As COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease in Australia and New Zealand, thoughts naturally turn to the next phase. For associations, there has never been a better time to take stock of what’s important, do some critical and creative thinking, and forge a new plan for success. For most associations and the people who run them, we get up in the morning so that we can support and add value to our members.

With that in mind, we’re taking a look at remote working and asking if it’s something your organisation could, or should, switch to permanently.


Do you really need an office? 

Here’s a thought — does the existence of your office bring benefit to your members? For larger teams, or for those in a creative environment, maybe the answer is yes. But for others, the existence of an office may represent a huge opportunity cost.

Typically, office running costs include expenses such as:

  1. Office lease
  2. Fit out
  3. Parking
  4. Phone systems
  5. Copier leasing
  6. Utilities
  7. Staff amenities
  8. Maintenance
  9. Cleaning fees

And that’s before we start thinking about the location accessibility and commuting times for staff, members and external stakeholders.


Let’s take a look at a Verdant client example

We get asked regularly by clients how to increase revenue, decrease overhead expenses and create operational efficiency and financial stability.

Given office space is a premium and stands out as an expense on the association P&L statement, we recently undertook a review for one client, assessing the value of and requirement for their physical office.


About the situation

With a small team of four (some part-time), in an office with a boardroom and kitchenette, this association is incurring office-related costs upwards of $60,000 per annum. This expense was always deemed a necessity, to demonstrate professionalism and nurture team morale.

But with the team having worked remotely since March and the office laying empty, attention turned to ‘What if…?’  Of course, this isn’t just a financial decision; equally important is the maintenance — or improvement — of delivery to members.


Benefits of a remote team

For our client, the first thing that came to light in remote working, was the increased productivity of the team. With team members each working from home, and a solid structure in place for moments of collaboration and connection, everyone simply got on with the job.

It also enabled time for blue-sky thinking, with the managers able to collaborate openly away from the daily minutiae. In a small office environment, people often tend to spend the majority of the time working in the business, rather than on the business; and we’ve all been guilty of having a meeting for the sake of a meeting. Working remotely allowed the team to engage in creative and strategic thinking, with the client’s team now ‘chatting’ and sharing ideas in smaller groupings related to specific function areas.

The team members were also given the autonomy to work flexibly, allowing for greater satisfaction and improved work life balance. Contrary to the view held by some that working from home equals have a bludge, our client found that the contribution, in terms of both time and productivity, increased as people were allowed the flexibility to manage their personal and work commitments.

Of course, the budget, amended to reflect the ditching of the office over the coming year, is a whole lot healthier too. By year two of the new regime, the association will boost its bottom line by 10% of current revenue. This means that they can invest in new member benefits and can introduce additional resourcing in member service delivery.


The importance of systems

Working remotely requires the use of a few good systems. For Verdant and our case-study client, these are hinged upon Microsoft Office 365, including:

  • Teams — for collaboration, ‘chat’ as a group or individually, and intra-team video calls
  • To Do — for a super simple way of keeping track of actions
  • SharePoint — for collaboratively sharing files
  • OneNote — for meeting notes, which can be shared within the team
  • Planner — for project management
  • Zoom — for meetings with external stakeholders
  • Zoom phone or Spoke phone — for VOIP phone call handling

As well as cloud-based software, procedures and expectations need to be clearly spelt out for all team members, and reporting needs to be clear, including within the team and up to the Board.


Considerations in remote working

Remote working isn’t for everyone. Before embarking down this path, there are a number of considerations to be made:

WHS — Any employer has an obligation to ensure the safe working environment for its employees, including work-from-home set-ups. This should not only cover physical safety but mental health and overall wellbeing. There are plenty of guidelines available online, such as this one from Safe Work Australia.

Staff contracts — You will need to review your employment contracts for a clause that allows for you to change the regular place of work. The change will ideally be agreed with employees but if not, you may be required to offer redundancies to staff who choose not to shift to a remote model. You should also introduce, and have the team sign off on, a remote-working policy. Our advice is to seek your own legal advice before acting.

Staff moral and connectivity — Consideration should be given to maintaining cohesion as a team despite not being co-located. In our client’s case, we included in our planning a weekly face-to-face breakfast/coffee catch-up to plan the week ahead, share news and stay connected. We also included in the budget an allocation of funds for the rental of a meeting space on a monthly basis for strategic thinking and planning sessions, which can also include the Board and working groups. Board meetings can take place via Zoom, in a hired meeting space or at the premises of Board members, sponsors or association members. The latter two being an effective way to connect with key stakeholders and increase engagement.

Budget — While the majority of budget impacts will be in your favour, there will be some costs incurred in moving to a remote-working model. For example, meeting room hire, additional allocation for mileage/motor vehicle expenses, subsidised use of home wifi and mobile phones, and the initial set up and ongoing support of home office environments. In our case study, allocations were made for one-off purchases of desks and small home office printers, as well as a monthly subsidy for mobile phone use.


Implementing change

As is sound practice, we recommend putting in the leg-work up front to ensure you have checked your constitution, your employment contracts and your budget impacts prior to putting a proposed change, including a timeline for it, to your Board for sign off.

The team at Verdant can help you assess your suitability for remote working, and develop a plan and the supporting working documents ready for Board review. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss this further.

Without minimising the challenges of the past months, for many, this time has given pause for thought; a time to contemplate core values and purpose, and an opportunity to implement lasting, positive changes. Now is the time to assess whether the member dollars you apply to running a physical office are dollars well spent.

What could you be doing for your members with the extra funds that a remote team would provide?