It's never been more clear: companies should give up on back to office and let us all work remotely, permanently
- With the rise of the Delta Variant, companies should switch to all remote.
- All-remote is better for workplace collaboration, the environment, and companies' bottom lines.
- Companies that switch to all-remote should be intentional about collaboration and technology.
- Jeff Chow is SVP Product at InVision.
- This is an
opinioncolumn. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
It's time to go back to the office for good - the home office.
With the CDC's recommendation that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with "substantial" and "high" transmission of COVID-19, employees across industries are wondering what the new future of work looks like. As the possibility of another shelter-in-place order looms, companies are deciding whether moving to a hybrid situation - simultaneously in-person and remote - is worth it.
It's not. Simply put, the concept of "forever remote" makes sense for numerous companies and industries. For many, America's "back to work" isn't a simple light switch, but many organizations are better off to shut the lights off at the traditional office. The switch to all remote will broaden a company's talent pool and increase employee happiness and retention, while limiting a lease and lowering its carbon footprint.
There are benefits to becoming a fully-remote organization. A top example is that the talent pool now goes national, or even international. Organizations are no longer limited to recruiting employees from a given radius to their offices. Asynchronous work helps to open the door for employees to work across time zones to get projects and deliverables completed in time.
InVision, where I work, has been all-remote since its inception. We have the luxury of hiring people living across the US and in 25 countries.
Additionally, without the need for a large physical office presence, companies can save hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, on leasing office space or building an expansive campus.
There is also evidence that eliminating an office for all employees to work remotely is better for the environment. Eliminating a daily commute, whether it's driving a vehicle or taking mass transit, helps cut down on emissions. This was initially noticed back in the spring and summer of 2020, when a decline in transportation due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 6.4% decrease in global carbon emissions, which is the equivalent of 2.3 billion tons. The United States had the largest drop in carbon emissions at 12%, followed by the entirety of the European Union at 11%.
In a June 2021 McKinsey survey of over 1,600 employed people, researchers found about one in three workers back in an office said returning to in-person work negatively impacted their mental health. Those surveyed also reported "COVID-19 safety and flexible work arrangements could help alleviate stress" of returning to the office. Not everyone who works for the same company is going to get along. In an all-remote environment, it is far easier for people who are at odds to simply avoid each other. HR won't have to spend nearly as much time mediating between (or terminating) office Hatfields and McCoys.
So, how exactly do you quickly pivot to remote again and stick with it? The key is intentionality. Teach managers to make a point of celebrating wins and good work on group calls. Build encouraging collaboration into managers' Key Performance Indicators (KPI)s. Take advantage of face-to-face opportunities by holding in-person, all-company all-hands meetings as a time to build culture, not a time to just do more work.
Treat working groups to dinner (use some of the money you saved on your lease!) and let them get to know each other as people. To be intentional, invest in new ways of working that are oftentimes better ways of working: reducing necessary meetings and adjusting more feedback sessions to asynchronous collaboration. Meetings that remain on calendars should be reserved for the purpose of being highly engaging and energizing moments for teams to brainstorm and do generative sessions.
Second is technology. By now, we're all familiar with the likes of Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, but there are other products that can actively improve collaboration (full disclosure: I work for InVision, which makes one such digital collaboration tool, namely Freehand).
Take a thorough look with your IT team (and talk to your employees) to see what they need on a day-to-day basis. What tools does your accounting team need? Do they differ from what the marketing team needs (spoiler alert: they do). And don't force everyone to use the same tools. If your accounting team loves Microsoft Excel, that's fine for them. I can guarantee, however, that your product design team is not going to use it.
Finally, invest in your employees' ability to make the transition (again).
GreenGen, which provides green energy solutions for businesses and infrastructure projects, had one of the most pioneering ideas. "We had our employees do a two-day work-from-home resiliency test. This was to ensure that everyone's home Wi-Fi was adequate so that all of our documents and materials were easily accessible online, and that we could troubleshoot any potential problems preemptively," said Bradford H. Dockser, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of GreenGen. "Ensuring that our team members got monitors, mice, and keyboards at home made the transition seamless." With that sort of intentional stress test, GreenGen didn't skip a beat.
Above all, the main key to returning to the home office for good lies within communication. Technology and innovative products have helped to bring colleagues closer together virtually, as people work from anywhere at any time. Initial shelter-in-place orders taught many businesses across industries that
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