The ‘’Gig Economy’’ series sheds light on the future of work and the pros and cons of hiring freelancers and gig workers.
Our guest today is Charlie Marchant, General Manager, Exposure Ninja.
Charlie, most digital marketing agencies work on a project basis although some clients may opt to a subscription model. Did industry specifics have an impact on your decision to introduce remote work/ work from home policy at your company?
We're a digital marketing agency for SMBs. Exposure Ninja originally started as a small office based in Nottingham, but as our team started to expand, we decided to test remote working. We quickly found that having our teamwork from their own space and without the distractions of the office increased productivity by 50%. We made the change to remote work shortly after and it's one of the best decisions we've made. The traditional agency model comes with all the overheads of a fancy London office space, long pitch meetings and a team who commutes in daily. Instead, we opted for a productive team and an affordable pricing structure that suits our client base and means they get the very best digital marketing service. In short, a remote work model works in favor of everybody. It poses a more affordable business model for us while providing better service and pricing for our clients. Our employees are also more empowered to set their own schedule and enjoy the increased flexibility that remote work offers.
Working flexible hours is a perk most employees dream of but what about motivation and engagement? Are remote workers more or less loyal than in-office employees?
We don't have a direct comparison for this as our original office had only a handful of employees and after seeing the productivity increase from remote working, we switched to a remote set-up early on. Now we have 100 Ninjas working remotely. We're very happy with our retention rate of employees at Exposure Ninja and we track this figure monthly so we’re always focused on retaining our team. I'm confident that remote working and the flexibility that our team has is a predominant factor in their loyalty to the company and love of their work. The remote working aspect of the role allows our team to make time for other important goals, projects, hobbies and commitments they have outside of their work role, and our management team always support them with managing their workload so they have the time they need for other parts of their life.
You mentioned that it was increased productivity that led to the decision to switch to a remote working policy. What about flexible working hours and their impact on productivity?
From our experience, remote workers are much more productive. Our original study showed our team was 50% more productive when working remotely. We use internal tools including Hubstaff time tracking to review hours worked and activity, and a task management tool called Teamwork where we can see how many tasks have been completed by each Ninja. The working environment is a huge influencing factor on productivity, both in terms of the actual space and the amount of noise/activity going on around us. Giving our team the freedom to work in a space of their choice, where they have control over the light, temperature, surroundings, noise level and type of noise is hugely beneficial for our staff. We have team members who enjoy the social side and work in co-working spaces, others who prefer to work from home in a quiet office space, some who opt to listen to classical music during their workday and still others who like the peacefulness of no music.
Having people working from a variety of places may easily lead to inefficient communication and create bottlenecks. Is it easier or harder to manage remote teams?
There are pros and cons of both, but I’ve always loved managing a remote team. If you have the right team and the right tools in place, managing a remote working team is straightforward. Managing remotely means you lack the immediacy of being able to walk up to someone you need in the office but the plus side of this is you don't interrupt the process flow of your colleagues as frequently. Having set times when the team are available to respond on Slack and scheduled 1-to-1s and team meetings via Skype or Google Hangouts means communication is frequent but without those interruptions. Teamwork allows us to easily manage the tasks and clients each Ninja is assigned to, and see their task progress - which I find a lot more organized than many office-based systems. Hubstaff lets us track work hours across all our team, and allows each person to see how much work they've put in each day really easily. Remote workers do need to be very self-motivated and self-disciplined because they have much more freedom and flexibility than office-based employees. They need to manage their own time well. This is something we account for when we interview for new team members by making sure candidates are a good culture fit, as well as possessing the practical skills needed for the role.
As your team is not location bound, you may hire people all over the world if you are looking for rare skill sets. Do remote working arrangements allow you to tap into a diverse talent pool?
Absolutely. This is one of the biggest benefits for us as a company. Location-based offices drastically reduce their hiring pool by being limited to employees within commuting distance to the office and this is a real handicap.
The other important factor to consider is that even within a certain radius for location-based businesses, there are many people who still want flexible and remote working arrangements, even if that’s just on some days a week. I’d recommend all businesses to look into something like this that allows their staff to be flexible around their other commitments, whether that’s getting the school run in, working on their personal passion projects, training for a marathon, volunteering work or any other life circumstances. Being able to move work hours around other commitments opens up a whole new section of talent who previously would be unavailable if you only hire for 9-5 location-based working.
By introducing a 100% remote working policy, Exposure Ninja is able to source new Ninjas from across the world. We look for the best person for the job and have been fortunate to hire some of the best minds out there as a result of not being restricted by location. We're extremely proud of the talented team we've built and would not have been able to do this without a remote working set up. We have members of the team based in the UK, Asia, the US, Australia and across Europe. Some of our Ninjas even choose to be location independent meaning our team is truly global and incredibly diverse.
About the author
Lilia Stoyanov is CEO and angel investor at Transformify. A fintech and digital transformation expert, she is also a professor at Zigurat Business School and expert evaluator Horizon 2020 at the European Commission.
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