After more than a year of virtual work, employers are making plans to get back to the physical workplace. John Uprichard, CEO of Find Great People, shares how his thoughts about remote work have evolved.
By: John Uprichard, CEO, Find Great People
As I look back over the last 18 months, I find myself reflecting on how our business has shifted, specifically with our workforce model. Right now, we are leaning in and focusing on ‘how we make it work,’ but that hasn’t always been the case.
When COVID emerged and moving to a remote workforce became a reality, our organization had to scramble to organize and distribute technology – not just for our internal employees, but also our temporary employees working with our clients – and figure out how to keep employees safe. Once the basics were put into motion, our priorities shifted. How do we communicate with employees? How do we maintain our great company culture? How do we collaborate as teams and with clients? How do we make sure our employees are remaining engaged and productive at home?
Return to office – or so we thought.
A “return to office” taskforce was created, bi-weekly company zoom calls were scheduled, virtual events were set in motion, and new approaches were developed to run the organization. Using The 4 Disciplines of Execution operating model, we focused on the major theme of “less is more.” We emphasized weekly indicators, scorecards, and accountability through visibility. We quickly figured out how to operate remotely and focused on thriving instead of surviving. The plan was always to bring people back into the office, using our pre-COVID and traditional operating model. With multiple physical locations, we always prioritized the in-office workplace culture and valued the team experience.
But once we were at a place of bringing employees back, we paused and asked if our current model was working. And it was. Revenue in parts of our business were at an all-time high, employees were productive, employee retention was high, and people seemed happier than before. We really didn’t have a reason to mandate a fully in-office model except for “that was the way we always worked.”
How has my perspective shifted?
For me, it comes back to hiring and how you manage people. I have always said that if we have to manage you, you aren’t going to be at our company very long. We strive to hire people who can manage themselves with an ingrained self-determination and work ethic. These are qualities easily identified if we have hired correctly.
So, if we have hired the right people, what really matters when it comes to ensuring success, regardless of location? For me, it’s two important things:
Connectivity. The theory has always been that if you aren’t there in person, you can’t be connected. What we’ve learned as an organization during the pandemic is that connectivity is really about intentionality vs. physicality. Choosing to stay connected, involved and engaged with the work you are doing and the people you are doing it with contributes highly to an employee’s level of success.
Productivity. There is a common shared belief that employees may not be as productive working from home as they would in an office. Maybe it’s about structure, or maybe it’s about being able to lay eyes on employees. But if you’ve hired people who align on vision and values, and who are driven by their own personal success, this shouldn’t matter. Productivity is tied to inner drive, determination, and a passion for doing the work. If we’ve hired the right people, this will show up regardless of being in the office or working remotely.
When did my perspective shift?
I can’t pin it to a specific “aha” moment. Instead, it was a gradual shift over a period of time. The bottom line is that flexibility and autonomy are earned. Our people are showing up daily ready to work, engaged, and are achieving success. During the pandemic, our team showed up, not just for themselves but also for the greater benefit of our business. I’ve been blown away by our team’s tenacity and agility to pivot during this time. So, for us it’s simple. We aren’t going to go back to our pre-COVID traditional workforce model with people in the office 5 days a week. Our hybrid model based on flexibility and autonomy allows our employees to be their best, and most importantly they are highly engaged and happy.
Many companies are considering the right move for their organizations. At FGP, we are broken up into several divisions – staffing, search and consulting. A “one size fits all” mentality won’t work for us. Some people travel frequently to meet with clients, others need a closed door for making calls, and others thrive in a high-energy team-based environment. To alleviate the need to create a “policy,” we chose to allow decisions to be made at the business level, doing what’s right for our clients, company and employees.
Having a divisional approach comes with it lots of advantages. The division managers know their team members best and can provide a more individualized approach to workplace planning. For example, a new employee may need to be strictly onsite for several weeks while they are getting accustomed to their new role, or maybe an individual is underperforming and needs more day-to-day guidance and structure. This allows opportunities for both flexibility and specialized coaching and development where needed. What does this do? It drives buy-in. When your employees feel seen, heard, and valued, they are going to be even more committed to not just their work, but your company.
As a medium sized organization, we can do this fairly easy, but it’s still possible to be done in bigger companies as well. It just requires a deeper dive into the layers within your organization and deciding who should manage team workforce decisions, communication, and implementation. Can your maintenance team work with the same kind of flexibility as your sales team? Probably not. There is a reason clothing isn’t uniformly made in a one size fits all design. Companies, like bodies, change over time. It’s about being fair and equitable in your workforce approach. Every group is different, and everyone’s situation varies. It’s about providing transparency, allowing for autonomy, and hiring the right people.
Leveraging flexibility as a competitive advantage
I’ve spoken a lot about hiring the right people, and it’s now harder to do that. In today’s candidate-driven hiring market, potential employees can be highly selective in their next job opportunity. Sure, benefits and salary are critical in your offer package, but now more than ever workplace flexibility is a key factor in a job seekers decision to join an organization. It is now a candidate’s first question.
Not only is flexibility a competitive advantage, it’s also a factor in employee satisfaction and retention. We have increased our workforce at FGP by 15% since the start of COVID and have maintained the highest retention rates we have had in years. Giving our employees flexibility has provided them the ability to work hard but also be present in the lives of their families and friends. It’s the balance everyone talks about, and we are trying to provide that to our people.
If you want to grow as a company – whether you’re a small business or multi-site organization – you must operate with a growth mindset and commit to employee engagement. That perspective first starts with asking yourself how you make it work vs. why it won’t work. With this attitude, your ability to evolve as an organization is endless.