At this point, most of us have begun a second year of working from home. And while some companies are weighing reopening plans, many — such as Nationwide, Shopify and Dropbox — have opted to make remote work the new norm.
Why? Benefits such as flexible schedules, no commutes and the ability to run quick errands during the workday can be really attractive to current and prospective employees. In fact, a LiveCareer survey found that 61 percent of employees want their employers to let them continue working remotely indefinitely even after the pandemic, and 29 percent said they’d quit their jobs if they’re not allowed to remain remote.
Clearly, companies need to weigh their options, taking their most valuable assets — employees — into account. For me, this meant establishing a remote-first culture even before COVID-19. After watching my employees commute for hours every day in past ventures, I decided to make GRAX remote-first from the get-go to give employees the flexibility they need to have a meaningful work-life balance.
3 Benefits of Permanent Remote Work
- Our employees work hours that work for them, and they are ultimately more productive because they aren’t losing time to a commute.
- We have been able to dip into a wider talent pool instead of being limited by who is in our region.
- We’ve saved on expensive real estate.
Here are a few key factors business leaders should consider if they’re thinking about moving to a permanent remote-first workplace.
Set the Right Expectations
Once a company has decided to take the plunge, it’s important to let employees know exactly what to expect. In most business settings, working from home lessens the need for a traditional 9-to-5 workweek. Leaders need to decide if they’re OK with this. Keep in mind that having flexible schedules doesn’t mean less work. It means trusting employees to work whatever hours are needed to get their jobs done on time.
Managers and leaders should set clear goals with team members on what they need to accomplish each week, month or quarter and consistently measure against those goals. They should also schedule frequent check-ins with teams or one-on-ones to ensure projects are completed and there’s accountability within the organization.
Employees should also be prepared to communicate asynchronously. Think of this similarly to working in a Google Doc: People can comment, suggest and edit at any time of the day. Sometimes many people will be working on it at the same time, and sometimes there may only be one person. Employees need to accept that immediate answers are not always going to happen. To ensure that productivity doesn’t slow down, they also need to be clear about project and milestone deadlines.
Give Employees Options
While working from home is attractive to most employees, there may be people who prefer working from an office or who aren’t equipped to work efficiently at home.
Company leaders must be willing to give employees options to boost retention and make the work environment as comfortable as possible for everyone, including those who want face-to-face time. This may mean having a small satellite office or shared workspaces where people can congregate to work on projects, hold meetings, socialize or simply get out of their houses.
Likewise, leaders should consider offering a monthly or annual stipend that employees can use to make their work from home scenarios more ideal — whether that means paying for high-speed internet or a new desk chair or monitor. Leaving stipends like this open-ended empowers employees to get whatever it is they need to be comfortable and efficient.
As more and more companies decide to work remotely, there’s also an increased opportunity to take a more flexible approach to what “the office” means for an organization. Companies can make arrangements with Airbnb or Vrbo to encourage employees to work near colleagues for a few weeks or even months at a time. The concept of pop-up offices or workspaces can improve retention by adding collaboration and immersed time with co-workers to the employee experience — something they likely would not get at another job.
Establish a Unique Culture
While pop-up meetups are great, there could still be cultural aspects that people miss when not getting together with colleagues on a regular basis.
Going out for drinks, having water-cooler conversations or even pulling office pranks are all part of the employee experience and add a special something to any workplace. This is why when we started working from home, Slack, Donut meetings and Zoom happy hours became all the rage. However, as time goes by and Zoom fatigue sets in, it can be challenging to create meaningful events that keep employees engaged and collaborative.
To establish a culture that is open and connected despite the distance, leaders must get creative. The more out-of-the-box an idea is, the more it tends to draw people’s attention. Think less about the frequency of events or activities, and instead put more energy into planning something engaging and interactive that allows employees to put work aside and just connect as human beings.
For example, here are two things we’ve done at GRAX to switch it up while still encouraging employee bonding:
We sent every employee a package of hot sauce, which led to an ongoing challenge of creating concoctions.
We organized a virtual tour of a goat sanctuary to get a complete escape from work for our “summer outing.”
Remote work gives employees the flexibility they need to achieve a real work-life balance. If you establish clear expectations and offer unique experiences, you can create a workplace that provides the retention, productivity and cost-effectiveness that helps businesses thrive.