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What Happens When the Remote Office Becomes Permanent?

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Image: Tetiana Soares -
After reading “Whither the Workplace End Up” by Beth Schultz and following through on her suggestion to read this collection of ideas assembled by faculty at the Harvard Business School (HBS), I realized as a business owner that my quandary was somewhat different, and I’d like to explain why.
Whereas Schultz’s article focused on how organizations will successfully bring back remote staff to the office, my firm is on the other side of the fence because we’ve decided to work from home permanently. This decision was straightforward for a combination of reasons: our workforce wanted to stay home, we had honed a management structure during COVID that allowed us to support our remote employees while ensuring productivity and effectiveness, and it opens us up to a much broader pool of candidates. It doesn’t mean the transition has been without challenges, but reviewing the advice from HBS provided some helpful suggestions. Here are some additional thoughts for supporting a fully remote environment.
Foster connections among staff – Gone are the days of casual face-to-face conversations at the office, so my team now has regular weekly meetings to not only cover work-related items but also recognize staff and those that acknowledged them. We also hold regular social gatherings for the staff, so they have the opportunity to engage and get together. However, as Schultz highlighted in her article, optimizing “face time” should be a mix of scheduled and serendipity which can be difficult in a fully remote environment. We encourage staff to video call a team member to collaborate or discuss work–like they normally would do in the office. Additionally, as noted in the article, managers must be sensitive and gauge how the staff is getting along in their role – whether in the office or remote – and their overall level of work satisfaction. We have a specific agenda for weekly check-ins that includes all facets of the employee’s work, including overall satisfaction with their current assignments.
Provide additional support for new hires – Working remotely and maintaining a connection with your team can be challenging for existing staff that used to work together pre-pandemic, but onboarding new employees in this environment poses an especially challenging situation that requires clear organization and additional support. New hires must be assigned to experienced staff and roles that these “mentors/helpers” will play require a clear definition. That may mean one mentor will help the new hire with job-related tasks while the other is assigned as a “buddy” to help with a myriad of general questions (who does what, where to find things, culture-related issues, etc.). Providing new hires with a safe sounding board is helpful to better understand their unique challenges and frustrations and devise mutually agreeable strategies to overcome them.
Simplify tools to get the job done – As a consulting firm that helps organizations manage the complexity of their communications, we’re sensitive to recognize that technology should be a tool to help one get their job done – not an encumbrance to getting your job done. In a fully remote environment, we try to select tools that our staff can learn and use effectively and seamlessly. Although this can’t always be the priority, it’s always a serious consideration. Working remotely amplifies the feeling of being “on your own” so providing simple tools that are easy to use/access and a readily available support structure can help to reduce frustration immensely.
Be open and inclusive, regularly request input – Whether you’re returning to an office or staying remote, share your plans with your team and request their input. They can provide insights into challenges, both big and small, and offer potential solutions. I was as surprised to learn that my staff wanted to continue working from home as I was to hear that they wondered how to get office supplies replenished. When a long-time employee left last month, everyone had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to her in-person, outdoor, socially distanced, going away party (the first in-person gathering we had as a group since last March). It also inspired us to modify our virtual happy hours to include an outdoor gathering spot when the weather permits and a designated attendee or two to “escort” virtual attendees around the gathering to mingle. We like to stay home to work, but everyone prefers to be together and socialize.
As Schultz quoted in her article “…the workplace as we used to know it, quite frankly, is dead.” Now is a good time for all organizations to consider their circumstances and their approach to the office—if an office is in your future. Take advantage of this truly unique time in history to reimagine your “office” environment in a way that will support your success.


This article originally published on April 6, 2021 (click here for the original article).

Molly is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. Our consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.