Collaboration and flexible working conditions

In my opinion, a great recipe for success is the combination of collaboration and flexible working conditions. has had a very tight deadline to meet over the past couple of months and I am convinced it is the approach we have taken with our team that has allowed us to complete the project on time, on budget and without too much stress.

Over the past few months I have taken a lot of inspiration from Jason Fried and the team at 37 Signals, the guys behind Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack and Campfire; some really neat web based collaborative tools that we use. Also Rework, their publication on revamping the way we manage organisations, flips the typical ‘rules of business’ on their head and strips everything back into a far more realistic approach. I would go as far to say that we have built the entire infrastructure on the advise and experiences Fried and his team share.

Before the end of 2010, we needed to upgrade our domain leasing platform in pretty much every area. A re-brand, a complete re-design of our website, an automated payment system and integration into ‘a CRM system’ (which didn’t yet exist): and all of this needed to happen before we could give the green light on our marketing strategy which is set to kick off this month. It was going to be a close call!

To make this happen I needed to draft in a number of freelance services, from web development to technical support, through to SEO and copywriting. We already have some in-house resources such as Paul, our creative lead, and Alex, our technical lead, but there was still a lot of work which needed doing by people outside the organisation.

The great thing with freelancers is that they work on their own terms and are self-managed. As long as they meet the deadline, then what’s the problem? Then you have your in-house staff who would usually arrive at work from a set time in the morning and finish at a set time at the end of day, let’s say a regular 9 ‘til 5, and work as a team from their desk to complete the tasks they need to do.

We have decided on a different work ethos where as all our staff work from home under freelance-style conditions. They set their own deadlines and are trusted to do deliver the work they need to do, on time. There is not much difference between our staff and the freelancers we work with, apart from the fact the former are on the payroll.

So, how do we work it?

First off, it is essential to work with people you can trust, who are passionate about what they do and who understand that they are partly responsible for the success of the project.

Secondly, we ensure there is absolute clarity from the top down. What is it that needs to be done? We set the objective and then collaborate with everyone involved to devise a comprehensive brief. Individual tasks are then allocated to each contributor. Everybody’s input is essential here and we make sure that we foster an environment where everyone’s thoughts and ideas are given the utmost respect.
And then, we pass the control over to the staff. It is now down to them to make it happen.

To help them, we use some fantastic collaboration tools such as Google Apps, Google Docs, Basecamp, Highrise and Sipgate. These products basically allow all our staff and freelancers to operate in pretty much the same way they would be able to using typical office facilities.

Unbelievably, this creates a fantastic working relationship between everyone involved. Everyone’s tasks are openly available for other staff to see, we can see when other members of staff have completed their part of the project and we have shared areas where people can communicate with one other to keep things on track. Some of our staff and freelancers have never even met one another and even though they are not working face to face, there is a real buzz about the project.

Something else that amazes me is the concept of leaving people to work from home. It is probably fair to say that most companies would kick this straight out as an option. They would probably say there are too many distractions at home – the TV, the phone ringing, the dog wanting food… but our view is that there are just as many, if not more distractions in an office environment. When was the last time you got a solid few hours work done at the office with no interruptions? Leaving people to work from home allows them to really get into the zone and it is this state of mind that is most productive.

I have to be honest and say that it felt risky adopting this style of working at first. I wasn’t going to be able to keep my physical eye on people and I had to completely trust everyone involved make good on their promises and complete their tasks. Looking back on this project, however, I’m thrilled to say that despite brand new staff, remote working and a short time frame, we have managed to complete the work on time and on budget.

It has been a pleasure to see everyone work effectively and responsibly as a team. Leaving people to do things their way works – we have proved it!