Pants Optional is a series focused on advice to company Owners, Managers and Employees on how to be successful in a Work-From-Home business model.
Before 2020, deciding to become a Work From Home (WFH) company was exactly that; a decision. When the pandemic hit, many companies had this decision made for them – Become a WFH company or risk losing some staff or your company altogether. For those of you who survived the nightmare of shifting to a WFH business model, practically overnight, you sincerely have my undying respect and admiration. If you have already, or intend to, bring everybody back to the office to continue ‘business as usual’ the Pants Optional series may not be of much value to you. Those who will benefit most from this series are:
- Business Owners forced into a WFH business model with a desire to continue doing so.
- Business Owners considering moving to a permanent WFH business model from scratch.
- Managers wanting to develop and improve WFH policies, procedures, and communication.
- Workers looking for support and advice on how to navigate the surprisingly complex WFH transition.
- Anybody already working in a WFH environment open to learning more tips and tricks as this work/lifestyle evolves.
So… Where do I start? Seeing as every business is different, the steps Outhouse went through may not apply to what you will need to follow, but the overall goals will likely be the same or very similar. The primary categories all companies will need to focus on are Technology, Operations, and Culture and that is what this episode will cover.
As an owner, I often found myself the cause of delays because I had stretched myself too thin… “
First, give yourself as much time as possible to plan and research. I started entertaining the idea of going remote 24 months before doing so with some light research 18-months before the move I got very serious putting mostly my own time into researching a transition; then at T-minus 12-months I formed a team of my smartest employees to help make it happen, with me still deeply involved in every aspect. My biggest recommendation is to form a team early, even if it means hiring consultants to do most of the heavy lifting. I sacrificed way more of my own hours towards research, planning and executing than I anticipated or frankly needed. As an owner, I often found myself the cause of delays because I had stretched myself too thin, neglecting other responsibilities. Do not do the same to yourself.
Hardware/software, file sharing, security, backups and redundancies, internal and external communications are going to be your biggest concerns with many unforeseen obstacles along the way.
File sharing was my company’s biggest challenge. We maintain roughly 1.5 million files (15 terabytes) in our active libraries and projects. With 40 people sharing files across 10 states, we still have frequent hiccups and have not figured it out 100%.
Another challenge was IT troubleshooting and hardware issues. To help solve this we moved to outsourcing 24-hour IT support and maintenance. Today, every employee has nearly instant online support for software issues. For hardware failures we utilize Amazon’s same-day/next-day deliveries or in emergencies send workers to pick up hardware at their local electronics stores. It’s rare anything takes longer than 24-hours to fix with most issues being resolved within 4-6 hours.
If you are technology heavy, do not be surprised if your expenses go up instead of down. Outsourcing IT support may be one of those areas. You may also spend more on upgraded cloud software, backup subscriptions, filesharing services, additional hardware for home-office systems, Zoom, etc.
Standard operating procedures, office space, project management, team dynamics, vendor relations, meetings, working with customers and so much more. Operations is likely going to be the longest and most time-consuming list of challenges to solve, but you will also find opportunities for some surprising wins.
With the luxury of having over a year of planning, we were able to test a lot of systems and processes before the actual move. Internal employee communication is a good example. We moved to Microsoft Teams several months before the physical move and directed our in-office staff to communicate as if they were home.
Operations is likely going to be the longest and most time-consuming list of challenges to solve, but you will also find opportunities for some surprising wins. “
One of the surprising wins was in training new and existing employees. Being able to remotely watch the trainer while sharing each other’s screens was a big benefit over standing over someone’s shoulder taking notes. It was also easier for an employee to call in and share their screen with a trainer to ask questions.
We only had 1 or 2 employees who could not handle working from home. Sometimes you must accept it just isn’t in a person’s nature to work without physical supervision. This is the benefit of our Office Optional program. This at least gives local employees the choice to come back to the office.
Many books about business will tell you something along the lines of “company culture is the shared values, attributes, and characteristics of an organization,” but the best company cultures also consider people’s emotions. In an office environment, it’s much easier to walk around, stop by someone’s desk or office and take the temperature of how individuals are feeling about things. People go to lunch or happy hour together. Face-to-face casual/intimate/honest conversations come more naturally in an office environment than over a video call. This dynamic is going to change when people work remotely, and leadership is going to need to adjust to make up for this.
A 2020 survey shows Collaboration/Communication and Loneliness tied for first as the biggest struggles with working remotely. The longer a person works from home, the more likely they will start feeling disconnected from their coworkers, the company, and the leadership. When that happens, it is just a matter of time before they stop caring about the company or the individuals they work with.
The longer a person works from home, the more likely they will start feeling disconnected from their coworkers, the company, and the leadership. “
As a business owner, if you want to set your company up for the best chance of success working from home, be prepared to spend as much time designing new ways to stay connected to your people as you spend solving your technology and operational challenges. Because, well… feelings matter. Yes, culture is about values, attributes, and characteristics of the organization, but it is also about the interpersonal relationships your people share within the company. Developing, nurturing, and maintaining relationships inside a physical office space comes more naturally than in a work-from-home setting.
Many industries will never be able to offer WFH for some, most or any of their employees. The logistics just will not allow it. However, with technology that exists today, and in the future, many businesses are discovering WFH not only works, but may be an even better business model than before.
About the Author: Stuart Platt, Managing Partner at Outhouse LLC restructured his 25+ year company to an Office Optional (OffOp) business model in 2018. Stuart’s version of the OffOp model enabled the company of nearly 40 employees to downsize its physical office from 14,000sf to 6,000sf. Based in Phoenix, local employees desiring to work in the office for a few days, weeks or months can reserve any open desk whenever they want. The remaining employees work from home, fulltime across 10 different states and counting.