Guest blog: Remote without the disconnect - By Steve Bryne, CEO, Travel Counsellors.

Steve Byrne, CEO at global independent travel company, Travel Counsellors, says self-development doesn’t have to take a back seat when working smarter.

Records show that the number of UK homeworkers has increased by nearly 50% over the last two decades, and out of a UK working population of 32.5m people, four million have decided to take the opportunity to back themselves and run their own business.

With these numbers set to increase, and the next generation of talent around the corner who are well-versed in the benefits of smarter working, I’m reminded of Microsoft Corporation founder Bill Gates’ view: "As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others."

Empowering people to work smarter requires a tangible level of trust. It requires trust between the company, as the enabler, and their employees, or in Travel Counsellors case, over 1800 franchise owners across the globe who run their own corporate and leisure travel businesses from home.

Nurturing trusted relationships between employer and employee must go hand-in-hand with creating a strong sense of community across an organisation - a community of people that supports and champions each other to achieve their personal and professional goals, backed by a technology platform that ensures that they feel constantly engaged and digitally connected. The result, in Travel Counsellors case, is a global group of hundreds of professionals, sharing knowledge, support and expertise to provide their customers with the best travel experiences possible. Afterall, you are only ever one Skype call away from a helping hand.

Being trusted to do your job to the very best of your ability is an incredibly powerful tool. Not only for the good of individual and collective business growth, but for the betterment of a person’s self-belief and self-development, both in and out of the workplace.  To quote the American educator Booker T. Washington, “Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.”

Even as Travel Counsellors celebrates 25 years of servicing corporate and leisure travel customers by empowering caring, professional people to run their own travel business from home, we recognise and acknowledge that we’re still learning all the time. Perfection, if possible, can only be attained from continuous learning and practice. As an international company community, spanning seven countries across the globe, learning and development plays a key part in ensuring our remote-working business owners feel supported to be the very best they can be.  

To support the company community with the latest learning and development opportunities, Travel Counsellors has invested in a bespoke-built, learning and development platform, ‘Coach’, enabling business owners and support team members across the globe to access hundreds of module-based courses on their desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone, wherever they may be. Whilst the platform features a wealth of destination information to ensure our business owners support customers to enjoy the best travel experiences, Coach also features a suite of self-development and business growth courses, including time, budget and project management, business planning, networking, leadership skills, creative thinking, social media tools,  boosting health and wellbeing, stress management and maintaining a positive mental attitude, to name only a few.

Providing access to remote training not only supports personal and professional growth, it’s exactly what the next generation of talent is looking for. Digital connectivity and social media networks now mean there are no limits to scale a business or work smarter for those who are supported with the tools and technology to do so, and the community network in place to help them along the way.

That said, we also recognise that technology platforms must be supplemented with the human touch. I’m also reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s statement, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Creating opportunities for involvement, for two-way interaction across collaborative communication channels such as discussion boards, as well as opportunities for a remote working community to meet face-to-face, support the ongoing learning and self-development of our business owners. In fact, the more our community members engage with, and learn from each other, the quicker they tend to reach their business goals.

It seems timely that Work Wise Week falls on the same week as Mental Health Awareness Week, with the benefits of remote, smarter and flexible working on people’s mind, body and soul being well documented. Travel Counsellors also offers an internal programme of holistic support, including personal counselling and a dedicated benevolent fund, recognising that life can interfere with even the best laid plans.

In summary, working smarter, flexibly or remotely should serve to enhance the experiences of the members of the company community, and their customers. Supporting people to feel trusted and empowered to achieve their personal and professional goals is more than possible with the use of a technology platform that ensures they can feel constantly engaged and connected with others. More across the globe, learning and development plays a key part in ensuring our remote-working business owners feel supported to be the very best they can be.  

As author and speaker Sybil F. Stershic says, “The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel.” – Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most: A Guide to Employee Customer Care.