“If you’re not in the office and at your desk, you’re not working!”
This statement exemplifies an old-school business perception that has shifted based on technology, progressive leadership and the need to attract and retain the best talent. This is done by providing a balanced work-life environment.
Our company is made up of employees based throughout the globe. Our headquarter team alone is in four different time zones and spread across two continents. While it may seem apparent that we needed to create a business model that supported a “work from home policy,” the decision was purposeful. We are looking for the best team, regardless of where they reside.To provide some perspective on this topic, indulge me while I take you back to my college years, where push-button wired phones were the norm, and daily newspapers were how we got our news. Personal computers were not mainstream, and we used typewriters for all educational and professional communication. In fact, my typewriter was very popular and often borrowed because it had a correcting ribbon, which was very new technology for the time.
HOW I STARTED i joined the professional world after graduating college in the late 1980s and was fortunate to be hired by a large international hotel company. When I started the job in sales/marketing, we used large books housed in a special room to block out meeting space and group room blocks. We had a position called the “group book coordinator.” This person’s role was to update the books with salespeoples’ hand-written orders for space--tentative space was written in pencil and definite business was written in ink. When you wanted to advise a client of guestroom and meeting space availability, you would have to physically walk to the room, pull out the books for the time period of interest, and place them on a large table to determine availability. Then, you would need to return to your office and call the client back with the updates. Imagine in today’s world having to wait your turn if another person was using the books you needed, knowing the client was eagerly awaiting your response.
When personal computers for the sales department were introduced along with a new software program called “Delphi,” the emotions were mixed and the learning curve was steep. It took some time for it to sink in that we could accomplish this same task without leaving our desks. We were now able to talk with our clients and advise them at the moment of interest whether there was availability for their meeting or event.
I realize this all must seem so basic now, but back then it was revolutionary.
In fact, we used to communicate via Pony Express. Yes, all written communication was via the postal service. Letters, proposals, brochures and contracts were all delivered by mail, which would take several days. Overnight delivery was very expensive and not commonplace for most businesses. The fax machine was the next big invention that would make business communication much more time efficient. Keep in mind that the internet (WorldWideWeb--www) and email would not be rolled out until the mid-1990s.
So, why share all these old experiences? Mainly to provide perspective on the business tools and environment of yesteryear so that you can also appreciate the management styles that accompanied them.
Typical business days back then were from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and required you to physically be at the office to interact with colleagues, attend meetings, and let your boss or supervisor see that you showed up for work and performed your duties. Working in an office environment with many colleagues fostered relationships, communication, brainstorming, and comraderies … but could also lead to distractions based on socializing, impromptu meetings, and requested assistance on other projects. If you weren’t at the office, you were either on a business trip, out sick, or on vacation. Working and getting paid meant you showed up and did the job from the location of the company or business. Working from home was almost unheard of.
So, let’s fast forward a few decades from when I first started my career to when technology more closely resembled what we have today. Internet, email, cellular phones and laptops were communication tools that were and continue to be essential to conduct business.
HOW THINGS CHANGED What I experienced in the early 2000s was that while technology supported the ability to no longer have to report to the corporate office (you could communicate with your clients and colleagues from a home-office using phone, internet, laptop), most management beliefs held that you still needed to be seen in the office to reassure the company that your work was being accomplished. Doing the job from a home office led management (and colleagues who didn’t have this ability or privilege) to believe you might not be doing your job and possibly sloughing off--lying by the pool, watching TV, playing golf, shopping or just goofing around. Not to say that there weren’t progressive companies and management leaders who were early adopters and embraced this opportunity for growth. However, in my career and in the hospitality field in general, it seemed old school was still in session--you needed to be seen and heard to justify your daily value to the organization and its leaders.
Having shared some of my career history, you can probably understand my elation when in 2011, I was hired by DMC Network to lead and manage a remote-based team located in multiple states, countries and time-zones. My past corporate experience did not reflect this culture, but I was up for the opportunity and challenge of change. While I admit that I have typically not been an early adopter of technology or trends, but more of a tester to be assured it works and is effective, I felt this was a business strategy and model that made sense for the times.
WHAT I KNOW NOW Having run this organization with a remote staff for nine years, I have come to learn that without the daily distractions of a conventional office environment, we have all become very efficient and productive. We sometimes miss the social talk or casual walk around the office to catch-up with colleagues, but we find ourselves able to be laser focused on tasks at hand with minimal disruptions.
The key to managing a remote team is that you must trust people to do their job and provide them with clear expectations of results along with the technological tools to be successful. It’s important to schedule regular communication calls and check-ins to ensure progress is tracking. You also need to provide means for the team to remain connected with one another. While email and cellphones are common communication tools, we have found that videoconferencing brings a human element to the remote work model. The need to connect is more important than ever and being able to see each other is not only fun but helps maintain a team attitude and fosters a community environment.
Meeting face to face a couple times a year also helps to strengthen the team bonds of trust and communication. I find that most remote staff organizations garner more productivity and job satisfaction than a traditional business model. Staff feel empowered to manage their day to get work goals and tasks accomplished, while also having the flexibility to have a balanced life. I have also found that the reality of lifestyle balance doesn’t mean 40 hours or less of work a week--but probably a 50- to 60-hour flexible week that is not based on showing up to an office and punching a time clock. This latitude allows them to tailor their work life to custom fit their family and social life, ultimately maximizing their productivity and success!
For example, several of our headquarter team members have children at home. Fortunately, these colleagues are in a working environment where they can make a positive impact in this industry without sacrificing their family. Having breakfast as a family without having to hurry out the door to miss rush-hour traffic, or being able to take the children to a midweek activity or attend their sporting event, is the norm. In return, we have highly talented individuals that bring loyalty and value to our company. When their kids are doing homework or asleep, they are happy to jump back online and finish their work day. In an industry where travel is so heavily involved, having the flexibility to enjoy their family when home is priceless.
But it’s not just the working parent that we are looking to target and support. In an industry where legacy business experience is just as important as a fresh, enthusiastic face, holding onto key talent is essential. We have team members that have been with us many years and before that in our industry for decades. Their knowledge is invaluable and creating a working environment where these talents know their skills are recognized and appreciated gives us a happy, engaged employee that’s not likely to leave us for a competitor.
We are looking for the right person for the role! Our belief is that, regardless of age, gender or family position, having a flexible working environment is a benefit. It is something that the employer will reap the benefits of offering. I am proud to lead this company that has been embracing this balanced model since day one. I’m looking forward to seeing this style of work become more common place in our industry.
Companies utilizing these progressive work strategies have more satisfied employees who provide their companies with greater efficiency and financial results. The old stereotype of working from home as an easy gig (sleeping in late and long lunches) couldn’t be further from the reality.
With today’s technology, many jobs can be done from anywhere and don’t require punching a time clock at an office. To be successful with this business model, it’s imperative that employees have a strong work ethic accompanied by the trust, empowerment, communication and support of their company and leadership!