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Jillian Lukas Rodriguez

Chief Storyteller | Small Giants Community

June 16, 2020

Is Work from Home Here to Stay? 3 Perspectives On the Future of Work

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For nearly three months now, office buildings across the country have sat vacant, while its former occupants adjust to working from makeshift home offices and scramble to learn video call etiquette. 

For those who have long called for remote work to go mainstream, it’s an imperfect experiment: employers lacked time to make proper plans, parents are managing restless, isolated children, and we’re all struggling with the mental toll of our country’s health, economic, and racial crises. 

Although the circumstances are extraordinary, this experience is prompting many to reconsider their stance on virtual work. In the short-term, working from home offers continued safety to team members who aren’t confident about returning to the office. But in the long term, what can we learn from this experience to create a more flexible, rewarding work experience for our team members? 

We talked to three purpose-driven leaders to hear their perspectives on returning to the office, the future of working from home, and how to keep employees engaged right now. 

Here's how leaders are Stepping Up the way teams work.

Meet the Leaders:

 

Lauren Adams, Director of Operations
Center for Financial Planning, Inc. is a privately managed wealth management firm and registered investment advisor. 

 

 

 

Valerie Webster, Chief Strategy Officer
The Motz Group is a sports field construction firm building synthetic turf sports fields in Ohio and nearby states. They also build natural turf fields around the world.

 

 

 


Ellyn Davidson, CEO
Brogan & Partners is a full-service marketing and advertising agency.

 



 

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Is It Time to Return to the Office?

As the economy reopens and stay-at-home orders are relaxed, leaders are facing tough decisions about when and how to return to the office. Is it time to start transitioning your team back to the office? Should you play it safe and wait it out at home? And do your team members even want to go back to in-person work?

Your approach depends on the kind of business you do and the unique needs of your team members. Here are three perspectives on how to calculate your next move.

 
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“Conservative and Cautious”

Lauren Adams, Director of Operations
Center for Financial Planning, Southfield, Michigan

Prior to the pandemic, the Center for Financial Planning only offered five work-from-home days a year. Financial planning doesn’t lend itself to virtual work: clients are calling into the office, checks are received and deposited, and there’s a new stack of documents to scan, print, and mail out every day. But over the last few months, they’ve figured out a way to take most of their processes virtual, and it’s allowing them to take their time before returning to the office.

“Our fear was that our business isn’t conducive to remote work,” says Adams. “But this put a lot of those fears to rest, and we can do the vast majority of our work from home. We’ve decided to take the conservative and cautious approach and continue to work from home until at least July 4th.”

As Adams shared during a recent Small Giants Leadership Academy session, it’s about offering people peace of mind during a time when many feel safer at home. Likewise, those with children are still struggling to find childcare and need the flexibility of working from home. After so much uncertainty in the early months of the pandemic, the Center is now focusing on providing its team with clear, consistent guidance. Instead of leading the charge to reopen the economy, they’re making decisions that allow them to be flexible, cautious, and clear. 

“We’re going to let things play out and learn from other people,” says Adams. “We’re using this time to reimagine our office layout and make renovations. We’re still in crisis mode, but we have a framework for making decisions for the second half of the year.”

 


 

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“Flexible is the Word
of the Summer”

Valerie Webster, Chief Strategy Officer
The Motz Group, Cincinnati, Ohio

When The Motz Group transitioned its non-essential team members to virtual work, they were guided by one core objective: to take care of their people. They protected all jobs, set everyone up with the technology they needed, and gave everyone the option to take a week off to recalibrate and take care of themselves. It set the stage for the team to thrive while working from home, but now that the state of Ohio is reopening, it’s time to start thinking about offering an option to work from the office, too.

“There’s this overall question of what is reasonable and responsible,” says Webster. “Now through September 1st, our focus is on flexibility. We are opening up an option to go back into the office, under a set of clearly-communicated protocols. If you’d rather work from home, continue operating as such.”

For those who do want to return to the office, Motz created a website that clearly outlines the protocols they need to know in order to do so safely. They also appointed return-to-work captains to help support the transition and engage team members in the process. After the summer, the leadership team will revisit the plan and evaluate how it’s going.

“We recognize that everyone has unique challenges,” says Webster. “Confidence levels vary, and we want every team member to have the option to work wherever and however is best for them right now.”

 



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“We Broke Up with
Our Office Lease"

Ellyn Davidson, CEO
Brogan & Partners, Birmingham, Michigan

After a pretty seamless transition to working from home, Ellyn Davidson and her team at Brogan & Partners are ready to say goodbye to their office space. They were already having issues with their space after a change in landlords, and with their lease up in July, they decided to stay virtual a while longer.

“My team hasn’t missed a beat,” says Davidson. “We decided to stay virtual and use this time to look for a new space. Even when we go back to an office, it won’t look like it did before.”

Instead of investing time and energy into reconfiguring their space for proper social distancing, Davidson is focusing on keeping her team engaged through workshops, guest speakers, and learning opportunities. She’s also dialed into the unique needs of parents on her team with small children. They’re struggling to balance work and family life, and Ellyn is stepping in to assist on their accounts and redistribute work when they need support. 

“Since all of this started, I’ve never doubted whether a team member was really working or being honest about their time,” says Davidson. “We have a high level of trust and commitment, and that’s what makes this work. We’ve always been flexible, but this has really given us an opportunity to take full advantage of that.”

 

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Imagining a More Flexible Way to Work

Beyond working from home to keep team members healthy and safe, many leaders have been inspired to reimagine the way their teams work long term. For companies that went into this crisis with strong cultures and high engagement, they’re finding that their cultures are resilient enough to not just survive this test, but to thrive during it. 

It’s prompting purpose-driven leaders to imagine what else is possible for their organizations — what can we take from this experience to improve our cultures and serve our team members in new ways?

 

Work from Anywhere

Valerie Webster, Chief Strategy Officer
The Motz Group, Cincinnati, Ohio

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For Webster, this experience led to a lightbulb moment about the possibility of a more flexible, progressive workplace culture. Despite being forced to work from home with short notice, Motz’s culture of high trust, performance, and integrity shone through.

“This prompted us to totally reimagine the future of how we work,” says Webster. “How can we be more progressive? How can we differentiate ourselves? We trust our people, and we want them to enjoy life and have a flexible lifestyle. Now that we have them set up to work from anywhere, are we open and progressive enough to make this permanent?”

It’s an exciting notion for Webster and their leadership team, because it’s a new way for them to take care of team members in the totality of their lives. It speaks to a larger conversation about working from anywhere (WFA) and giving team members the flexibility to work where they want on any given day — whether that’s the office, their home, a coffee shop or the beach.

This experience has also given many leaders a rare glimpse into the home lives of their team members. The Motz Group has a young population, and many team members have children at home. Despite the difficulties of having their kids out of school, many team members shared how much they loved spending more time together. 

Working from anywhere would give parents more ownership over how they spend their time — whether it’s more time with them in the morning without a commute, sharing meals together, or the option of picking their kids up from school.

 


 

Cutting Down the Daily Commute

Ellyn Davidson, CEO
Brogan & Partners, Birmingham, Michigan

 

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For Davidson, one of the most surprising revelations of the past three months is how connected their team feels despite not seeing one another in-person for months.

“Our Zoom calls really do feel like we are all together in the office,” says Davidson. “We miss seeing each other, but it really doesn’t matter where we are. It’s made me realize that we can take the flexibility of our culture even further.”

A number of people on their team have long commutes, and Davidson couldn’t help but think about all the time they used to waste on their commutes. One of Brogan’s Art Directors has a two-hour, round trip commute, and working from home saves her so much valuable time every week. Pre-pandemic, she was working from home one day a week, but Davidson could no longer see her going back to that. 

“On a call with her, I said, ‘You’re never coming back to the office four days a week again,’” says Davidson. “This has changed things for me, and I’m realizing you don't have to be physically in the office to be a great employee. I want to retain our great talent, and flexibility is key.”

Next year, Davidson plans to roll out a blended approach that offers the best of both worlds. She’s still thinking through the nuts and bolts of the program, but she envisions having a day or two every week with the bulk of the team on-site, and offering flexibility from there. Many will want to come into the office anyways, others may stay home the rest of the week.

“This change supports our values: live with integrity, win as a team, be cheerful and joyful,” says Davidson. “Long commutes aren’t joyful. Some days, you wake up and you’re not able to be cheerful around others. Other days, the best thing for you is to take a run at 10am. I fully support that.”

 

 

 


 
We Like Working In an Office

Lauren Adams, Director of Operations
Center for Financial Planning, Southfield, Michigan

 

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Despite all the buzz around the end of office work, there are many industries where working from home full-time just doesn’t make sense. Financial planning is one of them — personal, face-to-face interactions with clients is critical to the work. Now that Adams and her team have figured out how to work from home, they’re going to stay that way until they’re absolutely certain it’s safe to return to the office. 

But as for the long-term viability of virtual work, they see it as a lifestyle benefit to offer, not a new way of life.

“In reality, many people want to be in the office,” says Adams. “Just because we can be virtual, doesn’t mean that we should. We’re going to look into a more flexible approach that offers additional remote work options. That’s especially important for those with children and with long commutes. But for the most part, nobody’s asking for a fully-remote culture — we really miss each other.”

 

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HOW DO I CONTINUE KEEPING MY EMPLOYEES ENGAGED?

At this point, the shock of the pandemic has worn off for many, and we’re settled into our new normal. Many leaders are sorely missing the engagement opportunities that summertime usually offers: offsite retreats, summer picnics, and community service events are all postponed until further notice. 

It takes some creativity, but there are plenty of fun, thoughtful ways to boost employee engagement while teams work from home.

 

HAVING IMPORTANT (AND TOUGH) CONVERSATIONS

Ellyn Davidson, CEO
Brogan & Partners, Birmingham, Michigan


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Working from home has its benefits, but many quickly learn that it’s difficult to draw boundaries when your work and personal life are playing out in the same space. Instead of leaving employees to fend for themselves, Ellyn actively supports them in finding that balance and truly unplugging from work to enjoy life.

“My team has always been up for working evenings or weekends if we need it,” says Davidson. “But we can’t always be on. When we’re getting off a meeting, I’ll encourage them to take 30 minutes to go outside for a morning walk. We’re holding competitions to see who can get the most steps and be the most active — we don’t have commutes anymore, so let’s use that time to exercise.”

Davidson is also hosting regular seminars for the team and inviting guest speakers to join them for roundtable discussions on timely topics. Earlier this month, they tackled mental health and wellness. Now, Davidson is planning a roundtable about race and social justice to help the team digest current events and share their perspectives. She’s bringing in a guest speaker and invited Black employees to share their experiences if they are comfortable.

“If we were together in person, we’d all be talking about this,” says Davidson. “I think we all need to be having these conversations, and it’s important to express that we stand with each other, even if we haven’t walked in someone’s shoes. We’re going to have an open conversation and talk about how we can support each other.”

 


 

Using Zoom for Personal Connection

Lauren Adams, Director of Operations
Center for Financial Planning, Southfield, Michigan

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It’s not an easy time to be working in wealth management. The team is up against widespread health and financial volatility, and they’re all working harder than ever to be available to clients. As a result, the leadership team is working just as hard to take care of team members and keep them engaged. 

“We’re utilizing breakout rooms on Zoom to ensure people are still getting that intimate connection with one another,” says Adams. “We’re also hosting virtual pizza parties and happy hours. Managers and leaders are doing a lot of personal check-ins. We’re staying close and connected.”

Their team is also working to respond quickly and diligently to the national conversation around racial justice. Adams was a facilitator for a company-wide discussion on the topic last week, collecting input from the entire firm on how a great company responds in a moment like this. 

“We hope this discussion spurs a plan for lasting, measurable change within our organization,” says Adams.

 


 

Virtual Community Service

Valerie Webster, Chief Strategy Officer
The Motz Group, Cincinnati, Ohio

 

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The Motz Group practices open-book management through the Great Game of Business, and Webster views it as their greatest engagement opportunity.

“60 percent of our team participates in our virtual huddles,” says Webster. “It’s open to everyone, but some can’t always come because they’re working in the field. It’s a great way for us to generate energy and connectivity. Our team has gone above and beyond to take ownership throughout this.”

Around this time of year, their team is usually engaged in an off-site, organization-wide community service event that spans two days and ends with a celebration of employees alongside their spouses. Instead, they took the funds set aside for this year’s event and partnered with Inter Parish Ministries to help feed the local community. 

“It’s important that we stay engaged and make an impact downstream,” says Webster. “We were able to protect our jobs, how else can we help people? We’ve already fed 1,000 people in 3 weeks. We are including handwritten notes with the food packages to spread kindness to those receiving it.” 

There’s no one way to approach this next phase, but purpose-driven leaders are committed to listening to their people and making decisions that serve their team and the culture. Virtual work is likely to play a larger role in all of our lives for the long term, but purpose-driven leaders know it’s not so much about where you’re working or even how — it’s why.

Read more stories of purpose-driven leaders Stepping Up.

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About Jillian Lukas Rodriguez

As our Storyteller, Jillian finds what makes Small Giants special and shares their stories with the world. Jillian is also the .gif-wielding voice behind Small Giants on social media.