Remote control: the business of flexible working
Growing up in Jindabyne – gateway to the rugged Mt Kosciuszko region made world-famous by Banjo Paterson’s ‘The Man From Snowy River’ – it’s little wonder that Jo Palmer enjoys an office with a view.
Running not one but two successful businesses from the Riverina in regional New South Wales, Jo splits her working hours between a traditional office in Wagga Wagga and her home at The Rock, some 31 kilometres to the south.
And it’s her home office that really embodies ‘a room with a view’.
Perched atop one of many rolling peaks in the small town so named for its large craggy hill, the farmhouse with cheerful yellow front door and access to services over the nbn™ broadband access network mean Jo can choose when and where she wants to work to suit her needs, wishes and lifestyle.
It’s precisely this kind of flexibility that helped inspire her business, Pointer Remote Roles.
Founded in March 2017, the point of the business, according to its website, is to help employers hire “the best person for the job, regardless of where they live.”
A job-matching platform that allows small to medium-sized businesses to advertise roles where it doesn’t matter to them where the candidate lives and will remotely work, Pointer was initially born of a need that Jo identified while working on her other business.
“In 2016, I co-founded Agri Alliance: a sponsorship and event management company that specialises in the agriculture industry,” explains Jo.
“We talked quite often about, when that business grew, the issues we would come up against filling roles. We thought we’d be able to take advantage of the fact we have so many talented friends living in regional areas that had skills and experience that maybe weren’t being utilised to their full potential.”
It then took a casual conversation to propel the idea forward.
“I mentioned this at a barbeque to a friend and she said, ‘You know, that’s a business in itself.’”
After being introduced to the concept of a business incubator, within six weeks of the eight-week program, Pointer was live, with candidates registered and jobs being posted.
“It was a rather quick turnaround from idea to in-market,” says Jo.
Making the most of talent, wherever they live
Tapping in to highly skilled talent, regardless of where they are located in Australia, is what drives Jo and her business.
“The need that I saw for Pointer, and the place that it has in the market, is the fact that there are so many talented professionals that live all over Australia, be it regionally or in the city. For whatever reason, family or physical location, they either can’t or don’t want to go into a physical office to work.”
She found there wasn’t a simple place to go to find jobs advertised to be worked remotely. So, Jo created it herself.
“That’s where the idea came from. It was definitely with my friendship group in mind. I have so many talented friends that live in regional areas and, for whatever reason – be it love or sick parents, or wanting to get out of the city – they’ve ended up in a regional area. And they have had difficulty finding fulfilling roles, or the pay brackets that they were used to, working from where they are now.”
It’s a sentiment that clearly resonated with others.
“We’ve got more than 300 candidates across an enormous range of experience and skills that are registered with us already, so they’ve been vetted by our on-boarding team, they’ve had their references checked and they have thrown their hat in the ring for roles that are coming in from all over Australia,” says Jo.
And while the ability to work remotely is obviously a winning idea for those living regionally, remotely and rurally, it’s also appealing to their city cousins.
“I think one of the common misconceptions about our business model is that we are restricted to only candidates that live in regional, rural or remote Australia, which is not the case at all,” explains Jo.
Rather, Pointer has many candidates living in cities like Sydney and Melbourne who prefer remote roles for a variety of personal reasons. Like not having to sit in traffic or requiring flexibility around their kids.
Bringing businesses on board
It’s not just the candidates that are keen.
“We’re finding that small to medium-sized business – especially regionally based ones – have really embraced the concept and are seeing it as an opportunity for them to grow their business because they may have previously been restricted in their area for employing people with the skill set that they need,” says Jo.
Instead of employing a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ that just happens to live where their business is located, and who may not actually be qualified for the tasks they are trying to do, Jo and her team are finding that businesses are using the Pointer platform to their advantage.
“Where they might have put one person on for three days in the past, they might now put on three people that are working remotely for one day. They’re actually getting the skills they need for their business to grow. So it’s a really exciting way of using our platform.”
Meanwhile, other businesses can take a little more convincing to adopt a flexible approach.
“We’ve found some businesses that we speak to are daunted by the process of putting employees on that work remotely,” explains Jo. “There’s still very much this idea that, ‘If I can’t see my employees at work, how do I know that they’re working, and how do I know that they’re not doing a load of washing?’”
“And my response to that is, they probably are doing a load of washing, but your remote employee will work harder if they’re given KPIs [key performance indicators], and if they have good management and know the work that needs to be done, and the deadlines for things.”
Jo says if you make your employee’s life more flexible and more mobile around family and lifestyle, you’ll get so much more ‘bang for your buck’.
“The thought of putting on someone remotely might be scary but if your systems are in place, and you give them the structure and the guidelines that they need to be able to do their job and do it well, then you can only see benefits,” says Jo.
Give someone the flexibility to work remotely, she says, and you’ll get someone who will work extremely hard for you.
How connectivity is helping businesses and workers
Recent findings in research commissioned by NBN Co (to data analytics and economics firm AlphaBeta) reveal that areas connected to the nbn™ access network are experiencing higher rates of business growth and more digital jobs than those areas still to be constructed.
They are also seeing a greater participation of women in the workforce and a stronger regional economy.
Jo from Pointer Remote Roles says she wouldn’t have been able to launch and run her business – and see it recently tick over to its first birthday – without a good internet connection.^
“The frustrations of dealing with internet that’s slow or that drops out, especially when you’re trying to run a business that revolves a lot around tech – access to good internet has been an incredible, big boost for my business, and I wouldn’t have got it off the ground without it.”
Jo’s also noticing the benefits it’s helping to bring to her customers.
“I’m finding that having access to a connection is getting a lot of businesses off the ground that wouldn’t have happened previously.”
Ideas that may have otherwise remained a ‘kitchen table conversation’ are now being launched because a business can be run, and employ people, from across Australia.
And the Pointer team is making sure their connectivity is up to scratch.
“Our on-boarding team is very explicit when candidates are registering with us,” says Jo. “They are checking for good phone service when they’re talking to them and asking about their internet connection because it’s really tough to fill a remote role and be taken seriously, and put your skills to use, if you haven’t got a good connection to be able to perform your role.
“So for us, as a business, we have been able to start, launch, grow and build with our good internet connection, and we’re seeing more and more people every day that are getting their home connected.”
On the home stretch and connected like never before
With our rollout on the home stretch in regional Australia – now that nearly all* eligible homes and businesses outside of major urban areas are in design, construction or able to order a service over the nbn™ access network, the future continues to look bright for businesses and remote workers.
“Success for Pointer and the service that we’re providing for our customers is being able to give small to medium-sized businesses all over Australia the access to the skills they need for their businesses to grow,” says Jo.
“Something I underestimated that’s been such an amazing privilege to see is businesses can grow and not only employ people remotely but can then grow and employ more people in their local community as well.”
It’s these flow-on effects that may not be immediately obvious about employing a remote worker that really excite Jo.
“The impact of having a business grow and be successful in a small town, in particular, is fabulous because there’s a small economy that’s being stimulated. Then, if you think on the other side that if you’ve got candidates who are working from anywhere in Australia that are adding an additional stream of income to their family – especially in regional areas, that helps to drought-proof or flood-proof their family – if they’re bringing in another salary that they wouldn’t have had access to, it’s really amazing to see that money being spent in their local community.”
This could mean taking the family to the pub for dinner on a Friday night, something that may not have previously been possible for a one-income family.
“Being able to add a second income to families living all over the country is a real buzz because they’re putting money back into their local communities as well,” says Jo.
While an obvious measure of Pointer’s success is supporting candidates across the country that want to work remotely and the businesses that need their expertise, closer to home, the reasons get more personal.
“What does success look like for me? Happy family, happy kids, happy husband, happy me,” reveals Jo.
“If I can continue to run a business that allows me to work flexibly, as well as my team wherever they’d like to, that’s a real success for me. I think what our business is doing is creating that flexibility for so many families, to have people working remotely, and we’re really bringing success to so many.”
Out on the front porch, cup of tea in hand and relaxing on a deckchair, Jo points to her neighbour’s field directly opposite. At the right time of year, it will be a blaze of yellow: the kind of flourishing canola crop that sees Instagrammers stopping for roadside snaps.
It’s not hard to understand then – when her day, schedule or mood acquiesces – why the ability to work flexibly and remotely from her home on the hill is so appealing.
The only question that remains is: from where would you rather be working?
* The total number as of 27 June 2018 is 99.92 per cent in design, construction or complete, with the exception of some premises such as remote offshore islands, complex rural sites and some government premises.
^ nbn is very happy with Jo’s experience with the nbn™ broadband access network. Of course, end-user experiences may vary. Your experience including the speeds actually achieved over the nbn™ broadband access network depends on the technology over which services are delivered to your premises and some factors outside our control like your equipment quality, software, broadband plans, signal reception and how your service provider designs its network. Satellite end users may experience latency.