The pandemic has created a new thought process to reconcile when it comes to how we physically operate as a business. I immediately recognized that the fear of unleashing employees faded, if only out of necessity. Optimism grew, and ultimately everything new started to just seem normal. Now, it’s hard to even picture the days of our old office-bound lives.
Approximately six months into a forced remote office experiment, here are a few of the things I’ve learned.
My employees don’t need an office to be productive.
While I’ve been able to run a brand completely remotely, widespread adoption of a complete work-at-home workforce hasn’t been as rapid as industry leaders may have hoped.
The novel coronavirus kicked into overdrive the move to a fully or mostly remote staff. Managers may have noticed a slight downturn in productivity as employees adjusted, but everyone needs a second to acclimate. The shift from an office to your dining room table — complete with kids running amok, Amazon deliveries and breaks to take the dog outside — comes with a side of chaos.
The truth is that if you hire the right people and train the right people, then your employees will likely be productive wherever they sit. Mine are all over the world, and there is no lack of productivity or engagement with the work.
I think we’ll see that over the longer term, productivity will prove to be a benefit of a work-at-home environment. In our current experiment, I realize that we really don’t have a choice but to let workers figure it out at home. And they have been. In a survey of more than 12,000 employees, 75% of those who had transitioned to working remotely reported that they were able to maintain, or even improve, productivity on individual tasks during the first few months of the pandemic.
Essential travel means essential travel.
I for one have severely missed traveling, even if it’s for business. That sentiment seems to hold true for many employees and managers who are used to travel. It’s been a weird adjustment to suddenly be restricted to traveling from the bedroom to wherever we have our laptops set up.
A year ago, travel for a business meeting was fairly normal, but the idea seems all but unthinkable now. Border shutdowns, health concerns among travelers and major carriers suspending some international flights have made it unclear, at best, when global travel could return to its pre-pandemic levels, or if it ever will.
This has forced me to reevaluate how I directly manage clients. New client meetings can no longer take place in person. Losing one of the best parts of my job — meeting new founders, new business leaders and entrepreneurs — has been jarring, but knowing why these travel restrictions exist puts everything into perspective. Both business owners and employees have to evaluate whether flying is worth the risk, or the hassle.
Video conferencing, after all, can solve most of the needs of those who found themselves traveling frequently only to attend meetings.
Zoom, Slack and/or Google Hangouts are office essentials.
I bid farewell to the boardrooms and cubicles a long time ago. In their place, I have immersed myself in the world of digital communication apps. Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts and others have all filled the void left by the loss of water-cooler conversation and in-person meetings.
But is that a bad thing? Shouldn’t we be embracing this shift in communication technology? Absolutely. It has enabled me to hire the best employees wherever they are, and I don’t have to spend the money on expenses related to office space.
Not only are my employees proving that remote work can be successful and productive, but also my clients are proving that remote communication is viable for building their brands. We don’t have to meet in person to coordinate a press release. This pandemic is leading us to understand that working in close physical proximity to get things done is not always a necessity.
Technology has proven more than capable of enabling us to succeed. During this pandemic, I was able to build a successful business with international clients and employees. We still meet face-to-face, and we communicate through more channels than ever before, creating a sense of togetherness without being in the same building. Without an office, a commute or extraneous travel, I’ve been provided the extra time to focus on clients and technology rather than plane tickets.
Self-interest all but ensures that this is the new normal.
I believe that the clearest lesson exposed during this grand experiment is that of opportunity cost. Worries about productivity have all but subsided, and we can now start plotting the benefit of a continued shift in workforce dynamics. Without being packed into open workspaces, there’s less risk for transmission of disease, which means less potential liability for business owners. The benefits of a happier and more productive workforce that isn’t wasting time commuting cannot be understated.
There may not ever be a return to normal. Everything has shifted, and I’ve realized that this is normal now. These adjustments that I’ve made in how I operate my business, how I communicate and how I work with clients are permanent changes. While there may be a near future in which I meet in person with clients and attend conferences, it’s going to be a while and will require another adaptation.
That’s not to say that I’m not optimistic that we’ll return to what we know. But I’d be surprised if we return to business as usual. We won’t ditch the office entirely, but I expect that a large percentage of the workforce will never return to the office.
Through all this, I’ve learned that as long as we have the tools to succeed, the technology and the employees, then we will. Flexibility and change are always good things and push us to work harder, smarter and more efficiently. And hopefully, this leads to happier, healthier workers no matter where their office or living room is in the world.