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How to build a remote working business, that works

23rd October 2019

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“There’s a myth that people aren’t productive when they work remotely,” says Ryan O’Keeffe, founder of the creative agency Jago. “But actually, they have fewer distractions, more responsibility and often work harder. In the corporate world, you’re often clock watching, commuting an hour to go into work and an hour to go home,” he says. “When you’re remote, you can work where you are most inspired.”

Jago helps organisations to create their brand. This could include a new name, logo or even website. When Ryan founded Jago in 2014, he worked with one web developer and designer. Five years on, he employs nine people. They all work remotely: Ryan is based in Surrey and the others work near him or in Sussex or Hampshire.

Earlier this year, he became a Starling business customer. Here, we share his advice on building a successful business made up of remote workers.

Jago doing a conference video call
All of Jago’s employees work remotely

Define your purpose

Answering the question ‘What’s my purpose?’ applies to all businesses, but especially when your team is spread out and so could become fragmented. It means there’s an even greater need to define the aims and ethos of your business so that your whole team can work together.

For Ryan, his purpose is to provide a great environment for people to work and so enable them to have the maximum positive impact. “It’s not to compete and grow the biggest agency. I thought that was what it was about. But it’s not, it’s about fulfilment and being people-led,” he says.

Ryan O’Keeffe, founder of Jago, with his family
Ryan O’Keeffe, founder of Jago, with his family

His sense of purpose is linked to the pivotal moments of seeing first his son and then his daughter become critically ill. His son Rory spent the first year of life in and out of hospital and had several kidney operations. When his daughter Grace was born a year later, she wasn’t breathing. She remained in intensive care for two weeks. But today, you’d never know. “She’s tough, sassy, delightful, amazing,” he says. The experience changed his perspective on what really matters. “It’s definitely steered my actions and shaped how I choose to live my life on a daily basis.”

Build your culture

Jago’s aim is to energise the brand of each client. The aim is symbolised by its name. “Jago is the name for an Asian ceremony about waking up and becoming energised for a big day in your life.”

Ryan has a clear set of values for his business: “People first, think big, actively listen, be authentic and make it happen.” Remote working is also an in-built component of Jago’s culture. “A lot of people like the idea of remote working - there’s more flexibility and freedom. But the reality is that it can be very lonely - it’s not for everyone, it can crush a lot of people,” he says. “You need to work with the right people that have that drive and get up and go.”

To combat loneliness, he sourced tools and practices to improve communication. He also provides each employee with a budget for co-working spaces or coffee shops so that they don’t spend 100% of their time working from home on their own.

Communicate effectively

The team at Jago use Slack for instant messaging, video and phone calls and Zoom for meetings with clients. Every Monday morning, they have a company-wide call to review previous work and set their goals for the coming week. “We recognise an individual’s work that went well, something that can go amiss when working remotely,” he says.

Once a month, the whole team meets at a co-working space in London and in the evening they go out to celebrate their successes.

Pay attention to mental health

When you’re in the same physical space as someone, you’ll often be able to pick up on how someone is feeling from their body language and tone of voice. But if you’re only seeing someone on a video call or sending typed messages, it’s much more difficult.

For Ryan, looking out for his employees’ mental health is a top priority. “If someone is on their own in their house, I don’t want them to spend the whole week feeling down without me realising. I want to understand how everyone is feeling on a spectrum throughout the day,” he says.

Jago has a key within Slack where employees indicate how they’re feeling that morning or afternoon: sunshine if you’re upbeat and energised, sunshine and clouds if you’re feeling alright, clouds if feeling unfocused or flat. “It’s our way of bridging that gap.”

Include your team in key decisions

“Decisions are team wide,” he says. “We’re at a size where we can do that and it creates an inclusive environment without hierarchy.”

One decision the team made was to become a B corporation. This means that the business meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

Part of this process meant that he began to assess the products Jago relied on, including its business bank account. The team researched ten different banks and evaluated them based on functionality, integrations with other apps and services, ownership and transparency as a company. “Starling came up top for us. The ethics statement on the website really resonated with me,” he says. “I love using the app. We switched over with no problems and the sync with Xero has been very straightforward for us. Starling is frictionless.”

The company was recently approved as a B corporation. Find out more about Jago.

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