The Remote Office

When working for a company that develops and implements knowledge bases for enterprise clients it's easy to spend a day working from home, from time to time. Especially, when you're a developer or consultant. In our internal installation of Encyclopaedia, every piece of information is stored and organised in a systematic and comprehensible way and you can access it from any place with an internet connection. But, what if you're an administrative assistant? Then, in addition to the usual “account stuff”, like the reconciliation of financial accounts or cash transaction management, you're supposed to be personally in the office to handle mail, office administration details and invoice processing. Fortunately, Semanta is different in all of this. Being an administrative assistant here doesn't mean you have to work in its offices, or even in Prague and what's more, not even in the Czech Republic.

I'm a student of economics in my final year of my master´s degree. In April 2014 I went to Munich, to spend a semester at LMU. I'd been working for Semanta as an administrative assistant for 7 months by that time, and my decision to leave and simultaneously stay on as a member of the team was almost fully supported by my employers. There was just one condition: everything should run like I'd never left office. Simple, right? Well, actually, it wasn't as hard as it would appear.

Before leaving, I had to be sure that every aspect of my daily routine was consistently manageable in a city 300km away. Fortunately, some “stuff” is easy to manage remotely without any effort (for example: remote desktop services or payments via internet banking) but as I mentioned above, other things aren't (at least if they are, it's not immediately evident how). So what were the obstacles to this remote way of working and was it possible to get around them?:


Financial Forecasts

To create a comprehensible and precise forecast you need to be informed of every new lead in the company. Any financial forecast that doesn't take into account the latest changes to a company's business, its income and outgoings etc will cause problem's for the board's long-term decision making. Of course, the best way to get up-to-date information is to actually be in the office, at the centre of all the processes. And here's the trick. If like me, you're not able to do that, with Encyclopaedia installed, you can. Just turn on the computer, open up your browser and start absorbing. With Encyclopaedia, I was able to read about any planned project and access its related reports, I was able to discuss any changes that had been made within the company with my colleagues 300km away and I was able to stay up-to-date, all of the time.


Cash-Flow Statements

The main route to solving this issue is tied back to the one I just mentioned above. A company needs to know how it stands regards its income and outgoings. At Semanta I prepare cash-flow statements on a monthly basis. But if I'm not in the office how can I gain access to all the relevant data and material ? Well, it's actually not that big a step from managing financial forecasts remotely, as cash-flow reflects the real flow of money in the company. If the financial forecast has been set up to correctly predict future flows, the actual cash-flow statement will be a natural by-product of it. A quick check of its financial accuracy is needed but this isn't difficult because every document in the company is easily accessible via Encyclopaedia or Google Drive - which brings me to my third point.


Access to documents

An administrative assistant is supposed to have an overview of every document in the firm. If anybody asks you to issue a new invoice similar to a previous one or to check an old insurance agreement against a new one, you shouldn't be lost. With a few clicks I was able to find anything that I needed in either Encyclopaedia or a cloud storage system. Finally, no ring-binders and paper folders – access to anything, anywhere.


Communication Point

Some tasks need to be accomplished as fast as possible. E-mail communication is often an important factor influencing a task's successful outcome. However, sometimes an email conversation gets stuck on one or both sides and you end up having to wait to complete your task until some guy gets round to answering your question. This prolongs the whole process, making it inefficient and time consuming. In my job, e-mail communication is important and irreplaceable. However, at the intra-company level, Encyclopaedia provides a unique solution to the above-mentioned problem via comments, likes, thanks and shares. Every important issue has its own page within Encyclopaedia. The page is edited, commented on and updated as the task is slowly completed. The page is the task in process, as it were. It allows many different conversations about each task to be made remotely and simultaneously. Using this feature from Munich, I was able to stay on top of my jobs and also speed them up considerably. And most importantly, I didn't need to be present in the office to notify my colleagues of changes or requests, Encyclopaedia did it for me, just fine.


Now, looking back, I have to say that this remote experience really improved my work methods and skills. Many processes became more efficient. Being out of the office taught me how to search for everything more quickly and also gave me a unique insight into the firm from a different perspective. Communication with my colleagues also got better

Ok, it's true, it was impossible to manage everything from long distance. You can't open an envelope over the internet - some mail is delivered exclusively by the postal service in the Czech Republic - and your accountant needs the physical invoices and bills every month. In such situations, any modern technology just doesn't work. Semanta, therefore, hired my friend to help with all this stuff, five hours-a-week.

The bottom line is that the job was entirely possible remotely and Encyclopaedia made it so. Thanks to it, Google Drive and my colleagues´ goodwill none of my duties were neglected. Some of my co-workers didn't even notice I'd been gone and when I got back I even got promoted! Most importantly though, the issues that looked like being a roadblock to remote management got solved and were solved by the tool that Semanta spends its time developing.