About three years ago, I spent a year living and working remotely from Europe. My experience was unique and interesting enough that I was featured in a series called Digital Nomad Life in Croatia. Of course, many people had been working remotely for years, but it hadn’t really become mainstream. Then came the major disrupter of all life as we knew it – Covid-19. Almost immediately, everyone the world over got a taste of working remotely, or at least of realizing that the world of work could look very different from how we always thought it had to be.
As the pandemic begins to wind down (fingers crossed!) many companies are still offering some variation of work-from-home opportunities for their workers, whether it is to allow for more social distancing within the office space, or to accommodate workers who have proven that their work can be done just as efficiently from home. Some companies have taken advantage of a smaller workforce or flexible scheduling and downsized their physical locations. Once again, I find myself in a somewhat unique situation as my entire law firm has opted to operate fully remotely. At this moment, we have no plans to work from a single brick and mortar location. Possibly ever.
There are some downsides to this arrangement. The first that comes to mind for most people is isolation. We are social beings, and there can be creative synergy or mentorship that comes from popping by your officemate’s desk for a quick question or document review. Many sticky problems can be resolved over a spontaneous lunch with a boss or a peer. Despite the remote nature of many jobs, somebody must still store the unused equipment or file cabinets for things that still need paper documentation. Sometimes our homes are not big enough or quiet enough to serve the dual purpose of also functioning as productive workspaces. Some people simply do not work well unless they get out of their relaxed home space, dress up, and go to another place where they are expected to be efficient.
Some of these hurdles have been challenges for us, too, and maybe we’re just lucky that everyone on our team has been willing to find a way to make it work in exchange for the benefits of no commute, more daily flexibility, and the enormous cost savings which can be passed back to employees. Nevertheless, as we continue to navigate a world that has embraced remote or hybrid work models, it is wise to identify practices that have best helped businesses thrive during this notable shift. Here’s how we’ve found ways to handle these unusual circumstances and cut inefficiencies:
- We use the Microsoft suite of products that allows for easy chatting, video conferencing, and shared, live document storage. A quick question via Teams is no more –in fact, often less—intrusive than dropping by someone’s office in person. Less time is wasted starting a Teams meeting than waiting for everyone to gather in one conference room and getting back to work after the meeting isn’t delayed by a trip past the water cooler. If a key person does happen to be late, the rest of us can continue working while we’re waiting.
- Personal Interactions. We may not get together one on one as often as we did when working in the same space, but we have committed to frequent social gatherings, whether virtual or in person, to play games, do volunteer work, chat, have a beer, whatever. I feel I spend more quality time with my coworkers now than I ever have in my past jobs.
- Home Offices. Some of our workers have had to be more creative than others with designing a productive workspace in their homes, but libraries, shared offices, and coworking spaces are also options, especially for in-person conferences. Also, there is nothing that says you have to spend your days at home in sweatpants and slippers if you believe you need to dress up to feel professional and productive.
- We have rented a UPS box as our mailing address. UPS will also accept packages and hand deliveries on our behalf, and they will send our mail to us as often as we request. Some mailbox companies will email pictures of incoming mail, so customers always know what is sitting in their box. We have keys to access our mailbox at any time, day or night, if there is something that can’t wait for delivery. All-important client mail is scanned, emailed, and stored in the appropriate client folders online.
- Everyone has the same equipment at home that they would have in an office, except for maybe a printer/scanner. Since we have no hybrid model where some people want to work at home and in an office, we have no need for duplicate equipment in two locations.
- We have two administrative employees who have printers and one of those can also write checks, so if something needs to be printed and mailed, say certified mail or with a check, that is emailed to the person who can handle that task. Receipts and document copies are scanned and stored online. One scanned copy can be efficiently filed electronically and accessible to everyone without any paper printing, copying, delivering, or filing. Signatures are all handled through the same e-signature platform that we use with our clients.
The landscape for where most of us can perform our jobs has changed dramatically. For me, working from home is not as exotic as working from Europe was, but generally, workers are happier when work fits nicely into the flexible lives they want to live. Businesses are more profitable when productivity is not affected by things like traffic, weather, or commute time, and the operating budget is not dented with office space rental or the costs of printing and copying, stocking the company kitchen, and paying utilities.