By Mike Pratt
We’re seeing stories in the media about this post-pandemic business world; sure, many were unsure what it would be like to work remotely back in the winter of 2020. But guess what? We got used to it – became smitten with it actually; and now many don’t want to come back. From this Washington Post article:
“For employers, they need to understand the tide has turned,” said Scott Dobroski, vice president of corporate communications at Indeed. Employees still have the upper hand in a white-hot labor market. “This demand for flexibility among employees, no longer just a request, will likely have a direct impact on their hiring and retention efforts, which also directly impact a company’s bottom line … Among fully remote workers, 60 percent said they would be ‘extremely likely’ to look for other opportunities if their employer decided not to offer remote work at least some of the time.”
It’s always interesting to get U.S. HealthTek co-founder Bryan Firestone’s take on this topic because he had the vision to see the virtual office future way back when, and he set up our company as a virtual one so long ago, that people were still using fax machines. As he wrote in a July 2020 Blog:
“There is much talk about what aspects of our lives will be permanently reshaped because of the pandemic. Even before coronavirus showed up, businesses have been making the shift to virtual operations. But here we are in a pandemic, and now those who were skeptical of the idea were temporarily ‘forced’ in it. Now we’re seeing companies across all industries notice the profitability and efficiencies of having staff work from home, and a company’s sales and customer service operations are a critical part of this shift.”
He is certainly not alone in understanding the advantages of a virtual office:
- Company Cost Savings. No leasing an office or paying those big utility bills.
- Personal Cost Savings. Your office commute is now a few steps from your bedroom, and that ends up being a “pay raise” in travel costs.
- Quality Talent. Our core team members live in Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and California with additional staff and consultants … well, pretty much anywhere. Our people are hired based solely on how amazingly talented they are, regardless of geography.
We all understand we’re in a new paradigm – so here are a few hacks, from someone who’s been doing this for a while, to help us all settle in.
For the Individual:
Have a Mindful Process. Productivity is key to success in any work environment. Tools like MS Outlook and MS Teams make it easy to open channels of communication and collaboration while simultaneously providing the task management insight required to ensure everyone in the organization is staying productive. Our virtual calendars become the source of truth. But now it’s enforcing the importance of knowing when to unplug that becomes tricky. Scheduling recurring weekly meetings to keep a pulse on the team’s morale while allowing the opportunity for comradery and status updates is mission critical. Work to ensure team members don’t get caught in the virtual fog of having the ability to be “at the office” with a moment’s notice. Working a typical 9 to 5 at the office meant you had to show up on time and you had a clearly defined end to the work day, which by the way, was filled with a litany of distractions in the form of cubical surfers, water cooler conversations, and the biggest culprit of all, unneeded or unnecessarily long meetings. Just like showing up at the office doesn’t guarantee productivity, working virtually doesn’t mean the opportunity for burnout isn’t real.
- Put Thought in Your Home Office Set Up. In the early days of the pandemic, workers typically took over the dining room table or some corner of a suspicious-smelling basement. Unfortunately, that’s not a long-term solution when working virtually becomes a full-time reality. The importance of separating work from home is a must. If you can’t create boundaries between the two, the result is mental and emotional fatigue. So, finding that space and creating a routine that allows you to “close up” shop goes a long way to ensuring a productive virtual work life. If dividing home from office isn’t a possibility, inexpensive single office spaces have popped up in neighborhoods that might be the answer, especially to those who really struggle with the “life/work” blurring.
- Video Meetings Are Here to Stay. Just because you work from home doesn’t mean your daily work habits should change. Getting in and keeping a formal routine goes a long way to ensuring your productivity from the virtual office. I’m not saying you should dust off your three-piece suit, but I am recommending you make good use of the time you previously spent commuting to work in the morning. With some good lighting, clear audio and a clean shirt you can and should always be prepared for that impromptu 8:00 AM Zoom call.
For the Team:
- The Right People. While I can expound all day on the tremendous benefits of a virtual office, I do know it’s not for everyone. If you’re transitioning from brick and mortar to virtual, know that there may be some employees who just aren’t comfortable with that model, and it will be better for both parties to part ways. Going forward, look for new associates who can prioritize and focus, who thrive on a long leash with little or even no supervision, and perhaps most importantly, who possess excellent communication skills.
- And About Communication …. It’s more important and involved than in a physical office. Collaborative tools (Slack, Basecamp, MS Teams) are vital, as is being responsive to instant messaging. But be a respectful team member. With everyone’s schedules at your disposal via features like Scheduling Assistant and with individuals’ status updates readily available to you, do your part to limit sending unnecessary follow-up requests if you see they are in a meeting or on a call. When used respectfully you’ll be amazed how much easier and effectively you can communicate with your team.
- Be Clear About Tasks. This is where “assuming” can get you in trouble. But again, having good people who can stay on top of things is key. One thing that I find super helpful is using “tasks” (in my case in MS Teams) to create an “action list.” It’s a simple and effective way to ensure the accurate delegation of follow-up items to one or more team members. No more relying on someone else’s memory to make sure the to do list gets across the finish line.
- Understand the New “Office Hours.” The data is in: The majority of workers are more productive working from home. My theory is that people respond to respect and trust. Studies show that there are less overly long meetings and other timewasters. But also, happy people are productive people, and that means taking care of all the things one can’t in a 9-to-5er. Make a note that Andre takes his kids to school from 8:15 to 9:00; that Susy takes a cello lesson on Wednesdays from 3 to 4. Related, be clear with everyone that you go to the gym Tuesday and Thursday from 11 to 12:30!
Again, I’m grateful to be part of an organization that understood the advantages of a virtual office almost two decades ago. And while we’re all so grateful the pandemic is in the rear-view, the virtual office going mainstream is making a positive impact on individual workers’ lives and companies’ bottom lines. We just need to approach it thoughtfully and with precision to make it professionally and personally successful.