When I founded Pearl Consulting in 2007, I structured the business as remote first, hiring our team based on their competencies and ability to deliver our work in specific markets, but not necessarily being located in those markets, nor exclusively in a central office location.  On the technology side, this coincided with the explosion of cloud computing, which enabled the business model and our structure to flourish.  

This has given Pearl Consulting the opportunity to develop a deep understanding of what works best for all stakeholders working remotely and to incorporate what we’ve learned into our business strategy and operations. Our expertise in working remotely is part of our proposition for clients. 

In Part One of this two-part article, I will share the insights that I’ve gained about how Pearl Consulting’s remote culture works for both our clients and our global network of consultants. In Part Two, I’ll dive into some of the opportunities and challenges of building a remote culture, how we’ve addressed these and what we’ve learned. I’ll also explain how we adapted our culture of remote working during the pandemic.

I hope this will inspire other business leaders to be confident in considering remote work as a viable part of their business model  and the advantages that it can offer, whilst deepening their understanding of the best practices in building a remote working culture.

Part 1 – Remote Working with Our Clients

When clients work with us, they understand from the beginning that working remotely is key to our delivery. The tools and strategies we’ve used are critical to our success in building our remote working culture, but there are also pros and cons of working in this way.

Building trust through the client/partner relationship

As with any client/partner relationship, it is important to pay attention to developing the connections and trust amongst the people at every level who are facilitating the work.  

We invest in spending more time to build the trust that would have developed from being together in-person, by spending social time together. This is much harder to replace with other activities, but we consciously aim to include non-work related discussions into our online conversations so we understand each other a bit better, and can relate to each other on a personal level. 

Tip: Regardless of the quality of the internet connection, most people can turn on their video function at least at the beginning of a call to say hello. We might ask each other questions about what they can see from their window, where they are sitting, or what they had for breakfast. These questions are easy to answer, demonstrate interest and curiosity, build familiarity and understanding without taking too long or being invasive, all of which builds relationships and trust. 

Remote partnership brokering

Pearl Consulting’s work is underpinned by effective partnership brokering, connecting clients with the communities they wish to serve through their social impact programmes, and involving other stakeholders as appropriate in the process. Partnership development is a skill in itself and doing this remotely adds another dimension. Therefore, we invest in remote partnership brokering training through the Partnership Brokers Association to upskill many of our team members.

Remote culture – supporting the team

Communication and support are both essential to foster a productive team that strives to be the best version of itself. 

Tip – Check-in more frequently with the team than you might in an in-person setting, asking them what they want and need to be ok. This isn’t just a productivity question; it’s caring for them holistically, and how they can be supported, particularly during the pandemic.  

Nurturing emotional health and well-being is also an intrinsic part of the remote working culture. With our team this ranges from physical activities such as online team yoga and dance sessions. We believe that injecting some fun and creativity into interactive activities is important. During the pandemic, we focused on the emotional needs and support with increased wellness budgets, fun social activities like virtual tours of Italy, a book club and other social gatherings. 

We are aware of the bigger picture, too; acknowledging the widespread pandemic-related difficulties experienced by the broader communities in which our consultants live in and the markets we serve. We empowered our team to provide financial support in the form of donations to their local communities (small business or nonprofits), so they can feel that they are also doing something to help others.

The tech and the tools

Remote working simply is not possible without the right tools and technology. 

  • The physical environment – We work with our consultants to ensure that they have what they need. This includes their physical work needs, where they are working and gauging if it is possible to be productive in that environment?  Are they in need of a co-working space or an alternative to their current location?  
  • Collaboration tools – Cloud-based collaboration and productivity tools are essential. This could include working on the same online document or presentation for a client, enabling all  conversations and comments to happen within the document, doing away with emails back and forth. We also use virtual whiteboard tools that allow us to draw, move virtual sticky notes around a board and make sure everyone is able to express their ideas.
  • Messaging apps / functionality – We use group chats for project teams, allowing the team to have active conversations related to a specific project or group.
  • Video conferencing – We use our video conferencing technology to remain connected, to meet in separate “rooms” on the call, to use those tools for transcribing the meeting and to actually see each other to make sure everyone is ok. We are also lucky to get birthday calls with special backgrounds, and guest visitors on our calls, too, including children and pets! 
  • Streamlining processes through apps: We use intuitive apps to streamline our expense reporting, HR processes like annual leave and other functions to minimize operational “friction” for the team. We promised our team we would never make them use another Excel spreadsheet for expense reporting, much to their delight.

Remote work brings enormous advantage to employers and teams, as well as to clients, so if you’d like to learn more about how our remote work enables our projects or about remote partnership brokering, please contact anton@pearlconsult.com