Companies all over the world have been disrupted by the pandemic, many devastated by it. But, amid the chaos, there have also been opportunities to grasp. Swathes of business leaders have found that switching to remote working has resulted in happier, more productive employees. So, as restrictions are gradually lifted, not all will be rushing to open their offices again. We spoke with some of those who are planning to continue as remote working companies after the pandemic, whether through flexible arrangements or by closing the office altogether.
Companies switching to flexible remote working (hybrid)
Soundstripe is a stock music library for creators, founded by professional musicians. When businesses were forced to close their offices in March 2020, the Soundstripe team was well prepared for the changes, as it had already been planning a transition to remote working.
“That puts us in a small group of teams who accidentally thought ahead on the whole phenomenon,” explains Jordan Schneider, the company’s director of digital marketing. “The pandemic really just forced our hand much sooner than anybody anticipated.
“Our plan moving into 2021 is to continue our remote-first policy, but have the office open and available to those who would like to use it,” he continues. “After many conversations and check-ins throughout the year with our team members, the consensus is that the switch to remote-first has been positive. People feel more productive, more connected in their personal lives, and more free to pursue other activities throughout the week now that a commute is not a part of their day-to-day.”
Airfocus is a product strategy agency based in Hamburg, Germany. When the pandemic hit, the company invested in tools to keep business operating on a fully remote basis, and plans to maintain as much of this as possible in future.
“Another transition would be incredibly complicated now, which is why we will continue working remotely for some time,” says Malte Scholz, CEO and co-founder. “When the situation calms down a bit we will have the option of office work again for those who want to join. However, this will not be obligatory in any way, since I have already diversified my team and hired people from all around the world.”
The disruption has been particularly hard on firms that have historically relied on providing in-person services. Legaladvice.com was forced to completely shut down its law firm and pro bono practice. Furthermore, the restrictions prevented its law clinic from admitting new clients to consult with an attorney at its physical offices in New York. But it hasn’t all been bad news.
“The good is that many new clients are still able to be serviced on our online web portal,” explains CEO, David Reischer, Esq. “The coronavirus has expedited the already well established trend of clients becoming more comfortable with asking legal questions online to get advice from an attorney.
“Our business model will likely continue to be more remote-based going into 2021, because many employees no longer want to commute into an office building and work with colleagues wearing masks all day.”
Workflow management solution Unito had already introduced some aspects of remote working before the pandemic. Last year’s events accelerated this process, with the company quickly shifting to a fully remote scenario. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing.
“We experienced all of the ups and downs of a remote work situation,” explains Evan LePage, senior content manager. “This included challenges with maintaining the same level of culture and camaraderie we had in the office, difficulties adapting our brainstorming sessions and other hands-on models to remote, and having to schedule meetings to replace some of the more spontaneous in-office interactions.
“On the flip side, many people on our team loved the lack of commute, lack of distractions, and the flexibility to schedule their days how they saw fit.”
Seeking to strike the right balance, the company is planning to build a flexible, hybrid workspace after the pandemic. “Employees will be allowed to work up to three days per week from home,” says Evan. “We feel this is the best compromise. We can still schedule in-person meetings and events; we ensure that people will interact face-to-face and build the relationships that are foundational for a strong team; and we still allow those who enjoy working from home to do so the majority of the time.
“There was never any really consideration of going fully remote. Especially as it became clear to us that because of the different preferences of different people, a one-size-fits-all decision wouldn’t work. This hybrid approach allows everyone to work how they’re comfortable.”
Otsimo is a tech startup based in Ankara, Turkey, that specialises in design apps to support special education and speech therapy for children. The firm, which employs around 20 people, moved to a fully working from home situation during the first wave, before reopening its offices in summer 2020.
After the initial changes, the company decided to embrace change. “Just recently we permanently switched to an ‘office is optional’ plan,” says Zafer Elcik, Otsimo’s CEO and co-founder. “Generally speaking, three quarters of our employees work from home.”
Based in California, Boundery is a team of inventors and innovators that develops household lifestyle products. After the forced closure of its offices last year, the company saw higher levels of productivity and overall happiness among its employees.
“I would be foolish not to take this into account when implementing changes to our workplace environment in the future,” says co-founder Jason Akatiff. “In 2021, I don’t intend on getting rid of office spaces altogether, as I value in-person collaboration and the cultural benefits that having an office provides.
“I am looking into downsizing our office space and offering employees the option of having space if they need it, but also staying flexible if they choose to continue to work from home. I like the idea of collaborative office rooms, where teams can meet to work together or around each other.”See our guide to the best laptops for working remotely
Accounting integration software provider Amaka has a co-located team with offices in Australia, Poland, the Philippines and the USA. The company was already set up for remote working before the pandemic arrived, having invested heavily to provide employees with ergonomic essentials.
“When the pandemic hit, the entire team was forced into lockdown and working from home,” says chief operating officer Francesco Martella. “We found that the pre-existing systems helped make the transition significantly smoother. Now that restrictions have eased, we’re moving back into a hybrid structure and hoping to maintain it.”
The company has taken steps to maintain positive connections across its various office locations. “With a co-located team, business culture is often overlooked and it is expected to organically happen, which is almost never the case.
“We promote over-communication and detailed documentation, helping remote teams become more disciplined in a natural way. It’s easy to forget about these best practices when team members can tap on the shoulder and rely on the person sitting next to them.”
Based in Kiev, Ukraine, Greenice is a web development agency that works with clients all over the world. Its team was almost entirely office-based before the pandemic, but after restrictions were introduced, only around a quarter of the team stayed working on-site.
“Most of us like the flexibility of remote work, but we do miss offline interactions and in-person collaboration,” says Kateryna Reshetilo, marketing and business development manager. “In the future, we plan to have a hybrid of office and remote work. The exception will be only for the new employees, who will be required to come to the office. We feel it is best to onboard newcomers in person and help them join new teams.”
CareerPlug, a hiring software company, already had some remote working arrangements in place before the pandemic. Around 10% of its workforce was permanently remote, with the majority of staff working from home one or two days a week.
“Dipping our toe into remote work before we needed it became one of our greatest assets,” says Natalie Morgan, the company’s senior director of people. “We were able to quickly transition to 100% remote when we needed to without major hiccups in our operations.”
Operating fully remotely brought many benefits, and so CareerPlug made the decision in August 2020 to become a remote-first workplace. “After months of remote work that resulted in steady – even increased – productivity among the team, it became clear that the strength of the company came from our people, not our office,” explains Natalie. “We surveyed employees, listened to feedback, and learned that while we can continue to improve how we work together remotely, the majority of people liked working remote. We miss each other, sure, and are excited for a big party in the future when it’s safe again, but remote work is working for us.
“In the future we may have a smaller office in our hub of Austin, but as more of our employees spread out across the US (I myself made the move to Wisconsin over the summer), and our hiring pool now open to the whole country, we are going to continue being remote first for good. This means that we treat remote practices as the norm and continue to reinforce that there’s no advantage to being in the office rather than working from home.”
Award-winning creative agency MuteSix is based primarily in Los Angeles. Prior to the pandemic, most of its staff commuted to its physical offices, with some remote employees located in other cities around the USA. The events of 2020 prompted the team to make considerable changes to working arrangements.
“While we take pride in our office culture, MuteSix has always embraced remote working and giving our employees flexibility,” says Daniel Rutberg, co-founder and chief operations officer. “The pandemic has shown us that we can still onboard new team members seamlessly and deliver big wins to our clients from anywhere. We understand that people have different working styles and preferences, and will continue to offer flexible options that meet their individual needs.”
Sustainable luxury furniture brand Whom Home made a successful transition from office working to home working at the onset of the pandemic. The company is now looking for ways to give its employees a healthy balance in future by combining elements of both.
“I am planning on moving away from a traditional office environment,” explains Jonathan Bass, owner and CEO. “My employees have expressed a desire of returning to the office environment once it is safe to do so. I am planning to offer both options to my employees and have them decide individually. I don’t see a reason to not be flexible and understand all my employees’ needs and preferences.”
Jonathan believes that many businesses will be considering similar arrangements. “With today’s technology, it has made it easier for everyone to not leave their house,” he says. “It has pushed our culture to a position where we have had to develop systems to allow us to collaborate. I think it’s going to be tough for a lot of employers and employees to return to work in an office environment.”
JMJ Phillip is a boutique executive search firm that specialises in the manufacturing, supply chain and technology sectors. After closing its offices last year, the company is not in any rush to return to the previous way of working.
“We have decided that we will not be moving forward immediately with a return to an in-office work setting,” explains managing director Dennis Dennis Theodorou. “We will be doing a flex schedule of either two or three days in the office, and two or three working from home.
“In fact, in one of our offices in the Midwest, we have decided to not renew our long-term lease and have begun looking into options for downsizing our office capacity due to the anticipated flex schedule, which will open up some additional new office options for us,” he continues. “The benefit of this arrangement is that we can look at investing what used to be a significant fixed cost towards other aspects of the business – ideally, to catalyse growth in 2021.”
Based in India, QuickEmailVerification is a leading email validation company. After closing its offices last March, the company took careful steps to make a smooth transition, and intends to maintain some flexibility after the pandemic.
Mayank Batavia, head of marketing and partnerships, saw the situation as an opportunity to improve internal communications. “We used some time to cross-train a little,” he explains. “For instance, designers interacted more with marketers and so on. That way, everyone better understood the overall business and the dynamics.”
Lockdowns have created an especially challenging situation for staff with young children. Addressing this, the company took measures to support staff with caring responsibilities at home. “For instance, a couple used to work while leaving their baby with a babysitter,” says Mayank. “With the lockdown, the couple was working from home, but the babysitter was no longer able to turn up. The company helped the couple’s teams re-schedule their working hours so that the challenge was overcome.”
Companies switching to fully remote working
The Hive Law
The Hive Law, based in Atlanta, USA, transitioned to working 100% remotely as a result of the pandemic. After reaping the benefits of going fully remote, the firm is making the switch permanent.
“To help our attorneys out, we created team hubs,” says owner Melissa Breyer. “For each team, we have two attorneys and a quality control person. The quality control team member coordinates the calls, takes notes on the call, and does follow-up calls with our clients. Quality control also provides feedback to management on how professional we are, and how well we are listening to the clients and solving their problems.
“This has helped the attorneys by keeping them focused on legal work. It keeps them from having to do a ton of administrative work, which also increases our revenue. This also allows clients to get more attention.”
These process improvements have not been the only advantages of remote working for The Hive Law. “In addition to this, we were able to cancel the lease on our office, which saves us $104,400 per year,” says Melissa. “While working virtually, we are able to see about 35% more clients in the same amount of time. So, we have reduced expenses, increased profits, and are way more efficient in our processes.”
WikiLawn, an online resource for lawn and garden professionals, implemented remote work arrangements in April 2020. Just a few months later, the company closed its on-site office permanently, switching to a fully remote setup.
“It wasn’t worth it to renew the lease when our employees are happier, healthier, and just as productive working from home,” says Dan Bailey, WikiLawn’s president. “We may have had a few struggles to start with, but we’ve been able to make it work for a very long time now and I think our teams are much more efficient.
“More than that, as I mentioned, it’s better for the health and happiness of our employees. This pandemic has taken a toll on everyone. Forcing employees to go back to work before the virus is contained is negligence at best. We were never going to do that. After discussing it with our employees, permanently closing the office was the best option for everyone, and we haven’t regretted it since.”
With the freedom afforded by remote flexibility, many people are using the opportunity to travel and see new places while working. See our ultimate guide to workcations to find out more.
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