Whether businesses are operating a hybrid system after seeing the benefits of employees working from home during lockdown, or deciding to opt for a fully virtual workplace, the world of work is evolving.
As you might expect from someone who founded a business that’s been remote first for 20 years, I really appreciate the benefits of virtual working. Of course, not everyone feels the same way.
Malcolm Gladwell’s comments on The Diary of a CEO are proof of that.
He believes that it’s only by working 9-5 at an office with the rest of the team that we can find a sense of belonging at work. If you can’t do that, he asks what the point is.
Belonging isn’t conditional
It’s a strange idea to think that the only way you can ‘belong’ is by breathing the same recycled air as your teammates. It’s quite an archaic concept too.
One of the reasons so many people want to continue with virtual working – whether hybrid or full-time – is because they managed to keep that sense of belonging and benefit from the increased autonomy and flexibility that working from home gave them.
It does mean planning better for new starters. It’s important to create an onboarding and induction process that suits the remote working environment.
At The Social Element, we talk new starters through the onboarding process on video calls, as well as sending them written material to refer to. We check in on them to see how they’re getting on and advise them on what they need to set up a comfortable and effective workspace if they’ve not created one at home.
We constantly support a sense of belonging by supporting advocacy groups, where people can come together to find support, and we look for other ways to keep those crucial watercooler moments. Teams and individual employees get together for a coffee (which we have a budget for) because, yes, in-person meetings are important.
One of the ways we keep that crucial face-to-face time is by throwing parties (this year, we’ve held one in London and another in New York) or running training days. We pay for accommodation and travel so that our international team can catch-up in person.
If anything, working from home makes us value and enjoy the times we meet in person more.
Recalibrating the employee-employer relationship
The past 20 years have seen businesses look for ways to encourage or reward employees for staying late at the office – Friday beer and pizza here, a ping pong table or game console in the meeting room there, anything to make the office a fun place to be.
But, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that what many people truly value is the flexibility of deciding how they spend their time. Instead of spending two hours commuting, they can be home to put the kids to bed. Instead of taking a day off to wait for an electrician, they can let them in and get back to work quickly. It helps us develop stronger work-life boundaries – and that should be encouraged.
We feel that the employer-employee relationship works best when it’s approached as a partnership.
We know how important it is to ensure salaries remain competitive – so we partner with benchmarking experts to keep an eye on that.
We also gave our employees an extra five days of annual leave, as well as birthdays off, paid time to do voluntary work and paid time off for important life events like moving house, seeing kids off to their first day at school and getting a new pet settled in.
Flexible Fridays are especially useful as they allow our team members to finish early on Fridays if their work is completed, and it helps us see where we may need to support employees more with workloads and time management.
For us, a flexible approach is, at its heart, about wellbeing. We give our teams access to an employee assistance programme, health plans and discounted gym memberships. We have an in-house Wellbeing Coordinator who’s on hand to make appointments with and offer support.
One of our newer policies provides employees support with handling the menopause, for example.
If one of our team members needs support with something, we do our best to provide it.
Businesses benefit too
I’ve found fantastic benefits to running a remote business. The Social Element has been able to access a much more diverse talent pool than we would have otherwise.
We have amazingly talented and skilled people working from various countries, people with caring commitments and people with mobility issues and disabilities that find it easier to work from home – this is one of the reasons why Creative Equals has recognised that we have a higher proportion of people working with a disability than industry standard.
Some of our employees are neurodivergent and we work with them to find their prefered way of working. For example, some people may prefer to work from home, as they find it easier to control their environment and focus, while others prefer to receive information in certain ways (such as preferring written confirmation of tasks agreed to on a call).
You might look at all of the support we provide our virtual employees and think that it’s an awful lot of flexibility. I call it hyper-flexibility. For us, flexibility isn’t just about providing the standard flexible working options, it’s about being truly agile in the way we work with individuals.
By being hyper-flexible, we’ve found that we have a more engaged workforce and a much lower staff turnover.
Love it or loathe it, virtual working is something that we’ll see more employees expect. Businesses without remote working models who are inflexible about work from home requests may find themselves left behind as the best candidates and employees head for greener pastures.
But allowing people to work from home is just the start, I believe that businesses will only see the full benefits of virtual working when they recreate their business to provide the hyper-flexibility that people want and need.