- Employers from leading tech companies weigh in on working remotely
- Addressing plans to return to the office
- Discussing how collaboration solutions have allowed teams to remain connected and productive
After a year of social distancing, statewide mask requirements, and–for millions–working from home, many employers are looking forward to welcoming their staff back to the office. On the other hand, for many, the anticipation of returning to in-person work is a frightening one. Whether a company’s goal is to bring its staff back into the office or establish a remote or hybrid workplace, many employers are faced with a conflict of interest.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, tech companies were among the first to ask employees to work from home. With more companies re-opening and asking many of their employees to return to work, will tech companies embrace greater flexibility moving forward? I was particularly interested in hearing from some leaders of tech companies to gain insight into their future plans. Are they looking to get people back into the office or are they one of the tech companies that will embrace remote and/or hybrid workplaces?
Has your company faced any challenges with the transition to a remote workplace?
”It’s honestly been a challenge here as there are snap lockdowns and restrictions. You gather momentum for office return, and it gets shut down. Until there is some “COVID NORM” I don’t think any business can put a plan in place. It might be different in other countries, but looking everything goes in waves depending on the hemisphere it might be a while off”, said Ian Brady of Steadfast Solutions.
”At first communication and collaboration was a little difficult to keep up at the same levels as everyone in the office together, but we quickly put process and controls in place along with a properly secured remote desktop that everyone can login to, has all the software they need to perform their work and continue to securely access corporate data and as a company, we can ensure our corporate data stays safe regardless of the endpoint device our people are using”, said Bryan Badger of Integral Networks.
”We had a strictly in-office only policy before covid and were trying to get everyone back now in office. However, few of our employees were ready to leave instead of coming back in office as they had already moved to other cities. We had to reassess our policies and while we still encourage folks to be in-office, have started making exceptions of providing that flexibility of working remotely entirely”, said Ashu Singhal of Orion Networks.
”In the beginning, it was mainly around culture. We fixed that by having a Teams Meeting room that was always “open”. We usually have 1-2 managers in the room so it’s kind of like having an Open Door at the office. We also have daily huddle meetings first thing in the morning. We use this time to talk about the culture and knowledge. That solved the biggest problem around culture”, said Nelson.
”There were two distinct concerns that were brought up. The first was the managers needed new ways of ensuring that their staff maintained productivity. Without the ability to walk past their desk to ensure that they weren’t talking too much to their neighbor, or even that they were showing up to work was gone”, said Carl Fransen of CTECH Consulting Group.
Fransen added, ”At home, there is a new level of distractions since having a space to work may be shared with other members of your family. Also, the systems that are at home may not have the specs to run corporate applications which forces the user to bring home their company workstation, upgrade their Internet, or work in a less responsive environment.”
For Jorge Rojas of Tektonic, one of the challenges his company faced during the transition to a remote workforce was the isolation. Rojas shared, ”The isolation, we try to avoid it by having constant communication with staff using video conferencing.” ”We have clients, their office lease expired and they did not renew; move to the cloud and there is no more physical space”, added Rojas.
What suggestions do leaders of tech companies- and any other company — that experiences difficulties with the transition or readjustment period? ”My only suggestion is to keep the conversations going with the employees and ensure they stay connected to the office”, said Brady.
How has your company’s stance on remote work changed over the last 12 months?
Companies across the globe have taken different stances on remote work. While some have a completely different view of remote work after 12 months, many are sticking to their pre-pandemic opinions about remote work. There is definitely a divide between companies’ stances on remote working, but this divide also exists in the tech industry? We wanted to find out from tech leaders if their company has taken a different stance on remote work in the span of a year.
”Like most organizations, our view on remote work has shifted. Prior to Covid, we predominantly required employees to come into the office the majority of the time. The opportunity has been presented to decide what the best work policy is for GenIX. This policy should reflect individual and company needs. Remote work presented challenges in employee development, onboarding, and overall culture. In order to address this, we are encouraging employees to come into the office multiple times a week. At this point, employees have been excited to be back and interacting with one another”, said Holden Watne of GenerationIX.
”One thing that is sure is that as a business owner my mindset about working from home has changed whereas prior to 18 months ago I never would have considered it. Over the last 18 months our people have proven they can work as efficiently if not even better from home and now that they have the flexibility to work from home if there is an issue they need to take care of like waiting for a service call or child care issues they have even greater flexibility now than they did 18 months ago and in nearly all instances here at Integral, employees are happier”, said Badger.
403Tech is one of the many tech companies that sent all or the majority of the staff home at the onset of the pandemic, ”We sent all staff home last March and have been 100% remote ever since. Our company was well-positioned pre-COVID and focused heavily on cloud initiatives. It allowed us to be agile when the changing dynamic occurred”, said Scott Gallupe.
”As employees moved to a pure remote work environment, we found that there was very little need to maintain office space. As our processes adapted to maintain productivity while working remotely, there was very little incentive to come back to work”, said Fransen.
As mentioned previously, there were many leaders across all industries who have changed their perceptions of a remote workforce after seeing first-hand what it entails and what type of impact it can have. Michael Nelson of TLC Tech shared, ”Prior to the pandemic, I was personally against WFH and resisted it completely. Obviously, the pandemic changed that by default. What we found was our staff was equally if not more productive and much happier.”
How have communication and collaboration tools impacted the transition?
”I mentioned proper process and controls, this can only be done with proper unified communication solutions, we choose a combination of Teams and Zoom and both have allowed us to keep in constant communication with each other and works great regardless of the users’ end device”, said Badger.
Gallupe mentioned one of the difficulties of remote work was ”making team members are on track and that work was being done in a timely manner”, but talked about how his teams are using collaboration tools to stay connected. ”We have utilized tools like Microsoft Teams for meetings and keeping in touch daily,” said Gallupe.
If you want staff back in the office, why?
”Of course, we prefer our employees to be in the office, but with a proper IT system with proper security and process in place we really no longer have an opinion on it and will continue to allow our employees to choose what works best for their situation”, added Badger.
Gallupe talked about the importance of teamwork and collaboration, and how difficult it can be to achieve when everyone is away from the office for an extended period of time. ”Team building and collaboration. Being away from the office for over a year can take a toll on people physically and emotionally and when you lose that personal touch sometimes you may feel secluded”, said Gallupe.
When asked if he also wanted his staff back in the office, Fransen also mentioned team building and the importance of being in an office space for team-building events. ”This was mainly for any team building events since being remote limits some social interaction”, said Fransen.
”We feel an in-office environment encourages a bond and eases the communication between teams hence still encourage it. Humans are social animals by nature, but technology has helped bridge that gap at enabling social interactions while working remotely”, said Singhal. ”We are not yet back in the office. We expect to “open” the office in September/October time frame. We’ve currently got several staff at the office for machines, receiving, etc. If staff want to work at the office, they will be allowed to do so but will likely not be required”, said Nelson. ”Not sure whether or not going back to the office will be on the table these days. Perhaps it will be good for the staff mental health and well-being”, said Rojas.
What does the future hold?
”The reality is that the workplace has changed greatly over these last 18 months so what are we doing and what are we seeing our clients do? For us we downsized our office and have allowed our staff to choose whether they work in the office or from home, most choose to come to the office every day, a couple has chosen to predominantly work from home and come into the office several times a week or month. Those in positions that allow them to have relocated to other states and work remotely 100% of the time”, said Badger.
Rojas is one of many who believe that the remote-work model has become the new normal. ”Work remotely is now the norm, video conferencing is the preferred communication method”, said Rojas.