Remote Work: James Santi on How To Successfully Navigate The Opportunities & Challenges Of Working Remotely Or From Home
David Liu of Authority magazine interviews WorkAnywhereHub founder, James Santi
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?
Having grown up in the restaurant industry — as a child I even slept in the laundry room as my parents served in their Italian restaurant — I moved into global PR and worked on film sets and in the entertainment industry. Having reached the peak of a successful career I moved back to the suburbs to take over the running of our family business and start a family. I now run our restaurant Nonna Rosa and neighboring Bar Italia which I have managed to remodel to enable them to thrive despite the pandemic.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Having refurbished our Italian restaurant we decided to host a ‘grand reopening’ for our loyal customers, many of whom have been coming for more than 40 years. We offered a plus one for regular customers and local dignitaries, but imagine our surprise when Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, walked through the door! He had been told how good the food was and invited to come along by a friend. He enjoyed every bite of his meal and said we served the finest Italian food outside of Italy in his opinion — high praise indeed! We were a little thrown when he came in but soon relaxed and treated him like any other customer.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was starting out in PR in the film industry it was my job to organise and host the screening of a new Stephen Frears film — The Van, at an exclusive Soho cinema. I coordinated the whole event and guest list and it went brilliantly, I was so pleased. Then as the film ended a member of the audience said something along the lines of ‘Great film but I really wasn’t keen on the music’. I held my breath as the lights went up and the guy in front of him said ‘Well I thought it was pretty good, but I would because I wrote it’. That man was Eric Clapton! My mistake was putting such a star in the middle of outspoken journalists, I learned from that to have seating plans at every event I ever organized after that!
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?
Always set boundaries and ensure you stick to them. I never work on a Wednesday, that is my time with my pre-school son, and I always dedicate a day at the weekend for family time, this helps me relax and prevents burnout during busy times as I know I have time scheduled to switch off. When things are busy — don’t be afraid to delegate. Part of being a good leader is knowing who you can trust and training them up to hold the fort when you’re taking time out. There’s nothing worse than taking time to unwind and spending it worrying that things aren’t being done properly.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?
Working remotely is the future — and the benefits for both employers and employees are manifold. For employees, there’s no more stress about the daily commute. There’s no cost of commuting and what is especially important post-covid, there’s no worry about the safety of commuting. Carbon footprints are cut dramatically and a better work/life balance is achieved.
For employers there are also huge plusses. No more overheads of central offices. This is money saved that can be invested elsewhere — for example employee wellbeing — and will also lead to a direct increase in profit ratio.
Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?
- Managing a synchronized team
- Providing adequate working facilities
- Maintaining team relationships
- Monitoring productivity
- Supporting employee wellbeing
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?
- Managing a synchronized team:
Making the shift to hybrid or remote work can be a challenge for any business, but set goals and timelines from the outset, and ensure everyone is aware of them. The best way to synchronize is to communicate — so schedule a regular Monday morning catch-up call where you run through tasks for the week and briefly cover individual roles. Take control of this meeting rather than throwing it open so it doesn’t take too long — 45 minutes is adequate — then schedule one-to-one calls with each member of staff or team leader so you can monitor progress during the week. Use a task-sharing program such as Notion or Trello to manage individual projects and facilitate communication only between relevant team members.
- Providing adequate work facilities
The beauty of co-working and hotdesk spaces is that they are set up to host remote workers. No more worries about working from the kitchen table, Wi-Fi slowing down because your partner or flatmate is also online, or the postman knocking for a chat because he knows you’re in! Source reputable and rated hotdesk venues and allocate staff a budget to use them. This will cost way less than rent on a head office, plus all the bills that come with it! It also means you have a location that your employees will be at, and you can check on them if need be, either physically or remotely.
By using Work Anywhere Hub you are not only running a remote workforce efficiently, but you are also helping to revive the hospitality, leisure, and tourism industries post-covid. All WAH venues are vetted to ensure they offer adequate WiFi speeds, covid-safe facilities, and more. Each listing includes all the information an employer or HR department need when identifying a remote work location for employees.
- Maintaining team relationships
Working remotely need not remove team bonds. Consider a Friday afternoon catch-up call where you don’t discuss work. Offer online events such as cocktail (or mocktail!) making classes, or shared tutorials on new crafts. Arrange to all meet once a month at a central location so you can maintain physical contact and relationships, but without the stress of time constraints.
- Monitoring productivity
Research has shown that remote working actually increases productivity in the workforce. Concerns that people may shirk their workload were proved wrong when WFH was imposed during the lockdown.
Huge multinationals like Unilever, and more recently Nationwide Building Society, have announced that staff is never going back to the office full-time, and research from Gartner has found that 80% of company leaders plan to permit remote work after the pandemic. Last May, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that more than 95% of the company’s workforce was working remotely and that it planned to make adjustments to ensure employees could continue to do so on a long-term basis. Verizon-owned phone service company Visible announced a plan for all employees to move to permanent work-from-home status.
The fact that all of these companies are shifting to remote or hybrid work models is proof that it works, and it works for everyone involved.
- Supporting employee wellbeing
With the money saved on water coolers (and office rates!) invest in a wellbeing programme that supports the emotional and physical health of employees wherever they are. Offer a pre-work workout — perhaps a Wednesday Pilates or HIIT Zoom — that people can join if they want, and assign a member of staff to monitor team wellbeing. Create anonymous feedback forms offering the opportunity for workers to raise any issues, or ask for help if they need to, and unsure you have a mental health support policy.
By assigning workers to hotdesk venues rather than working from home they can still enjoy the interaction and social benefits of office working, but without the stress, cost, and time of commuting.
Do you have any suggestions specifically for people who work at home? What are a few ways to be most productive when you work at home?
Haha, well as you would expect I would say don’t work from home, at least not all of the time. Working from home offers no chance to escape the daily grind, and it’s far too tempting to nip back into the office or restart the computer when a bright idea flashes across your mind just before you press play on your boxset. It goes back to my initial point — set boundaries and sticks to them.
Find a remote workspace close to you, that you can walk to and that offers what you need, be it a hotel, restaurant, or community centre. On Work Anywhere Hub we list workspaces everywhere from hotels to country pubs to leisure centers and community halls. By traveling to work you are maintaining a familiar routine, and improving your health, and establishing a work/life balance.
Make sure you have the right equipment — and investigate whether your employer may offer financial support for setting this up — and set yourself a timetable for the week, and stick to it. Humans like routine and a working day need structure. Ensure you are able to socialize or bounce ideas of someone if needed. A quiet room in a co-working space is perfect for this as you can keep yourself to yourself but still have the opportunity for a chat should you wish. Never underestimate the power of physical interaction. A smile from someone on the hotdesk across the aisle can brighten your day and give you a boost following a mid-afternoon slump. We are a social race, let’s maintain that!
Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?
Communication is key. It may sound obvious but a tool such as Trello or Notion keeps everyone on the same page, manages roles within a team, and gives a quick overview of where everyone is at.
Slack channels or WhatsApp groups are perfect for brainstorming or check out online team-building opportunities to keep everyone motivated.
What do you suggest can be done to create an empowering work culture and team culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?
There’s nothing wrong with some healthy competition. I work with several venues and by running incentives across the portfolio we ensure everyone knows what everyone is doing, and is always striving to take the lead in profits, achievements, and accolades.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’ve seen first hand the damage covid has done to the hospitality industry. With very little support from the central Government, venues have had to close, unable to sustain a business post-pandemic. We need to remodel business to fit the ‘new normal’ and I hope I can be a part of that, to bring hospitality, leisure, and tourism back to pre-pandemic success levels. Millions of people rely on these industries for work, for pleasure, for support. Work Anywhere Hub is the beginning of a movement to shift people’s work/life balance for good which is so important for emotional health and financial stability.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My first employer was kind and fair with all staff. She nurtured new starters and enabled them to thrive, and as a result, her stern but fair attitude earned her huge respect. I remember her praising me for a project well done, then saying ‘You’re going for James, but always consider how you treat people on your way up, you never know how much you may need them on your way down’. This saying has stuck with me throughout the years and while I’m fortunate to still be on my way up, this has been made possible by networking and treating staff well. The new starter may soon be poached by a competitor, your intern could end up a CEO, and if they remember you have treated them fairly, they will reciprocate. The best business is done fairly and earns you respect. I think it’s important for us all to remember this.
To view the article on the Authority magazine website click here