Joe, the company President, always waited until the morning of a meeting to announce an impromptu All Hands Meeting. These meetings were held monthly to discuss routine work and updates, but holding a company-wide meeting outside of the regular, boring ones is always cause for alarm. (Remote work would be the topic this time.)
People presume someone was fired, Christmas bonuses are being held back for another year, the company is being sold, yadda yadda yadda. Needless to say, the gossip that ensues for those 1-2 hours between the announcement and the 11am meeting is more than enough – no one wants the gossip or the stress to last any longer, let alone overnight.
So Joe told Tara, the receptionist, to make the announcement and send the company-wide email. “Tell them they shouldn’t miss this one,” he said.
“That’s what you always say!” said Tara with a smile.
After a tense hour and 35 minutes, people started to congregate, more quietly than usual, towards the meeting area. Nervous chat quietly settled as Joe walked in.
Usually he tried to open with a joke, or a piece of trivia. This wasn’t the time for that.
“So, how many of you have dreamed of working from home?”
A collective sigh of relief…bigger smiles than expected…some giggles to entertain what could be a joke…and then silent peace.
“I’ll take it at least a few of you have considered it then? Have any of you brought it up with your colleagues or supervisors?”
A few hands gently rose, Annie’s being one of them.
Annie did NOT want to be singled out or asked to speak. But she would stand for what she believed in if he asked her to…
Please don’t make me go up there, Joe.
“Okay, I don’t want to single anyone out. But I know of a few supervisors who have entertained the notion of allowing someone to work from home on occasion. Until now, our policy has only allowed this for parents who must stay home with sick kids. Otherwise, if you’re on vacation or home sick we feel you should not be working.
However, if you were allowed to work from home, either on occasion or most of the time, would you?”
The crowd politely went wild.
“Well, for the first time ever, the owners are considering it. We have drafted a policy that will be in place if we move forward with this decision. Your supervisors will discuss the details with each of you, but today we’d like to talk bigger picture stuff.
As a group, we’d like to hear from each department. How would your workday change if you were to work remotely? What would the company need to do to ensure there are no obstacles or limitations to you getting your job done as well at home as you do in the office?”
Slowly the scattered company started moving around and gathering in groups by department. They all had a lot to discuss but everyone sounded positive.
Annie was pleased.
“IT? We’ll start with you guys,” said Joe.
The IT Manager spoke up: “Well, we are all in favor of remote work, and the nature of our work shows us daily how easily technology and internet-based communications can make it happen seamlessly. Our only caveat would be the teamwork that our department makes an effort to build with our daily 20-minute team sessions. If we weren’t all in the office every day, we would need to figure out another way to continue that daily team huddle.”
Jessica was ready with her research. She gave them some ideas, told them it was also a concern of hers, and then gave them some advice on setting something up like a morning Google Hangout for 20 minutes and maybe creating a Slack channel where they could collaborate throughout the day. She then quoted one of the articles she had pulled up on her tablet: “Working remotely can be intimidating, and it can also be a blessing. When you understand the factors that go into successfully managing yourself and maintaining meaningful connection with your colleagues along with your own well-being, the word “remote” will become less of a connotation for isolation and more of a tool for choosing your own channels to thrive in your work.”
Everyone smiled and nodded, especially IT. They loved to see technology come in and solve their problem.
Naturally, Gary, the Accounting Manager, stepped in and rained on the parade. “I’d love to work at home in my pajamas and listen to Bach with my favorite tea and chocolate. In fact, if it was up to me I’d move an hour north to my cabin in Wyoming to work – the Wi-Fi is surprisingly reliable and it’s surrounded by trees – but the company’s in Colorado. Which means I’d be limited by that fun little variable called income tax, which varies by state.
Gary had clearly never looked into the concept of remote work.
Annie looked at Jessica with a smile. Jessica had an article for this as well, straight from the Small Business association.
“Gary, there are actually a ton of small companies, possibly thousands, that employ people from all around the world. Not just through different branches of the companies, but remote workers who live and travel through many different states and countries. We’ve looked into this as well, and I’ll read you what we found on the SMA website: ‘Employers with remote employees should rely on outside payroll companies or other tax experts due to the complexity of payroll withholding for remote staff. These experts can help employers not only do withholding correctly, but also determine how remote workers impact an employer’s state unemployment insurance. Employees who work remotely should consult their own tax advisor to hone their state income tax withholding.’” We’re willing to hire help with this piece, whether it’s a consultant who comes in to meet with your department or someone who we can have on a retainer to consult with as needed.
Gary tried not to smile as he breathed a silent sigh of relief.
As the administrative team was called on, they had clearly done their research. Tara, the Receptionist, had friends with the same position at other companies and heard about them using VoIP voice services, voicemail-to-email, custom call routing, and all kinds of other cool stuff that made their jobs easier. “Honestly we have no concerns. We know there are communications companies who help you get all your voice communications and routing set up easily and effectively in no time. I have friends who have told me all about it and I’ve been envious, because they can stay home to handle their companies’ inbound communications when needed, and really only go to the office when they are asked to be there to greet guests. A couple of friends I know work for businesses that have gone entirely remote in the last couple of years with great success.”
“I have an article about that right here!” Jessica injected gleefully. “It says ‘many organizations are pioneering the alternative workplace – the combination of nontraditional work practices, settings, and locations that is beginning to supplement traditional offices. This is not a fad. Although estimates vary widely, some 30 million to 40 million people in the United States are now either telecommuters or home-based workers. Cost reduction is a major factor.’ How do you like them apples, Accounting folks? Owners?”
Everyone smiled and nodded.
The Data and Research Team, which included Annie, mentioned something that Joe, the former Project Scientist, was also interested in learning more about: “How will we access data, run reports, or upload our data? Isn’t it supposed to be 100% secure since it’s regarding government projects? We surely can’t validate data or conduct research from a public network at a coffee shop. Is it safe to do so at home?”
Joe nodded. “Well, I found this article, which addresses Health Information Management or HIM. HIM is a pretty big topic with cloud-based database discussions over secure information. I’ll share this article with you about considering the transition to remote departments in regards to HIM. I think much of what they discuss also applies to our data and reports.”
Annie wanted to add something to this: “Yes, it’s such a big topic to be sure data are secure for all companies, but especially ones like ours with scientific data that could cause public unrest if it’s accessed before being validated or interpreted. And I did look into this a lot, because I was one of the employees who approached their supervisor about working remotely. There are definitely options, but it’s clearly wise to not work on public Wi-Fi when you’re accessing sensitive data.”
Annie was shy about talking in front of crowds, but not on this topic.
“However, when you find articles like these that show how valuable the remote work option is to the bottom line and morale, I think it’s worth the serious consideration. This one in particular, which I shared with Jessica, ‘gave its employees the opportunity to volunteer to work from home for nine months. Half the volunteers were allowed to telecommute; the rest remained in the office as a control group. Survey responses and performance data collected at the conclusion of the study revealed that, in comparison with the employees who came into the office, the at-home workers were not only happier and less likely to quit but also more productive. The study also estimated that it saved $1,900 per employee for the nine months.’”
The HR Department – which was comprised of only two people – were next to talk. They, of course, knew about this before the All Hands Meeting because they were working on the policy so it could be ready for the flood of interest. Laura, the HR Director, was very impressed with the concept even before working on the policy. She had seen all kinds of success with other companies and knew it would work. She was also armed with research.
“Morale is very important to us! And as long as we have the right people in the right places, company morale and revenue can grow together once we embrace this change. Let me read an excerpt from my research: ‘Remote work is a key development for the future of sustainable businesses. Allowing employees to work from home gives them an immediately healthier work-life balance. They’ll spend less time commuting and more time in their home environments, leading to higher morale. And the environmental impact of working remotely can’t be overstated. The average passenger vehicle produces 4.7 metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) every year; eliminating an hour-long daily commute for dozens to hundreds of workers could instantly slash this figure for your local air quality.’ It’s a natural step forward for us and we think it will be a great movement for the growth and sustainability of the company.”
Annie was proud. Jessica was proud. Joe was excited. Gary was convinced.
And the crowd went wild.
The first-ever standing ovation at an All Hands Meeting commenced as Annie slipped away to call Tom and thank him. He got her started on this, and now the whole company was on Cloud Nine.