The world has changed quite a bit since COVID-19 hit. People moved, many to different states. Babies were born. Companies have grown and changed. It’s likely that the way we think about work will never be the same again.
Forcing everybody back into the office in today’s marketplace is a foolish idea. Bearing this in mind, it seems that the next challenge leaders face is creating functional, hybrid work environments.
Sure, finding a remote solution is a lot more complex than an in-person 9-to-5 model, but at the same time, I think it's incumbent upon us to work with our employees to create more flexible work situations. Employees have done their jobs remotely for over a year and we've barely missed a beat. Over the last year, we’ve seen there’s real value in the remote work model. We need to find ways to meet employees in the middle and do what’s right for the company, the culture, and each individual.
We’ve had a lot of discussions about this at Nvoicepay. We’ve conducted company-wide surveys and have even looked at our employees’ DiSC profiles to see who’s likely to want to stay home--and likely, to thrive there. Here are some of the factors we’ve weighed around this new opportunity:
Each team’s return to the office depends a lot on their primary function and how collaborative they need to be. For example, our implementation team is on the phone constantly. They’ve found it is much easier to be at home on the phone in a quiet, distraction-free space. On the other hand, our vendor support team, (who are also on the phone all the time), find it more helpful to be together. This allows the team, which frequently sees new members added, to listen to one another’s calls and coach or learn from each other.
Nvoicepay grew almost 40 percent during the pandemic. If everyone were to come back to the office full time, we couldn’t easily accommodate them all with the comfortable space people have typically enjoyed. Other companies may attempt to shed overcapacity issues. Everyone is trying to figure out how to use the footprint they have in the most efficient way.
For us, that plan means building out a schedule of who's going to be in and when. We’ve even considered a system where employees may not have an assigned workspace if they aren’t going to be in the office at least three times a week. There will be a lot more ‘hot desking’ with this system, but it also allows for the flexibility this pandemic has made so necessary.
We’ve always allowed people to shift their hours to avoid traffic, but I think we all have a new baseline about the value of reclaimed commute time. Whether that saved commute time is used to exercise, pursue a hobby, or be with family, people are leaning in and enjoying that extra space. Before the pandemic, one of our employees had a two and half-hour daily commute. Then he had a baby during lockdown and now he works at home while wearing the baby on his chest. He can’t imagine giving that up and we don’t want him to! We expect commuters who are in a role where they can be remote are probably going to stay remote except for maybe once a month for an in-person staff meeting.
Nvoicepay is known for its culture. Our Culture & Communications Committee (C3) worked hard to find different ways to keep all that pride in our work culture together during the pandemic with a variety of events. One of our favorites is the “First Friday” meeting, where the executive team brings updates and shares kudos with the whole company. Pre-pandemic we had some people dialing into these, but we didn’t see that much engagement from them. Now, we realize you can generate a lot of engagement remotely. Since we know there is much room for engagement despite people being remote, we have to work to keep providing opportunities for remote engagement even as we add back in-person events.
When everyone was in the office, we had a “laptops down, phones off” rule during meetings, but that etiquette crumbled with people working at home. We identified one of the more challenging aspects of remote work: multitasking during video calls. We encourage everyone to have their cameras on--it’s not possible to make it a hard-fast rule, because some folks don’t have enough bandwidth to support video chats. Most of our employees respond positively to speaking “face-to-face.” We’re working hard to support them and keep them engaged throughout the workday, especially as hybrid environments become standard.
There's a certain energy that happens where two or three people huddle up, focus on an issue and tackle it. At least initially, we’re going to have to sell the benefits of returning to the office by reminding employees of that energy.
When everyone is remote, what could be a five-minute deskside conversation ends up being a 30-minute scheduled conference call. Personally, I will be in the office at least three days a week, because there's an energy and level of camaraderie I've missed. We've brought on so many new people I also want to be there to meet them in person and support them.
Even before the pandemic, many companies had remote workers, though they were the minority. They would call into meetings, often forgotten by the people in the room, and generally had a lot less visibility. That could sometimes limit opportunity.
Normalizing remote work will likely increase the inclusion of remote workers. Even so, we will also encourage engagement so they’re at parity with in-office workers. Perhaps we can learn from some of the people who excel at staying engaged remotely as in person. It’s a whole new skill set we need to help professionals develop, but it’s important to us to keep this at the forefront of our planning.
Among other benefits, hybrid work environments offer companies the ability to attract talented employees regardless of their location and to retain them. The experience we’ve had during the work-from-home efforts should go a long way toward overcoming companies’ apprehensions about offering remote work options more broadly. Even though there are a lot of unknowns, it’s exciting to shape this brave new world. If you can remain flexible and be creative, remote work is an opportunity to have a happier, more productive workforce and gain a competitive advantage at the same time.