll do their best work - even when no-one is watching.
What’s more, having a WFAW once a quarter is novel enough to remain an exciting treat (unlike full-time remote working). Your staff will strive to impress because they don’t want to lose that privilege. It’s a win-win situation for employers and staff alike.
4. Reinvigorated Relationships
The 40 hour working week means that on average we spend more time with our main workmates than our spouse or family. That’s a pretty weird situation - and even more so if your staff don’t get along. As a manager, sometimes you can’t do much about mismatched personalities and workplace dramas.
But a WFAW at least gives your team some breathing space. Often the tension between disgruntled co-workers can be relieved with a little time apart. It’s like that super clichéd saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Chances are they’ll return to work feeling refreshed and happy to see their co-workers, with minor quibbles forgotten.
Even better, the WFAW allows your staff to reconnect with their true loved ones - their children, their partner, their cat or axolotl. This will probably do wonders for their mental and emotional health (unless their kids are in the terrible 2s...in which case they might beg to come back).
5. Refined Processes
Maybe your team are a little old fashioned, or reluctant to get on board with the latest cloud based technology. A WFAW forces them to get intimately familiar with some useful tools (at least if you want it to be a success).
Tools like project management software and time tracking apps have made it easier than ever to manage a remote team. You won’t miss any data - and can calculate job costing based on the exact hours worked. Time spent on tasks can be recorded down to the minute, even from your mobile phone. A WFAW may provide the push needed to get your team happily using these tools! Leading to more streamlined processes for your business going forward.
It’s also likely a WFAW will help your business discover inefficiencies in your current practices. Almost every company indulges in some unnecessary bits of admin or procedure. If skipping these routines during your WFAW doesn’t have a huge impact on results, maybe they weren’t that important to begin with. This won’t always be the case - but you’ll certainly gain some insights about what’s truly important for your business to function!
6. Beautiful Darkness
If you go the whole hog and give your entire company a WFAW there may be hidden environmental and financial benefits.
When no-one is in the office you can turn off the power, air conditioning, heating and all other day to day utilities. Doing this for one week might not sound much, but these little expenses do make a tangible difference. This is especially true if you’re holding a few WFAW’s a year like Soma does - it could mean a whole month’s worth of power savings annually.
And if you’re not interested in embracing the beautiful darkness, your WFAW can be a good opportunity to get renovations and tidy ups done instead. Paint that wall orange like you’ve always wanted, or put up a bunch of awesome motivational posters to cheer on your staff when they get back.
7. Testing the Waters
You may have considered allowing members of your team to work remotely (or they might have requested it) in the past. But like so many bosses and business owners, you were too nervous to give the green light. How will I know if my staff are slacking off? What if I’m paying them to sit on the couch eating Doritos and playing Xbox?
A WFAW lets you test whether your employees can work productively from home, without committing to anything long-term. Sure, they will strive harder in that one week than if it was a permanent deal. But if everything goes well you can gradually increase the frequency of WFAW’s at your company. Chances are they’ll still treat each one as a chance to be kick ass and super productive, proving themselves to the company!
Finally...Tips for Success
Now that you’re sold on the benefits of a WFAW, how do you implement one in your workplace? Obviously you’ll want to set a few rules and procedures to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Here are a few basic pointers:
- Decide which online tools to use and make sure the whole team has access (and knows how to use them). Check out this Ultimate List of Apps For Working Remotely.
- Stay in touch - set up a team Skype or Google hangout, and let staff know the hours you expect them to be online.
- If your agency has clients during this time, set procedures for who will communicate with them and how. Ensure none of your customer service channels will be disrupted.
- Set achievement goals for your staff, and let them know what kind of reports will be required on their return. You might ask each person for a short presentation.
- Decide how tasks will be measured, and whether to implement time tracking software. You might even request screenshots of your team’s work activities.
- Make sure your whole team know about safety and security when working remotely. Follow appropriate precautions.