Vaccines are going into arms. Masks are coming off. As the world tentatively peeks its head from out of its shelter, companies are faced with a question that, a year ago, would have seemed surreal: How do we go back to the office?
Nay: should we go back to the office?
The evidence is coming in now that for some industries, the answer is a surprising no. Administrative support, real estate, and entertainment industries saw a substantial boom in productivity during the pandemic. Information technology lost productivity at a negligible scale, and even then, most likely due to the absence of childcare options, meaning productivity in this field is expected to swell when kids go back to school.
According to a survey by Prudential, 42% of workers who are currently remote said that they are willing to look for a new job if that’s what it takes to continue working remotely over the long-term.
For those companies that have started reopening, they’re finding that a significant hurdle is assuaging their employees’ concerns about the safety of commuting—not to mention that commutes have been the bane of employee morale and productivity for… well, forever.
Bottom line: it looks like the pandemic has changed the workforce of corporate America permanently, and companies need to adapt to this new normal.
So, if you’re thinking about making your company all remote all the time, keep reading: PVM, Inc. decided to be remote since our very founding a decade ago, so we’ve had some time to refine our framework accordingly. We are here to address your biggest concerns.
How do we ensure consistent communication between team members?
Listen: whether you use Teams or Slack or Zoom, whether you use Apple or Microsoft or Chromebooks, do not skimp on providing the tools. If you’ve just decided to go fully remote, that means you probably saved thousands on overhead related to renting an office space (and other associated costs). That’s great! Use that pool of money to invest in your new workspace: the online workspace. Your employees need quality computers and quality applications. This is your first and most obvious step.
Employees often get up to speed about the business or get inspired to innovate just from their casual, day-to-day interactions in the office. How do we move forward without it?
First of all, it is a myth that in-person interactions are a necessary component of innovation; in fact, it is often the case that employees who have good ideas let them go to waste because the office environment isn’t conducive to their personal style of communication.
That being said, it does require some extra effort to make sure people are talking when they aren’t in each others’ presence every day so that they have opportunities to bounce ideas off one another. There are two major solutions to this problem, and we recommend both.
One, maintain a strict schedule. If you’re a tech company, you might already be in the habit of having a daily Scrum. If not, consider it. If possible, make this meeting the first thing everyone does every day; this will be a huge help to your employees in drawing a boundary between work time and home time. For more high-level or long-term projects, weekly or biweekly team sync meetings are also recommended.
And two, offer frequent rewards and incentives for good work that are specific in nature and public to the workforce. Not only is this a highly effective practice for improving productivity and getting buy-in from the staff, but as an additional benefit, employees on different teams are consistently made aware of what other teams have been working on. We recommend a tool like Bonusly as a highly effective tool for promoting this kind of positive, greatly communicative work environment.
Okay, so all the work stuff is covered. Now what about water cooler talk, the stuff that helps employees form bonds? How do you replace that?
Virtual happy hour is a good start! Routine trivia nights are also a popular choice.
But if you really want to grease the wheels of group cohesion the way those water cooler conversations do, kick the ball to your employees. They’re the ones looking for shared interests! Encourage them to use the tools you offer to form discussion groups among themselves. Advocate for book clubs, give them a space on Slack to talk about the latest football game, or arrange watch parties for the Oscars or E3.
People are already seeking out online spaces to engage in their shared interests. Bringing those office conversations online might be easier and more desirable to your staff than you might guess.
So far, this all makes sense. But don’t you just need a boardroom sometimes? What if we need to meet up with and impress a client? And are you sure you really never need in-person interaction between employees?
Well, maybe not never. You won’t impress a client by taking them to the local café, and it’s also true that employees benefit greatly from meeting each other face-to-face. So yes, sometimes you just need a boardroom.
When we have a need for a physical workspace, especially while meeting a client, we prefer Regus. They offer everything you might need, whether it’s the privacy of a small office, an open workspace that’s just a place away from the distractions of home, or a meeting room for hashing out those important contracts. We’ve found that this option has not been disruptive at all to our ability to conduct business; in fact, it gives us the maximum flexibility, as Regus is located all over the world, so our work need not be tied to whatever city or state we would otherwise be renting a permanent office space in.
But these locations aren’t just important for impressing clients; you should also be leveraging them to get your staff together in person, at least occasionally. Sometimes there are employees who are just plain better at collaborating on a tough problem while in the same room, and you want to make sure that option is available to them.
And of course, all the regular company celebrations you’re used to, such as holiday parties, can and should be an excuse to get together! A big yearly social gathering is all the more important (and all the more enjoyable!) for a staff that typically only interacts online, so consider going big on the holiday party when December rolls around.
"We have found that remote work is very good for diversity," PVM's Human Resources director, Marivic Watson, said on the subject. "We're big believers that bringing together people from all walks of life is good for business, as well as a good life decision in general. Refusing to be chained to an office in a specific location has made it easy to live up to that principle. The company benefits from it, and more importantly, our people do, too."
COVID-19 ushered in dramatic changes that the world economy wasn’t immediately prepared for, but maybe we should have been; the fact is we should have encouraged remote working years ago. Industries have merely been reluctant to adapt because, well, working in offices is how we’ve always done it, isn’t it?
It took a set of extraordinary circumstances to shift our thinking on how people can work together in the age of the internet, but here we are: the whole workforce is acquainted with the tools and has a clear picture of what remote work looks like, now, and they can’t un-learn it. For many, this style of work is the undisputed path forward in the development of their work/life balance, and has become a major selling point in their career choices going forward. Will you be able to offer it?