After eight months of working from home and helping our clients wade through the difficulties that poses, I can confidently say no one has it all figured out. How do we define where to work, when to work, how to instill culture remotely, and how to separate work life and personal life without an office?
At Concord, working remotely has presented some challenges, but also many victories. The pandemic has completely shifted the way we operate in our new workplaces: our homes. Productivity, adaptability, and success are not necessarily harder to obtain but require more attention and discipline to establish at home.
Our company saw an immediate uptick in productivity right after the workforce went remote, but we noticed a gradual decline – as the pandemic drags on, what worked for our team initially no longer fits.
Maybe the key to working remotely is reframing our expectations and norms to fit our current reality. I’ve broken down some key ways that helped us adapt without losing the culture that makes our company tick.
COMMUNICATION OVERLOAD & FLATTENING THE HIERARCHY
Communication overload is definitely real. By the second week of remote work, we had conference calls, emails, IMs, Teams, Slack, Zoom, Hangouts, WebEx, and a plethora of other apps to stay in touch. We were pinging each other on every known communication tool under the sun...and not really getting anything more accomplished than usual. Arguably, we were less efficient, because we had to share information in multiple areas – just in case anyone missed it. We decided to eliminate redundant tools from the day-to-day fold.
Microsoft Teams and Slack have been the most efficient for our organization. Teams is keeping us connected for recurring meetings and virtual happy hours amongst co-workers, while Slack has provided organized channels for our consultants to collaboratively connect, share files, and socialize in real-time across clients and geographies.
The reality is, remote work enables more opportunities to engage with broader swaths of the company. Virtual presence has flattened the hierarchy.
I feel like I’m now in touch with more people and more threads of activity. I can contribute to many more tasks in minor ways. Working remotely has widened my range of impact in the workplace and widened the range of ideas coming from different areas of our team.
While on some level this may be an illusion, I actually feel more connected to both my team and the work we’re doing now than I did before.
"Maybe the key to working remotely is reframing our expectations and norms to fit our current reality."
Prior to the pandemic, the vast majority of our team was based out of our off ice in Hopkins, Minnesota. In those days, our Chicago branch felt the struggle for connection. They missed out on food trucks on Town Hall days, weekly Lunch & Learns, and regular visits to the popcorn machine for a 3 p.m. pick-me-up. Now, we all equally share the same experience at Concord, and there’s a level of solidarity in navigating that together, from afar.
We had to grow and learn how to accommodate our collective social needs during this time to create a positive work environment for all.
Apps like Slack have helped maintain the social dynamics of our team. We set up open channels which allow us to chat back and forth more casually, as if we were in a conference room. Certain channels are designated exclusively for non-work-related topics, which helps us connect as humans a bit more. It’s especially helpful for new employees who don’t have the benefit of context and history with other co-workers.
Similarly, we’re still hosting virtual events – whether it’s a quick game of pub trivia on a Friday afternoon or a “Concord Cribs” tour of an employee’s home, we are finding new ways to stay connected and learn more about our fellow team.
Culture is a topic that cannot be ignored. Remote work has leveled the playing field for talent across the globe – if your culture isn’t appealing enough, you might find your team walking out the proverbial door.
It’s remarkable how quickly we adapt to new routines. In the old world, you commute to work, take breaks to chat casually with colleagues throughout the day, and have a natural ‘quitting’ time to drive home. Now, I find I’m accustomed to starting the work day earlier, scheduling calls through lunch, and typing away on emails right up until it’s time to make dinner.
With that in mind, we are encouraging our teams to normalize taking breaks and block off time for lunch. It can be overwhelming when you have no routine time to step away throughout the day and your schedule fills up solid every 30 minutes.
We built opportunities for casual communication that emulate break-room feel. Whether it’s taking a few minutes at the start of recurring meetings to share good news or starting healthy banter in the chat function of a meeting, we want the fun part of our culture and our humor to endure through remote work. Part of this is done by learning to be more intentional catching up one-on-one with co-workers like we used to do in the hallways or on a lunch break, too. Nothing is stopping us from picking up the phone.
In so many ways, we’ve started to encourage the use of technology as a substitute for in-person time, but it’s causing tech fatigue. Sometimes we just need to step away from the screen.
Part of stepping away is setting boundaries. On top of normal work stress, the pandemic places a new layer of stress we aren’t prepared to handle. It’s important to drop the expectation that people need to always be available, and to be mindful of our own limits.
Our workplace is unlikely to go back to normal anytime soon. Adapting to remote work has a surprising bit of upside – we see change across industries take place at a faster pace than ever before.
By focusing on streamlined communication, emphasizing culture, and encouraging healthy boundaries, I believe we can sustain this pace of improvement in our business.