While the coronavirus pandemic has forced many employees to work from home across the country, working remotely is a trend that companies have had to plan for with growing regularity in recent years.
The evolution of technology and the ability to collaborate digitally has made working remotely seamless for many businesses, including smaller companies which have found it useful to adjust their policies to allow employees greater flexibility.
Leaders from three local companies recently discussed their experience pursuing a more nimble policy when it comes to allowing staff members to work remotely.
HubShout LLC, a digital marketing agency that helps businesses with search engine optimization and online advertising, transitioned to a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) back in 2016. ROWE is an HR management strategy created by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, who first proposed the approach at Best Buy Co. Inc.’s corporate headquarters.
“The essence of the ROWE is you drop all the superficial policies around when and where you have to work and you focus on the result,” says Adam Stetzer, co-founder and CEO of HubShout. “We used to have shifts and absence policies and lateness policies, all that classical stuff, and our culture was fairly mediocre.”
Since shifting to ROWE four years ago, Stetzer says the company’s culture survey—an anonymous survey of HubShout’s 25 employees—has risen dramatically, turnover has declined and financial performance has improved.
There are five fundamentals for ROWE to work successfully:
ROWE drops all policies and focuses strictly on work output. Employees at HubShout have the flexibility of when and where they work.
“If you have a doctor’s appointment you don’t have to tell anyone and you don’t have to log that as time off; you just shift your schedule around to put in the hours you need to get your work done,” says Stetzer. “There’s pretty much unlimited flexibility.”
Stetzer says ROWE offers a more human approach to work, allowing employees to effectively balance work with the rest of their life. HubShout has a significant number of millennial employees, and Stetzer affirms that ROWE has been appealing for them. However, as a member of Generation X, Stetzer says he agrees with everything that millennials are looking for in terms of job flexibility.
Omitting the option to work from home in a company policy sends a message of distrust from leadership to employees, says Stetzer.
“In order to build a good culture, trust is critical,” he says. “If someone shows up to a job on day one and there are very rigid rules about where and when they work it can send the wrong message.”
There are challenges that come with not requiring employees to work in the office and making all meetings optional, so Stetzer says he has had to be more intentional in terms of structuring gatherings and activities to maintain a positive work culture.
“Certainly if you need high level of collaboration, it can be a challenge when people aren’t around,” says Stetzer. “If you’re in creative fields or fields where you need hyper communication, ROWE can be difficult.”
Stetzer and his team came across a study that discusses synchronous and asynchronous communication and how the two impact businesses.
“If you’re in a business that has a lot of asynchronous communication, remote work is great because it doesn’t need to be real time,” he says. “If you’re in heavy customer service that is telephonic, which would be synchronous communication, it can be a challenge. But we have that and people answer their phones wherever they are.”
According to Stetzer, he believes remote work can be achieved in almost any setting if there are open discussions about expectations between management and employees.
Over the 18 years she’s been with Dixon Schwabl, Kim Allen, managing partner of communications and incoming CEO, says she’s witnessed a remarkable shift in the company’s flexibility.
“We were much more strictly on an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule,” says Allen. “About five to 10 years ago, the advent of technology and people’s ability to access the files they needed so they could collaborate from home definitely facilitated our ability to relax our policy.”
Dixon Schwabl, a full-service marketing agency, has adopted a more progressive approach to policies over the years, but company culture remains a top priority.
“First and foremost our goal is always to make our environment a place where employees want to come to work and feel comfortable to be themselves and able to collaborate with one another,” says Allen. “That being said, it’s our preference to have team members here and collaborating, but we also want to make sure that they have enough flexibility to take care of their families, go to appointments and if they’re sick we certainly don’t want them in the office.”
Britt Lui, vice president of people and development, adds that collaboration tends to be more productive when staff is working together face-to-face.
“But being a family-first organization, when folks need to be away from work we certainly can use technology to collaborate in real-time and serve our clients the best that we can,” says Lui.
It can be difficult to foster genuine collaboration and camaraderie without having folks physically in the office, and Allen adds that she has heard from people in her network outside of DS complain of feeling isolated when working remotely.
“I think having flexibility is the best place to go because we’re humans and we’re social beings and it feels nice to come and have a place to collaborate and be with other humans while also having the ability to be flexible when you need to be home working in quiet space,” says Allen.
At the end of the day, Allen, Lui and the rest of the DS leadership team intend to create an atmosphere at DS that is conducive to collaborating, ideating and being creative, while simultaneously serving each employee’s mental and physical health and well-being.
Helen & Gertrude
From the outset, Becca Post and Leire Bascaran, co-founders of social media marketing agency Helen & Gertrude, enacted a flexible policy for their staff of now 26.
Employees are expected to be in the office, but there is complete flexibility for a range of instances like going home and walking the dog, heading to an appointment or working from home while waiting for a delivery. Plus, Helen & Gertrude offer unlimited paid time off (PTO) to employees.
“Flexibility has been extremely important for us,” says Post. “Everyone’s trying to find that work/life balance, so this allows them to feel like they have the flexibility to do the things they need to do in their everyday lives, and they give us the same flexibility back if we need them to take a meeting a little later.”
Post says their flexible policy has worked well for the company because much of the work is done digitally on a shared drive, so cooperation on documents can happen anywhere. She adds that the company frequently communicates via video conferencing, allowing remote collaboration to occur in real time.
“One of the biggest benefits that I’ve seen from letting employees work remotely is for people whose family doesn’t live around here,” says Post. “Especially in times of hardship, they’re able to go support their family and take the time they need without feeling like they’re missing out on a lot of work.”
Allowing flexibility in working remotely has had a positive impact on the culture at Helen & Gertrude, according to Post. The staff is more inclined to take full responsibility for themselves and their work.
“As a business owner it takes the pressure off of me to be stringent on these things, and people know not to take advantage of it and ruin it for everyone,” she says.
[email protected] / (585) 363-7031l