Recent announcements from large firms embracing a flexible return to office policy show that remote, flexible, and hybrid working is here to stay.
As with any large-scale change, there are early adopters, those who need a little more time to adjust, and those who lag behind. Many employers learned a lot during the pandemic, and often, both companies and employees adjusted admirably.
Evernote has always embraced a remote-first working environment; however, the pandemic led them to take a fresh look at the scale and scope of remote working. Their results have been overwhelmingly positive. They’ve seen an increase in productivity, employee engagement, and satisfaction.
Navigating this type of permanent shift can be challenging. Susan Stick, SVP People and General Counsel at Evernote, looks at how firms can make sure flexible working works for them and their teams.
It’s all in the set-up
All employees need a workspace that allows them to execute their job the best they can. Everything from the technology to a comfortable chair or a distraction-free space should be assessed regularly for those working remotely. It’s best to consider this an investment in your workplace productivity and employee satisfaction than look for short-term gains on office costs. The more you can support employees – whether at an office or home – the more likely you’ll see them maintain or even increase their performance.
Check in with your team at regular intervals to make sure their set-up is still working for them… and the company. And use what you hear from individuals to help inform broader team decisions.
Staying connected, literally and figuratively
One of the biggest gripes home-based employees have is a lack of connectivity to the larger team. When the whole team is in the same location, it’s much easier to forge relationships, share ideas and information, chat and learn from others.
When you’re out of the team working environment, it’s easy for employees to feel a sense of isolation and have a lack of meaningful relationships. But addressing this isn’t clear-cut. Each organisation, team and individual will require their own approach.
We started by experimenting with different tools and ways of working to give everyone the chance to collaborate and work successfully together, regardless of physical location. A host of solutions support remote working that are worth their weight in gold when you find the one that best suits your organisation. For example, we are piloting a programme that uses 3P tech to recreate the experience of working together around a whiteboard. This helps ideas flow more freely in real-time.
Regularly assess the collaborative tools you’ve provided your teams and ensure they encourage and support the right remote working ecosystem. Be it Slack, Google Docs, Evernote, and so on, your company needs to find the software that works for their needs.
Additionally, shift your biggest meetings, like All Hands, AGMs and so on, to be fully remote. It means that every person, even if they’re in the office physically, can dial in from their desk. We found that the overall quality of the presentations, Q&A, and even people’s ability to absorb the information improved measurably when we became 100% remote for these meetings.
Tweak your management style
Managing remote teams brings new challenges. For example, some people can get anxious if they’re not physically close to senior management, while others worry that remote employees will have fewer opportunities to advance than peers who work from an office.
These hurdles can often be solved with increased and transparent communication from the CEO and leadership team, clear development plans for professional growth, training opportunities, and frequent check-ins. Each item should encourage regular, predictable interactions with senior personnel and provide a trusted path to gather and provide feedback.
Don’t limit your creativity. Consider informal virtual coffee breaks with members of the C-Suite along with more standard team and one-on-one meetings. We have begun to offer specific training on managing remote and hybrid teams, as well as doubling down on our investment in more general manager training. This helps put everyone on a level playing field, ease the transition from the traditional office, and increase comfort levels for all.
Allowing people to work from (almost) anywhere opens up your recruiting efforts tremendously. When employees are no longer locked into some office location, you’ll be surprised what that can do for retention and employee satisfaction.
It means being a more inclusive and diverse employer is now a lot easier. Remote working expands your talent pool to include those from other countries and also those with disabilities who might be unable to attend a physical office space every day.
Of course, you will want to understand the requirements of local employment laws and what that means for your organisation overall (like tax and benefits), but we’ve found it’s absolutely worth it.
Value your employees
For existing employees, it’s critical you have a point of view on salaries. We didn’t just start making pay cuts for those now working from home or in a different location. Fundamentally, we believe the work our employees were doing before going remote was reflected in their salary. That didn’t change when they stopped coming into the office or moved across the country.
Rethink your approach to “the office”
Remote work isn’t for everyone. While many companies are ditching offices entirely, many are not going “full remote.” For example, at Evernote, we have reopened some of our offices and are reimagining our other locations where we had leases expire during Covid. In Austin, we now have about half the square footage we previously had and dramatically different furniture and facilities, including fewer individual workstations and significantly more collaborative and gathering spaces.
When you start down this road to flexible and remote working, bring everyone with you. Work to understand what your employees expect and what you (and your budget) can deliver. Be prepared to really listen and to have some hard conversations. But, if you can fully embrace the flexible working model, you will attract top talent and keep your employees engaged and happy.
By Susan Stick, SVP People & General Counsel at Evernote.