How important is a flexible working environment to staff retention?
We’ve got two staff that work remotely, they don’t come in to the office, and then we’ve got five staff that do a combination of office and home. They have set days when they’re at home and they have set days when they’re in the office.
And obviously there’s a degree of flexibility, it depends what’s on.
Would your office be able to function without a flexible system?
Yes, it could. But would you actually be able to retain the right staff? I don’t know.
Our practice manager, when she came on board with us, part of the condition was two days she would work from home because she’s got school-aged kids. At that stage they were kinder school, and she travels an hour each way.
For her to be able to work from home, duck out, pick up the kids, bring them back, they look after themselves while she does the work, it means that one: we retain her, we’ve got good quality, and two: she’s really happy, and she gets a really good work-life balance.
How important is the role of technology in creating a flexible work environment?
Our view is cloud systems, whether it be CRM, your client database, your planning software, your accounting software, whatever it is, everything we do needs to be cloud-based, not server-based.
While we do have some old stuff still sitting on a server, we’ve then got VPN access, so it’s really quite easy to access it from anywhere in the world really, as long as you’ve got an internet connection.
We do a lot of video conferencing as well, so just using something like Zoom, which doesn’t cost a lot. It costs about US$100 a year and you can do teleconferences with people. I’ve had up to 12 [people in a conference], so you’ve got everyone in different locations: some office, some in various homes, and you can record that, screen share, the whole lot.
It really does enhance the ability to streamline everything.
You are quite passionate about the role of women in financial services. Do you feel the rise of technology has contributed to helping women gain work in the industry?
I think it does. And I use the example of my practice manager again: the fact that she’s a mum, two kids, then she’s been able to come back to work in a timely manner because she’s got the flexibility of not having to travel every day from where she is.
And she believes that her productivity is absolutely increased and it means that she’s able to do the work.
I’ve got a number of colleagues that are mums working part-time. They might drop their kids off, come into the office, leave to pick their kids up and they might do some work from home as well.
So having that flexibility both ways really does work.
In the past, if a woman was pregnant she may not have been able to work. Do you think the role of technology has revolutionised this?
Yes. Or she’d be going for part-time work, and not every employer has the ability to job-share or have part-time work, so it really [has]. I think that’s where it’s worked really well. We’re on the phone all the time with our staff that don’t work in here, so it’s just become business as usual now.
If you’d said to me 10 years ago, 'This is the way your business is actually going to work', I would have looked twice, whereas now it’s actually normal.
So it’s really great when we get together and do some fun stuff as a whole team because it doesn’t happen that often.
Do you have any practical tips for setting up work-from-home arrangements from a tech perspective? What do you need to know? What systems should be in place?
We’ve got a good IT support team, so I outsource that and they just dial in remotely.
You’ve got to have trust, and I know that’s not IT or tech, but I think that’s really paramount with anything, you’ve got to have that trust with people.
From there, you’ve got to have good internet speed. In our holiday house I’ve got ADSL2 and it drives me mad because it’s so slow, whereas everybody else here who works from home has got faster internet, which makes it so much better.
You need to have a camera so that you can actually do video conferencing, and it’s just the webcams, they’re not expensive. I’ve actually got in my office a 180-degree one, so you can have about six of us in there.
If we’re doing something with a client, it makes it easier. Most of us in here have got the standard webcams. Any laptops ... have got webcams now, so I think it’s pretty straightforward as long as that’s working, good speakers and good software.
Make sure you choose your software that is cloud-based, and you know where they back up their servers, and you know who owns the data. That’s the key as well.
Good security on your passwords. Regularly changing passwords, stuff like that is really important. And being mindful, because I get emails from all sorts of weird and wonderful people, and if I get an email from someone I don’t know and it looks not right, I just send it to junk, I won’t open it.
So I think that’s really key. It’s just making sure that you’ve got that good security and common sense.
Do you have any other advice?
I think it just comes down to, if you haven’t tried it, it can be a bit daunting. But once you actually give it a go and try, you can make it work, really, really efficiently.
If I go back six years, I probably would have struggled, whereas now it’s just normal.
I personally work from home two days a week, one to two days depending what I’ve got on. And it’s a matter of planning the diary around it so everybody knows what you’re doing.