Managing a multi-site small business from paradise

Online travel company TripADeal relies on mobile devices and apps to effectively manage staff from Byron Bay to Bali.

TripADeal maintains a completely mobile workforce of 10 staff members in Byron Bay, which has allowed the business to escape the financial risk of maintaining a city office, while also enabling expansion opportunities overseas with offices in Bali.

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TripADeal founder Norm Black Image: TripADeal

All staff members are equipped with smartphones, iPads, and the Salesforce Desk app in addition to communication-based apps like Skype, Google chat, Viber, and Gmail, allowing the company to run a 24/7 virtual support and sales centre. Staff can answer enquiries after hours, no matter where they are, and, according to founder Norm Black, it has resulted in a dramatic increase in sales.

"We can offer staff an amazing work/life balance so they can enjoy all the benefits of living in beautiful Byron Bay," said Black.

"They can go for a surf in the middle of the day and connect with customers and clients the instant they emerge from the water on their phone. Or they can spend an afternoon working in the shade of a pandanus tree, in stunning tropical surrounds, while delivering first-class customer service. Because we offer a great degree of flexibility, our employees are happy, healthy, full of energy, highly motivated, and committed to growing the business. And this is largely thanks to mobile technologies."

Black said that using mobile tools has been critical in keeping up with the 24/7 demands of the competitive online marketplace, which requires around-the-clock customer support for globally based customers across diverse language and time-zone barriers.

"The majority of our customer enquiries come in after hours via emails through to our support centre and online chat, which also integrates with Desk. Before using Desk, we were finding that without having staff available to field these enquiries, they were not converting to sales," he said.

"It is difficult to keep an office space open 24/7, so we rolled a multi-pronged mobility initiative to address these issues. This involved arming our staff with mobile phones and iPads so they could answer enquiries after hours, no matter where they might be," he added.

"It also allows staff to follow up on the details of cases that another team member might have dealt with previously. For example, an employee can take an evening phone call from a customer who has dealt with daytime staff, and quickly search the details of the case without needing to contact colleagues."

Along with providing the right tools, the business adopted a flexible workplace approach, where staff have the option of working from home during the week. Black said that this has returned great results for both the business and staff.

"Happy and healthy staff are more productive and motivated in the workplace. We find that by providing this flexibility, we get great loyalty and dedication from our staff.

"The beauty of working in the online space is that we don’t need to be cooped up in a city office; the mobility initiative has been instrumental in allowing our team to live the Byron lifestyle while staying at the cutting edge of our field," he added.

The business has been steadily expanding since its inception in 2011, with its office in Byron Bay acting as the main hub for all of the strategic, marketing, editorial, customer service, and accounting aspects of the business.

"We try to keep a clear and open flow of communication between all staff and avoid having a strict corporate hierarchy: The important thing as the business grows is that all staff have their role descriptions and expectations clearly mapped out to ensure that our processes run smoothly. I check in with the team in an informal meeting atmosphere daily, and I have managerial staff overseeing and directing the daily operations in a more detailed capacity, who report back to me on a regular basis. This gives me time to focus on growing the business. We are going through a huge growth period and hiring a lot of new staff — while it's all positive, change can be pretty unsettling, so we also make time for regular team bonding sessions."

The business also has two sales staff members based on the west coast of Bali, and Black said that despite the geographical distance, mobile tools and associated processes enable the team to function as one cohesive unit.

"Myself and other senior team members in Australia communicate with our Bali team via Skype, Google chat, SMS, and email, as well as Viber calls several times per day. We also send weekly sales reports to the Bali team to give them feedback about the performance of their products, and work to nurture and support their growth in the business while offering regular direction and instruction on sales strategy," he said.

"Plus, we offer our Bali staff direct customer feedback via Salesforce Desk to improve the overall quality of our product. One of my senior staff spent a week in Bali training the sales team earlier this year to keep them abreast of our systems and processes, and I am heading over there myself in a few weeks' time to touch base with the team and some of our most highly valued Bali partners."

The Bali office has been such a hit that the business plans on opening another office with a local sales team on the ground in Phuket.

"Once you have the system running smoothly, it is very easy to scale up and replicate across any number of satellite offices."

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