Transitioning to Remote Work: How 5 Businesses Handled It with Their Teams
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, businesses from across the globe were forced to begin transitioning to remote work, and many have made it permanent. We spoke with business leaders from around the world about why they made the transition, how they plan on keeping their employees engaged, and what they’re doing to maintain corporate culture.
When COVID-19 first emerged, many of us didn’t understand the scale of the challenge we were about to face. But as time went on, professionals and businesses across the globe started slowly realizing that it just might change things forever.
And for many organizations, that’s exactly what happened. Social distancing regulations meant abruptly transitioning to remote work and tackling a whole new set of leadership and employee wellbeing challenges in the process.
We spoke with business leaders from five companies that have made the transition to full-time remote work to get their insights on:
- Factors that prompted the transition from temporary to full-time remote work
- What they’re doing to keep remote employees engaged following this transition
- Steps they’re taking to maintain company culture with telecommuting employees
- How transitioning to full-time remote employment has impacted their business, policies, and practices
Here’s what they told us.
Factors That Prompted the Transition to Remote Work
Name: Ben Walker
Company: Transcription Outsourcing
Ben Walker always offered remote work at his company in some capacity prior to COVID-19, but revised his policies when the pandemic began.
“At our company, we have had the remote work option for people for a while,” he explains. “They can either work remotely full-time or have about two to three days working at the office. For me, remote work is the more cost-efficient option. You immediately cut out a chunk of overhead expenses like office space and equipment rentals. It’s also healthier for all of us because without the daily commute, there is less stress.”
Name: Jenna Carson
Position: HR Manager
Company: Music Grotto
At Music Grotto, full-time remote work wasn’t a serious consideration before the pandemic, according to Jenna Carson, the company’s HR Manager.
“The catalyst for our company becoming almost completely remotely operated
was the current pandemic,” Jenna explains. “We did offer remote working to a certain extent before, but the current situation pushed us to go remote and it has worked so well for us that we don’t see ourselves going back to normal in the future.”
She adds, “In the past, employees could choose to work remotely a certain number of hours per week, whereas now they will have the option to work remotely almost 100% of the time.”
Name: Kim Chan
For Kim Chan, Founder at DocPro.com, remote work was never an option before the pandemic. But he has now come to realize its benefits and adopted it full-time.
“We never offered remote work before the pandemic hit,” Kim explains. “For us, the biggest factor was the increasing number of COVID-19 cases which were rendering it unsafe to travel to work. Because of that, we’ve been testing remote working since Mach and we found that our employees are just as productive working remotely as they are working in the office.”
Name: Stewart J. Guss
Company: Stewart J. Guss, Injury Accident Lawyers
At Stewart J. Guss’s law firm, remote working was limited before the pandemic began.
“Our law firm offered remote work options on a limited or temporary basis,” Stewart explains. “For example, if an attorney needed to prepare for a trial or an employee needed to care for a loved one or recover from a surgery, we would allow it. We are also subject to hurricanes here on the Gulf Coast, so we had a good infrastructure for emergency work-from-home options prior to COVID-19, at least on a temporary basis.”
But when the pandemic really started gaining momentum, the firm was forced to reevaluate their approach, including adopting remote work policies and in-office changes for those who did have to be there.
“Beginning in March, when everyone realized how serious the situation was, we immediately made arrangements for all employees who could work remotely to be able to do so,” Stewart says. “We have tried to be proactive and stay ahead of the curve in terms of keeping our staff safe.”
He continues, “For those few employees who did need to physically be present in the office for our essential work, we increased our safety precautions in our office, had hand sanitizer readily available, limited traffic in common areas, and strictly enforced social distancing and face coverings. We really wanted to keep our offices open and available as an option for employees who felt they had too many distractions at home. Ultimately, however, we realized that the best way to ensure the safety of our staff, our clients, and the public was to ensure that those employees who were able to work from home had the ability and infrastructure to do so.”
Name: Branka Vuleta
For Branka Vuleta, the Founder of Legaljobsite.net, the transition towards full-time remote work was simply an extension of the practices she already had in place at her company.
“We did offer remote work options before the pandemic,” Branka explains. “But it was only occasionally when employees needed it. For instance, employees could request remote work if they needed to attend an appointment within business hours.”
What Leaders Are Doing to Keep Remote Employees Engaged and Maintain Company Culture During This Transition
For Ben Walker, keeping employees engaged is a matter of using the tools at his disposal.
“The main way we keep staff engaged is through virtual engagements,” Ben explains. “There isn’t really any other option right now. But how you do it will matter. Virtual happy hours and other team building activities through Zoom have been greatly helpful.”
If you think your team could benefit from virtual team building activities, you might want to check out our blog post: 24 Virtual Team Building Activity Ideas to Engage Remote Employees.
Kim Chan also decided to take on some proactive measures.
“In order to make this work as well as possible, we’ve taken on a few key steps,” Kim explains. “First, we pay for and send them all the required applications, login details, and-set up of our company’s remote access system. We also make sure to assist them if they have issues with IT.
Next, we’ve sent them the relevant company policies and guides to using our system so that they can spend a day getting familiarized with everything.
We also ask them to do simple tasks that they will be able to do from home and set a target to ensure that they are productive and efficient.
In addition to setting goals, we have daily review and feedback meetings by Zoom and by phone on what they have been up to.
Last but not least, we have a weekly team meeting to see how everyone is doing. This helps staff to stay engaged as a community.”
According to Kim, maintaining company culture comes down to adapting your approaches to accommodate a remote work life.
“We’ve come to realize that remote output and morale should be looked at differently than they would be when working in-office,” he says. “It also helps to keep a small office for weekly Zoom meetings just to keep morale and the team together. We also plan to have physical meetings and lunches as soon as it is safe to meet up again.”
As far as keeping employees engaged as his firm transitions to full-time remote work, this is a challenge Stewart Guss is treating as an evolving process.
“This remains an ongoing challenge,” he admits. “We’re scheduling frequent virtual meetings, and always try to do so via video on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. We have regularly scheduled check-in conferences between management and individual staff, as well as departments.”
The good news for his law firm is that it already had a strong corporate culture – a benefit that extends into its new remote work scenario.
He explains, “Luckily, our corporate culture is such that all of our employees feel like an important part of the process, no matter their title or position. We’ve found that promoting the culture of teammates versus bosses and staff goes a long way toward keeping connectedness, even during these crazy times!”
For Branka Vuleta, on the other hand, she doesn’t see a need to reinvent the wheel when it comes keeping high levels of engagement among remote employees.
“To keep staff engaged, we plan on doing the same thing we did since the pandemic started,” she says. “We have more regular meetings via Zoom and keep our daily communication via Slack. We are making sure our employees get regular feedback about their work, and ensuring they feel comfortable to give us any input on what they think we, as a company, can do better to make their workday easier.”
She continues, “So far, we just decided to use time tracking software to ensure everyone logs in their hours. Working hours remained the same, from 9 till 5; however, employees can log in their hours earlier or later if they have things they need to do during the day.”
And to ensure their company culture remains intact, Branka has implemented some fun and engaging new initiatives for her team.
“We have planned some non-work-related activities,” she shares. “For instance, we started a book club and game nights. We began distributing a newsletter to our employees. We’re putting a massive effort into bringing everyone together by having non-work-related Slack conversations, where we share everything from funny memes to good songs and recipes we like.”
How Transitioning to Full-Time Remote Employment Has Impacted These Leaders’ Businesses, Policies, and Practices
Despite some of the common challenges that are often associated with remote employment, Ben Walker has found it beneficial.
He elaborates, “I think it made my staff a lot more productive. They have more freedom and less stress. It’s been great.”
For Jenna Carson, the impact of this transition has been organization-changing. Her team has actually grown increasingly productive and even become happier.
She explains, “We found that by offering flexible remote work and making the effort to stay connected and collaborative, with regular virtual meetings and social events, our team has actually become more engaged. And we are seeing benefits in terms of productivity and creativity.”
But full-time remote employment isn’t without its fair share of challenges, either.
“There are, of course, some downsides to remote work,” she says. “We have to be very
mindful that employees don’t become isolated or anxious. And we make sure that if they need our support, they can ask for it and we will do what we can to help.”
The ultimate outcome of this transition has been a pivot in the way they will operate their business going forward.
“Not everyone is cut out for remote work,” Jenna admits. “So, going forward, this new way of working will definitely affect our hiring policies, as we will be looking for candidates that are suitable for remote work and will thrive in this environment.”
Kim Chan has found that remote work has had a positive impact on his team and his company.
“As long as your staff is self-motivated, working at home will not reduce output,” Kim says. “In fact, I’ve found it can boost productivity since it reduces meeting and travel time.”
And while Stewart Guss is admitted dealing with some ongoing challenges due to his firm’s pivot towards full-time remote work, he feels hasn’t had any negative impact on his firm, its staff, or its success.
“Overall, we haven’t seen any significant drop in productivity in terms of our remote work staff,” Stewart shares. “If anything, offering full-time remote work opens up our talent pool for the future, allowing us to hire the best and brightest from anywhere in the country. We are also considering downsizing our physical spaces, saving a considerable amount on rent. Honestly, we expected productivity losses when we went ‘virtual’ in March but were pleasantly surprised to find that productivity generally remained on level, and staff satisfaction in many cases improved!”
Branka Vuleta shares the general sentiment that full-time remote work has been a positive. Since making the leap from occasional remote work to full-time, she’s seen some big benefits as a result.
“We’ve noticed our employees are more productive in a remote setting,” Branka admits. “They are also happier, as they can complete all their non-work-related tasks when they need to and have greater work-life balance. We asked their opinion, and one of the reasons they prefer working remotely is decreased commuting time, spending less money on gas or bus tickets, ordering food less, and things like that.”
She adds, “For a company, switching to remote work is beneficial because we can save on renting office space, decrease sick leave abuse, and broaden our talent pool.”
Each of these five business leaders has handled the transition to remote employment differently, but each has found success with their own tactics.
Has your company recently switched to full-time remote employment? If so, how did you handle it and how are you finding the results? Let us know in the comments section below!
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