Emma Heuston, Founder & Principal Lawyer, The Remote Expert and author of The Tracksuit Economy is a committed advocate and expert in remote working. Working from her home in the rural Northern NSW town of Ballina, Emma successfully worked remotely as a partner in a law firm, and now runs her own business.
Emma started The Remote Expert to provide specialist and customised legal advice, documents and templates to online businesses. Specifically women working remotely, and companies who are introducing remote working as part of their flexible working arrangements.
She believes that for women, building a profitable online business while living rurally or regionally is possible, and often preferable, to achieve a work environment that fits their unique life circumstances. Her own business is proof of concept; Emma was named a Finalist in the 2019 Lawyer’s Weekly Australian Law Awards for Solo Practitioner of the Year.
Tell us about the tracksuit economy, and your experience both of being a remote employee, and also managing a remote team.
I have experienced both sides of the remote work coin. As a remote worker (at partner level in a law firm) and now as a solopreneur running my virtual law firm, The Remote Expert.
It was during my 4 year stint as a remote worker that I wrote the Tracksuit Economy. My remote team was growing, and I was on the hunt for a book that I could read to give me management tips for the remote team. I quickly realised that apart from a couple of US based books about men in IT (one of which was called “My Year Without Pants”), there was no Australian equivalent for a woman in the professional services industry in Australia.
So I wrote that book! Released in May 2018, and available in ebook and print, the Tracksuit Economy chronicles my experience as a remote employee. And looks at the challenges remote employees face, plus the benefits to companies when they hire a remote team.
My 4 years managing a remote team and learning to communicate with an ever growing legal team and clients remotely was life changing.
It quickly became apparent that clear communication and a certain level of accessibility is necessary to be a successful remote employee. The isolation and boundary issues are also ever present. Learning how to establish those boundaries between home and work, and how to create your own social life without the face to face water cooler contact at work.
The number one benefit for me with remote work is productivity, and the ability to balance my family responsibilities with fulfilling work. This continues into my new life as an entrepreneur running a virtual law firm.
My experience has been such that I am committed to helping other women flourish in their own flexible businesses, or approach their employers for remote work arrangements. I also help employers implement remote work arrangements with contractors and remote workers.
What’s on the checklist of legal considerations for businesses on boarding remote employees?
Our current way of working was adopted at the time of the industrial revolution and our current workplace laws reflect that. This means that when an employee is remote, there are a whole host of things that employers need to think about and document. Because the law doesn’t quite think outside of the box enough (yet) where remote employees are concerned.
Things to think about include:
- Ensuring the remote work arrangements are documented correctly. And that the employer can end them or bring the employee back to the office if they don’t work out. Because, as great as remote working can be, not everyone is suited to being a remote worker.
- Ensuring a proper onboarding, induction and training period is agreed to and implemented.
- An audit of the employee’s proposed workspace is necessary. The employer remains responsible for the remote work during their hours of work. Because of this, the employer needs to know that their set up is safe. No loose cords or a laptop perched near a stove. And secure. No showing data or confidential information to other household members or keeping it on the dining room table.
- Employers should clarify the equipment that the employee will use. If the employee is using their own equipment, appropriate data security needs to be implemented. And the employee must not use things like free or unsecured wifi, as this can pose a risk to the employer’s data.
- The employer should obtain a copy of the employee’s home insurances and ensure they have adequate insurance for damage to property, theft etc. The Employer’s property or data could be impacted if a theft takes place.
- The way in which the employer and the employee will communicate with each other. Will they use a certain platform (like Trello or Asana) or phone, zoom calls?
A work from home policy or remote work policy can ensure these issues are covered and dealt with.
Share your view on for profit business models vs not for profit?
Many women gravitate towards not for profit companies. I encourage women, when we are talking through their options, to consider other options that achieve their purpose and make them money. As well as benefiting a social cause. It is not a crime to make money or want to achieve business success.
A profit for purpose is a self sustainable option which has the social benefits of a not for profit, but doesn’t rely solely on donations, grants or other fund raising efforts. Well run, these profit for purpose companies can be geared toward employing people with disabilities or people in need, and provide access to services for those marginalised.
A good example is the “Thank You” water and other products or the “I give a crap” toilet paper. A profit for purpose can start with a commitment to donate a percentage of revenue to a cause, to a more detailed model.
How does implementing Virtual Assistant support help businesses grow?
A virtual assistant is a really useful way for small business or the solopreneur to grow and scale without committing to permanent staff, and without having to expand office space. I have a VA for a few hours a month. The additional help takes tasks off my hands and frees me up for work. Yet, I have not had to increase my office space or rent external premises.
In time I may need a more permanent assistant (who I would hire to work remotely) but for now it lets me straddle that gap between working by myself and outsourcing certain tasks. The majority of virtual assistants work on an “as needed” basis. Meaning that the business hiring them doesn’t need to commit to a huge overhead, and only pays for what they use.
For me, it epitomises the beauty of a flexible and agile workplace and what’s possible in the new age of remote and agile work.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud that I made the step to go out into business by myself. Now that I’m doing it, I feel that I was born to do this. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get that courage up in the 18 years of my career I spent as an employee.
I am also proud that I’m the first remote work lawyer in Australia, carving out the niche and branding myself with the Tracksuit Economy book. In 2018 I won the Lawyers Weekly Women in Law Award for Thought Leader of the Year. This was in recognition of my work in the flexible and remote workspace in the legal industry in Australia.
I love when I receive a message from someone who has read my book, and it has given them the courage to ask to work from home (and that request has then been granted). Or that other women have seen how I have been able to work from home in a virtual firm, and taken the leap to do the same themselves.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.
The Remote Expert is a Femeconomy Platinum Member. To learn more about joining Femeconomy, hit the big red button below: