Freedom and demands of remote working

Adam Coleman, CEO, HRLocker, set up his human resources consultancy in Lahinch, in a house overlooking the bay. It now employs 15 in Lahinch, serving firms’ HR needs globally.

Kya deLongchamps examines the potential for creating the perfect work/life balance.

Working from home (in addition to the Trojan work of parenting) can take many forms. Traditional jobs by the self-employed, staff and contracted employed include freelance writing, telemarketing, product support, design and more.

The number of remote jobs is growing but still modestly with the demands and freedoms offered by “knowledge jobs”. If our infrastructure can deliver (including quality broadband access nationwide), the potential to have that enviable work/life balance appears to be brighter than ever.

According to IDA Ireland, some 216,000 individuals were working from their home desk for a remote employer last year.

At the Grow Remote conference held in September in Tralee, Co Kerry, the IDA together with a group of managers, freelancers, nomads, remote workers and remote working companies set forth their vision for the support and unification of the home-working community throughout Ireland.

The IDA writes that what was identified in Tralee was “a huge quality of life benefit. By working from home or from a nearby co-working space, they (workers) spare themselves gruelling, unproductive commutes. It reduces pressure on house prices and rent rates in major cities, while allowing smaller communities to thrive with the arrival of skilled workers” (idaireland.com).

Video conferencing, cloud technology, secure authorisation and access to company tools and data from just about anywhere using high-speed broadband access, is stirring new possibilities for individuals and families.

The steady extension of remote working opportunities could not only take pressure off the property frenzy but refresh rural areas of Ireland where many families want to raise their children.

Delivering work to a good standard from where you live will not suit everyone. I’ve written for 20 years from a desk surrounded by animals, babies, and daily interruption.

The expectations from the client are just the same as they would be in any office setting. The social isolation is very real, and it’s something I’ve tackled by writing from a café table using my laptop at least two mornings a week. The rewards?

If I can’t sleep — I work. If I want to take an afternoon off, I get up at 5.30am and finish at 12pm. Self-employment is a versatile, flexible gift for a working mother.

Meticulous planning and unstinting self-discipline are crucial to prevent freedom dissolving into chaos and broken deadlines.

My partner, for a time, presumed as I was at the house all day, I was, by association, the chief cook and bottle-washer. He’s long since cleaned up his act. Compartmentalising work and play is not easy when both are entwined under one roof.

Adam Coleman is CEO of HRLocker. The company supplies software-based HRsolutions for firms, including those using a remote workforce, all over the world.

Its ingenious cloud HR system is described as having “an extra HR manager” to manage employees wherever they are and allowing them the necessary communication, planning, platform, access and security they need to do their work efficiently. It’s a brilliant Irish startup success.

“Over the years,” Adam explains, “I worked in O2 UK and O2 Ireland and was head of HR for Esat Digifone.

"This gave me a taste of what was possible. We (in Ireland) were frankly just so far behind the UK. The companies I was involved with were cheerfully doing 30-person conference calls.”

Following what Adam describes as “28 years a HR slave”, he returned to Ireland in 2005 due to family circumstances, somewhat stressed by his own success. A conversation with his mother changed everything.

“She told me to live where I wanted to and to build my job and life around that place. Ultimately, having tried to figure out how I could possibly put together living in the West of Ireland and being a HR specialist, I moved back to Lahinch. I set up my HR consultancy in the house looking straight out over the bay. It didn’t outwardly make much sense, but I was determined to make it work.”

His performance and experience working for high-tech companies soon led Adam into developing empowering software detailed for the HR sector. He believes the best part of any business is its people.

HRLocker now employs 15 in its Lahinch, Co Clare, base, serving firms’ HR needs across the globe. Some of the HRLocker team are working at the 600sq foot extension to Adam’s house, others managing their brief from home or even from internet cafés and other non-traditional nomad spaces.

Having made the journey and facilitated others to go to the West, Adam is well placed to talk about stepping away from the conventional office or studio into the unknown.

As with other Global Remote members, HRLocker is part of the push to develop a “remote culture” along with new work/play job opportunities across the country.

“Trust is the centre of it all for our clients (employers), and our system helps to foster that sense of trust in hiring and working with individuals who are not under your eye in a conventional, physical office,” said Adam.

Our system records not just hours but what someone is doing during each day in a predetermined time-sheet mechanism. We use tools including Zoom conferencing software to enhance communication, productivity and engagement.

Should someone working remotely expect to be accessible at all times of the day?

Adam is measured, but the open-all-hours connectivity of remote working appears to parallel a standard office-based role.

“Yes,” Adam affirms, “the core hours of normal business say 9am-5pm (time zones may change this, of course) would be certainly the expectation in terms of availability.

"It depends on the job and on the individual. Some flexibility is helpful. We do expect important messages to ourselves in our HR role, or to employers, to be done by employees directly by phone, not by jetting off a quick text or email.”

Is blistering broadband performance needed to work remotely from home or other appropriate remote workspaces?

“Not necessarily. Using a mobile phone tether as an Internet modem, you could be anywhere. Some of the current products’ upload and download speeds are at least adequate to most jobs. We find 3Connect, for example, to be quite good with around 20mb uploads and 5/6mb downloads as standard.”

Will this kind of off-site job style suit everyone?

“No, obviously not, but there are many personality types who are well able to thrive working from home,” says Adam. “We use a psychometric evaluation to match clients and workers during the recruitment process.

“Everyone is different — I am very, what is termed, directive, for example. That suits my role. I have one very talented employee who is a very, very busy working mother. She’s self-policing, and I never have to wonder whether she is getting the work for us done.

There may be a period of adjustment starting this or any new job. Both sides have to embrace the remote working process to make it a success. Grow Remote would like to make Ireland the number-one place for remote working.

Interruption is a given part of my working day as a parent and partner. Does Adam find this difficult to cope with?

“Not really,” he laughs, “I’ve been talking intently to a CEO in the States, and had my children burst into my office loudly waving a school project they want to show me. It happens.

"Designating a working space and building understanding that you are involved in your job while there is something the family can set up over time.

"There are acceptable ways of signalling that ‘I’m working now’. A set-up, quiet place is a good start."

For more from Adam Coleman, watch his talk “Work is No Longer a Place”, recorded at Disrupt Dublin 2018, here.

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