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How to Crush it in Business Working Remotely

Chris Long | CEO, Four Pi

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This article was originally published as “How to Crush It in Business Working Remotely when it was featured on thePipe Vine blog on July 01, 2017

I'm pumped to be launching a series of seriously valuable blogs in collaboration with the co-founder/CEO of Four Pi App and Web Development Chris Long. Chris and his team are changing the web development game with highly distinctive, yet professional websites and apps for their clients.

But right now, it's all about the knowledge this man brings to the table. Four Pi's growth has come with of plenty risk, hard lessons and indeed an insane amount of work! It was a pleasure that I got the opportunity to pick Chris's brain about some of the hottest topics in business success right now.

In our first instalment, we discussed the idea behind working remotely. It seems like a dream, working from the beach, your favourite cafe or even from the comfort of your own bed. However, people can get sucked into the romanticism of working remotely all too quickly - It's not a walk in the park, and if you think simply opening your laptop up at home is your ticket to success, I strongly suggest you keep reading this before you drop the proverbial mic on your boss.

Chris not only manages himself remotely, but he also manages eight staff and counting. I can guarantee you his team communicate better than most teams who operate in person, and he has still managed to instil a culture of success from his home office.

So first up, Chris, why did you choose to work remotely with Four Pi?

We started during 2011, Brad (business partner) and I were both studying at university - it was out of necessity really, we could hardly pay ourselves, so an office was certainly not on the agenda. Initially, we collaborated in Brad's spare lounge at his share house in Bundoora, and it suited both of us nicely. From there, our first team member Graeme was comfortable with it, our next team member Tom was as well, so it's become a really natural thing. The pros to a zero commute, quiet workplace you're comfortable with easily outweigh the cons of working/talking on top of one another. It's not for everyone, but we're able to pass some value onto customers, and they certainly appreciate that.

I'm sure people worry that they will get distracted at home, has this been a problem for you?

Initially yes - but I've always had problems with last-minute assignments and homework like that. It's great having an equally motivated business partner in Brad, it's funny how quickly your wavering bank balance leads to 0 distractions in your work zone.

At what point will working from home be impractical for your business?

I don't know. It's something I'm constantly aware of and thinking about, but each challenge is met, and the lower cost allows for more downtime and team building/collaboration days. We meet up every 1-2 months for a Four Pi 'shindig', and while there are some low-key team building activities, we always find a cool activity to do, like Big Swing Golf, escape rooms, Zero Latency and activities like that. I'm sure it will be a challenge when we grow to 30-40 staff, but we'll keep pouring our rent money into staff development as long as we can!

Does being at home always feel like work now? Are you able to switch on and off?

It's definitely a mental switch - my work computer is my personal computer, so you need to maintain a divide. We use 2 key pieces of software for this: Toggl and Google Chrome profiles. Google Chrome has a handy feature that lets you save bookmarks and cookies under different profiles - when I'm at work, I don't open my personal profile, so no Facebook, online shopping, etc. and vice versa.

Toggl is a time tracking tool - when it's running, you're accountable to yourself and assign that time to different projects. The team can browse your tracker, and we all know how long a task should roughly take, so it's pretty obvious if you're fudging time. We're a really motivated and caring team, so we all keep each other on track and regularly go over hours as we have such a comfortable environment (with a few travel hours up our sleeve each day!).

What's the biggest challenge about working from home?

Probably the mute key. We chill in video chats most of the day, and we will typically mute our conference when we aren't contributing - when I get a bright idea, I'll start speaking about it, and for the others, it just looks like I'm miming to myself. This happened 10 times today and will happen 10 times tomorrow too haha

How do you know that your staff are working and not just on Netflix, or out with friends?

Shit, maybe they are... No, I like to think we have an honest, open culture - we're all trying to grow the business and become the best we can be in our respective roles. Brad and I are under no illusion we're going to lose our staff members one day, so we like to encourage them to take on new challenges, question entrenched norms and get out of their comfort zone, even if they lose billable hours, days or weeks. It's our belief that fostering their career path to condition them for a higher position will bring us maximum benefit during their time with us & motivation for them. We just hope that higher position is still within Four Pi…

In dot points, what are the programs or apps you use that make working remotely for your team possible and why?

1. Appear.in - the most flexible and easy video conferencing tool on the market. They have a really down to earth CEO who personally replies and listens to their customers.

2. Toggl - A great time tracking tool that allows for easy individual or team tracking.

3. Google's G Suite - Gmail, Google Drive & Google Chrome are all dream products and they 50x productivity if used as intended.

Can anyone work remotely?

Yes and no. You have to make concessions where required, our video meetings are less engaging than meeting in person. Whiteboard sessions are a challenge and looking over someone's shoulder is a little difficult from such distance. However, the upsides are starting to strongly outweigh these problems, so genuine accountability and culture can allow for successful remote working.

How have you built culture amongst your business without having a water cooler to talk around...?

Aside from group activities and collaborating on projects - it's probably the challenging nature of our work. Solving business problems, helping acquire new customers or nailing a website design can be a really rewarding feeling and our positive environment stems from those sensations.

Why should someone reading this right now consider launching their start-up from home?

Most early stage businesses have a cashflow challenge. Our zero-rent approach essentially converted the biggest early expense of any business (premises) into cashflow. Once we had regular cashflow & clients, we were able to convert zero-rent into staff growth and investment. I highly doubt we could have grown so quickly if we had a giant rental bill each month, so you should certainly consider this if your core business doesn't require a shared workspace/meeting place.So there you have it, the G-O on working from home from an individual far more qualified to speak on the matter than that wantrepreneur you follow on Instagram...

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