This post is part of the “Small Business, Big Ideas” series, in which business leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators share their stories of overcoming obstacles and achieving success. “Small Business, Big Ideas” is sponsored by Chase.
, says that for him, ‘sitting behind a desk for 8 hours a day literally brings a cold sweat.'” credit_info=”Daniel Barnett” alt=”Daniel Barnett” align=”left” size=”xlarge” nocrop=”true” clear=”true”]The idea of remote work became controversial recently after Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ended the practice there, followed by the end of Best Buy’s liberal “results only work environment.”
Some managers and companies argue that having people in the office is essential, and that remote workers are harder to monitor and detract from company culture.
But for many small business owners outside of major population centres, remote work is a necessity in one way or another. And many others have family commitments or struggle to function well in an office environment.
For Daniel Barnett, the founder of WORK[etc], a company that’s built a business management platform that facilitates remote work, both were true. His entire team of 16 works remotely, from Los Angeles to Essex, England, Australia, Kuala Lumpur, and beyond.
Not only did Barnett feel like he couldn’t fully endorse a product he didn’t live, his own experience at work inspired him to create it in the first place. “I’ve waged war with A.D.D. my whole life and the thought of sitting behind a desk for 8 hours a day literally brings a cold sweat,” Barnett told us. “Any meeting that goes over 30 minutes is like being locked in a prison cell and the concept of a half-day workshop is pure hell.”
He started to develop software tools on his own to free him from having to go to an office for his marketing business, but his A.D.D. led him to go further.
“With A.D.D., starting and finishing routine tasks requires effort and focus. So into the software went simple methods to automate common systems and pull everything together,” Barnett said. “For example, (I wanted it to) let me turn a sales lead into a quote, then into a project, and invoice and later a support ticket without having to think about it; manage progress each step of the way so I don’t have too.”
As the software took care of more and more things, Barnett started to turn it into a business, hoping to help other people work through the things that took so much effort for him.
Of course, there are challenges with running an entirely remote company, even if you’re using specialised software. Hiring practices are especially important. You need people that you can trust, that will remain accountable, are comfortable working alone, but are confident enough to jump on a call or Skype to work through ideas or problems.
“Hire someone that thrives off being around people or someone that is shy on a call is going to cause friction,” Barnett says.
The company has a very deliberate process to find out of someone’s right for the company, and for a remote workplace. “Part of our trial process is for all new employees to set up a WORK[etc] account for an imaginary business, except we don’t reveal to that person we are secretly rating their progress,” Barnett said. “If they create rubbish names for sales leads, or set up a project with no content then odds are they won’t make good remote workers.”
And since they’re being monitored, it’s easy to see if they email their team every simple question rather than having the initiative to at least research the answer themselves, another warning sign.
As someone who constantly experiences and succeeds in a remote work environment, Barnett doesn’t buy the arguments against them. “A strategically placed water-cooler, swiss-cheese cubicle walls and bean-bagged chill out rooms do not increase creativity and productivity. Engaged, motivated and inspired people increase productivity and creativity.”
In fact, offices can be uniquely unproductive for some people. “I would argue that being politely coerced into small talk about the weather or not being able to avoid [the] latest gossip is a cancer on creativity and productivity,” Barnett argues.
The absence of those daily interactions does require a bit of extra effort to keep people engaged, on task, and to build a company culture. To do that, the company asks everyone to spend the last 5 minutes of their day to answer and share their responses to five simple questions:
- What did I work on today?
- What were the challenges I encountered?
- How did I overcome those challenges?
- What I am working on tomorrow?
People respond about everything from work to personal lives, in an effort to create a culture where people not only share information, but care for and have concern for the other people on the team.
Beyond the challenges of working remotely, Barnett’s trying to break into an incredibly crowded industry, with big enterprise software players like SAP, Salesforce, Oracle, and IBM, along with smaller challengers. “It is frustrating to constantly hear from new customers that they almost didn’t sign up because they had never heard of WORK[etc],” Barnett said.
His response? To not worry as much about exposure, keep his head down, and just focus on building a great product. He argues that a major frustration for other small businesses, particularly ones that work remotely, is having to use multiple tools for different things, like sales, project management, invoicing and customer support. “(It’s) inefficient and expensive, not to mention downright frustrating,” Barnett says.
By offering a single product and a single licence, he hopes to provide a cheaper and easier alternative, made by a small business for other small businesses.