Imagine starting your workday grabbing a coffee, checking out the surf and then being at your desk all within less than 10 minutes. It's a far cry from the long commutes, delayed trains and hustle and bustle of my former working life in Sydney.
We live in a time where the workforce is no longer only made up of people heading to their desk each day in a high rise building somewhere in a CBD. We are not alone. Remote and flexible working has increased in popularity across many industries.
Starting with scrappy freelancers, scrappy startups, tech companies and now big banks encourage their senior employees to split their time between their home office and the head office. At the same time adapting their offices to be both flexible and portable. For instance, National Australian Bank has a vision for their workplace of the future to be both flexible and portable, where workers carry the tools they need to work from wherever makes the most sense.
Credit Card Compare have enjoyed the work from anywhere approach since its inception in 2008. So much so that only 10% of our entire company work from the head office in Australia. We have people up and down the East Coast of Australia, SE Asia, Europe and South America work for our organisation. And so long as tasks are getting done and the company is hitting goals then we are happy. That's all that we want. For anyone still in the old way of doing things, it means letting go of the idea that a worker needs to be seen to be known to be working.
How many hours could you get back each day?
When I first moved to Australia from Northern Ireland I worked for a global digital marketing agency in Sydney. For almost two years I must have spent about 3 hours per day travelling to and from work by car. If I ever attempted the train or a bus then the commute was even longer. Cumulatively, that was about 1,560 hours in transit over just 2 years. Can you imagine having that many hours back in your life?
A few years into starting Credit Card Compare, my wife and I moved to the mid-north coast town of Port Macquarie. My mornings now consist of waking up 3 hours ahead of our web development & customer service teams in the Philippines. This works out to be a favourable arrangement and is something that I've done before.
I work out of the head office almost entirely or my home office when I can. I’ll fly down to Sydney a handful of times every few months to meet important people, attend meetings, go to conferences and so on. But the rest of the time communication is done via email, Slack, FaceTime, Uber Conference, Skype, Trello or by mobile phone.
What will people think?
For the first six months of working remotely, I started to recover a sense of freedom. But I admit that I struggled with feelings of guilt. I felt like I wasn't working if I was working at home or at least that is what other people probably thought. What you think other people think about you can influence you. 'Quick look busy' was the constant chatter in my mind. Which meant that in those early days I put in more work than most employed workers would ever come close to.
Over time I've come to realise that this perception was all in my head. I used to think that we may not be taken seriously as a company if we weren't set up in Sydney or Melbourne CBD. But when I've met senior executives in the banks, media agencies and tech companies, no one has ever treated our business any differently because we do not have a Sydney or Melbourne CBD base.
In fact, I wear it as a badge of honour. Not many people can say that they work for a business like ours, in a location like this.
Besides a PO Box address in the footer of our website, most people don't take any notice. Why should they?
The drawbacks of remote working
There are a few drawbacks from being based in a regional town. Most people I know in the area don't work like this. So hardly anyone understands what I do. There aren't any regular meetups between business people in towns like this. Plus there's hardly any innovation going on, or if there is then I just don't know about it. If I got a call up about a media appearance I'd be hard pushed to get there in time.
But since the Credit Card Compare team has grown over the years, having some management team based in Sydney or close to Sydney, it now means that I don’t need to travel to Sydney as much as I used to. As I have other team members who can do those things now.
Enabling people by leveraging technology
Thinking back a long time ago to when I used to work in an office environment I can remember communicating via email with colleagues sitting just metres away. I wouldn’t know what the person two desks away from me was working on, so when I am asked about how I manage a team who are disbursed all over the world it isn’t difficult to answer.
There is no great insight to be gained from watching someone tap away on a keyboard to know they are doing good work. Instead, I focus on trusting the team and measuring their performance based on what they deliver. Not how long they are at their desk.
Now we have some core hours that we try and work towards between 9am and 5pm weekdays, with the team in the Port Macquarie office mostly being in the office at this time. Predominantly, this is because that is when our customers are making contact with us. But with an employee based in the Philippines or France, this could mean they are starting their day earlier or later. With all of the different time zones the wider team are working across, we have a cross-over of at least a couple of hours on most days where we can plan any discussions that need to take place.
Accessing a worldwide talent pool
Being based in a regional town has meant that in order to access the best global talent, a remote-first approach is what was needed when expanding the team.
We don't hire someone based on their location. Of course, we want some roles to be really focused on understanding the local Australian culture and what consumer are looking for so we will look to places like Sydney to access the best talent when it comes filling a position such as our new Head of Marketing.
But with other positions such as our Data Manager role, what’s most important is the time zone of the employee. Or finding someone who is willing to work during Australian business hours even if they are based elsewhere in the world.
When hiring staff a lot of the time we will use technology such as Skype or Uber Conference to conduct initial interviews. But for more senior roles we’ll make the time to meet someone in person who is shortlisted to ensure we find the right fit for our team.
Building the company culture
One of the biggest challenges with a dispersed team is creating an inclusive culture and we’ve worked really hard to develop this within the business.
As part of our regular business as usual process, we hold virtual casual company chats that everyone gets involved in. We also have an All Hands meeting to keep everyone updated on the direction the company is moving in and what our main goals are.
Then around four years ago, we started to do a meet up where everyone flew in to meet in person. It started off with just three people. Then last year we had one in the Philippines with around 6 or 7 people. In mid-June, we flew the whole team, which now includes around 25 people to Bali for 5 days.
It was great to bring the whole team together. My brother and co-founder flew in from Ireland. We had someone come from France, another from Argentina, others from the Philippines and of course our Aussie staff too.
This is a great way for us to bring the whole team together, get everyone on the same page and feel like part of the team. While technology has allowed us the chance to chat regularly I still think there is some great benefit to be had in collaboratively coming together to strategically look at the year ahead.
Not balance, it’s all about freedom
Balance is a bit of a myth. Balance implies all the different parts of your life need to have equal weighting and most of the time this doesn't seem possible. There are times in your life where family comes first and there are others where you need to lean into work for a while.
But what I love about my work life now is the freedom. Perhaps there's almost too much freedom. My wife and I have even tossed up the idea of going completely mobile—buying a surf bus, working on my laptop, rerouting all physical mail to an email service.
On one of my trips I bumped into no less than Glenn Stevens. He said, in his typically Governor voice, "Sounds like your living the dream." Yes sir, I am, and for that I'm very grateful.
I sometimes surf with retirees, groms and tradies who've got the day off. Go for runs. Get things done which would otherwise get pushed out into the evenings or weekend.
And if that’s not freedom, I don’t know what is.