As of the 1st of July, Bookassist staff in Ireland are a fully-remote workforce. Bookassist will no longer have its own physical office presence in Dublin for the first time since our incorporation in mid-1999. It’s a big leap, or at least it sounds like it is. But in reality it’s just the next logical step. Here’s why.
Remote for us is normal
When we founded Bookassist in 1999, we started day one with both Dublin and Madrid based staff and worked as a single team across both centres. Today we have people working for Bookassist in Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, USA and Canada. They are all part of internal teams that are spread across multiple countries. All of us routinely have video meetings on Google Meet with colleagues in other offices as part of our distributed teams in Operations, Digital Marketing, Web Design, Product, Development and others.
So it’s always been part of our culture to work in that virtual online space. Whether one of us is in an office, in a shared hot-desk facility, or at home, there is nothing new here for Bookassist employees to be physically distant from other team members. The various lock-downs in our different centres have certainly brought additional issues for many, but on the whole the majority of our colleagues have agreed that how they work has been minimally impacted, and in many cases work output has improved considerably.
Client meetings are offsite anyway
Our clients are hotels based all over the world. Only a minority are actually close to the physical offices we have. So client meetings are almost always at the client’s site, and we rarely have footfall in our own offices. Our hotel clients will therefore see no difference at all with this change for Bookassist in Ireland.
Flexibility is important to us
Back in 2019, anticipating the kind of workplace culture change that attracts and retains younger employees, we had already introduced a company-wide policy internationally on flexible and remote working, which many colleagues availed of. People can save all that commute time (and cost), they can rearrange their day to start or finish earlier or later, and have more personal or family time. They can take a day off and work extra on other days.
The key to this succeeding is that everyone’s work transitions to being results-based, and not arbitrarily based on the time spent at a desk. Apart from people liking the freedom this brings, it’s a well-known plus for people’s wellbeing to be more in control of their hours and achieve the particular work-life balance they want for themselves rather than be tied to the opening hours of an office.
As a consequence of our flexible and remote working policy, our Dublin office in recent times often had more empty than occupied desks. On some days we had just 30% or less of staff physically present in the office. With everyone on chat, mobiles or email, our phone system went unused with more than 50% of staff having no incoming or outgoing calls on their desk-based phone in the second half of 2019. Sometimes, even Friday donuts went unfinished!
In circumstances where staff are voting with their feet, it’s nonsensical to retain expensive office real estate and networking 24/7 on the off-chance someone avails of it for a few hours a week.
Fixing the negatives
So we have made the transition as a consequence of where we were inevitably going rather than solely as a consequence of current external circumstances. Being 100% remote is not, of course, for everyone or every company. But it suits Bookassist because we’ve always had a culture that dovetails with it anyway.
But keeping the social fabric of teams is critical in the transition. So we will retain a co-working space with hot desks so that people can get a change of environment, and so that groups can have that weekly or fortnightly face to face meeting. We’ve diverted more budget into social events and flexibility for teams to have team breakfasts or lunches together in conjunction with group meetings. We will work harder on building cohesion actively with events and team offsites. And we have clear plans on dealing with the challenge of new recruits and training in a remote environment. We are fortunate to be able to learn from the experiences of those sister companies of ours in the Jonas Software family who already successfully operate remotely.
Nevertheless, the move is an experiment for the Ireland-based team that we will assess the effectiveness of as time goes on. We expect our Spanish team, our largest office by headcount, to follow suit in a couple of months which together with Ireland will see over 70% of all staff in Bookassist working remotely by the end of 2020.
While Covid-19 accelerated the change, and many other tech companies have openly talked about the remote route as a new direction for their workforce, the fact is we were going there anyway. It was only a question of when. That question is now answered.