Last March, many employees were sent home to work remotely for a few weeks until this “pesky” coronavirus (COVID-19) resolved itself. Almost a year has passed, and many employees are still working from home. Companies are evaluating the costs of continuing to hold onto office real estate while their staff work effectively (some would say more effectively) at home. Many executive teams, facility professionals, and HR teams are wondering if it is worth keeping a brick-and-mortar space for their business post-COVID. Before deciding to end the lease or consolidate company locations, pressure-test the infrastructure of your organization to see if it would support a permanent change to a fully virtual or hybrid environment.
Knowledge sharing and documentation are the all-stars of the remote work world. Information sharing is key when you have people working at different times of the day (asynchronous) from different locations. Without the ability to turn to your cubemate and ask a quick question, information-sharing methodology needs to be outlined. A clear protocol should be followed to document key data (think: meeting minutes, project plans and how-to documents). Many companies support knowledge sharing in a virtual work environment by investing in technology like Slack, where users can create channels to compile and organize work that is easily accessible to others. A virtual transition would not be a good match for a company that allows employees to keep pertinent company or job knowledge in their head. Information hoarders need not apply! This level of transparency also extends to employee policies. As a best practice, performance standards should be clearly outlined with outcome-based goals. Subjectivity needs to be removed from the equation since work is not being observed live.
Harvard Business School Professor, Prithwiraj Choudhury, points out that a remote or hybrid structure must be supported by the leadership team in order for it to stick. If leadership commitment is not in place to support asynchronous work, then those working remotely from home (or anywhere) may feel out of the loop. For example, if the leadership team is insistent on being in the office, you will see employees respond accordingly. Senior staff may end up returning to the office to ensure they get their voices heard by the executive team. In worst-case scenario, an “A” and “B” cohort are created where different people receive alternative pieces of information based on where they sit during the workday. This could also extend to uneven participation related to problem solving, brainstorming, and training which further affects company engagement and innovation. Leaders must be dedicated to actively including both virtual and remote staff. This may mean that a bit more planning is involved when a senior executive wants to call a last-minute meeting so remote staff can also participate.
The case to shut down physical offices and move staff to a remote or hybrid construct is not cut and dried. There is no foolproof checklist to determine whether your company should make this transition. Yes, there is a bounty of evidence suggesting this would save the company real estate costs and employees may be more productive. But there is more to consider in the equation. A great starting point is to observe the knowledge sharing practices and leadership commitment at your company today. You can use this information to plan the next steps to take to evaluate whether the culture of your company is copacetic to a permanent remote environment.