It’s been more than two years of on-again, off-again work in the office, and as someone who has been on both sides of the Zoom, the solution is clear: don’t force employees into the office if they don’t want to be there.
Many leaders across the spectrum are facing the question about when, and if, to bring their teams back into the office. While you will hear arguments that support both sides of the debate, there are no stats that support creating a work environment filled with dissatisfied workers.
At TheSoul Publishing, we’ve been 80% remote for more than five years. That headstart gave our growing digital studio an incredible runway to learn the dos and the don’ts of making a remote work environment work efficiently. Many of our team members work in creative roles, and they benefit from non-traditional work hours. Our team never knows when and how they will be inspired to create the next viral video, and our remote setup enables that flexibility.
But it’s not just creatively focused team members who benefit from an efficient remote setup. Colleagues from across the spectrum, whether it’s IT, finance, or Human Resources have seen the benefits of working from home.
One team member needs to get his kids to school in the morning but loves burning the midnight oil. Another prefers an early start, and an early finish to her day. One of my team members even prefers to take an hour or two in the middle of the day to step away and refocus. When you’re working remotely, all of these schedules are not only possible, but actually can be more productive for the team as a whole.
But effective remote working doesn’t happen on its own. The system needs to be carefully considered and constructed with particular business needs in mind. First and foremost is setting up a clear and effective system for communications and project management.
When you’re in the office and your teammate comes to your desk and asks you a question, you most likely stop what you’re doing and do your best to answer the question. While this may be efficient for the person asking the question, it’s more than likely not the best process for the person answering. On the flip side, asynchronous communication has proven to be an incredibly effective way for businesses to operate. Instead of your colleague getting instant answers, he instead uses your project management system to pose the question. If it’s urgent, he can make the deadline ASAP, whereas if the answer can come in a few days, the deadline can be delayed.
When a question is attached to the project, it also enables both parties to have full transparency into all of the details, often answering questions before they’re asked. Also, it means the person being asked a question can answer at a time that is best for them, rather than when they are in the middle of a project.
Asynchronous communications also enable companies to schedule fewer meetings and eliminates the need for internal email. It’s worked well for TheSoul, which has a no meetings/no internal email policy. Projects move forward on schedule as expectations are clearly laid out, with contributors having access to their teammates’ tasks to better understand status and progress.
While having a live chat tool at the disposal of your team is useful, there isn’t an expectation that a message will be immediately responded to. This allows everyone to focus on the task at hand and prioritize their time as they see fit. If the team is aligned on the desired outcome, it’s a superior method to accomplishing goals.
When it comes to the bottom line, having fewer people in the office allows companies to downsize their office space and save on rent and maintenance. It also provides teammates with extra time in their workdays that they would otherwise spend commuting. While these advantages are quite clear, you should also consider your team’s state of mind. Many find their colleagues are just a lot more satisfied with their work-life balance when they’re not spending 40-50 hours a week in the office. But not everyone agrees…
Not For Everyone
This is where it comes down to knowing, or finding out, the individual preferences of your team. Sometimes the parents of young children actually prefer to get out of their house and give their kids some space. Others may yearn for the water cooler conversation that they wouldn’t get at home. Some people prefer the separation of going to an office for their professional lives, and going home to handle their personal lives.
That’s why it makes sense to do whatever you can to cater to your employees’ personal preferences. While a “hybrid work environment” has come to mean that a team spends some time in the office and some time working from home, a “hybrid hybrid work environment” further opens those options. It allows those who want to work from home full-time to do so, while those who want to be in the office full time to do so also. And then there’s those who want a little bit of both.
No matter what they prefer for their own working style, a manager should be focused on getting the best out of each team member while ensuring they are both efficiently reaching goals and finding satisfaction in their day to day. It may take some time to get processes in place to perfect the strategy at your company, but in the end, the benefits of versatility will pay dividends to both the bottom line and to your team’s state of mind.
Patrik Wilkens is the VP of Operations at TheSoul Publishing.