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There is a lot of talk about CEOs who are making the return to office mandatory, regardless of employee situation or request. Elon Musk’s recent emails and tweets requiring employees be in the office a minimum of 40 hours per week made for headlines that were hard to miss.  These return to office mandates appear to be grounded in a couple of common beliefs such as “work doesn’t happen unless I see you working” or “company culture is based on in-person interaction”. The question to ask ourselves is “is this true?”

Work from home circle

Like so many, at Engaged HR our team had no choice but to start working remotely in March of 2020 and between March 2020 and June 2021, our bricks-and-mortar office sat empty. When our office lease expired, we had a decision to make. Do we bring people back to the office or do we stay remote? To be honest, the answer was easy. Our team had transitioned to remote work seamlessly and we could see that they were thriving as employees and as humans in their daily lives. We could not come up with one good reason to go back to how things were, so we gave up our office.

Fast forward to July 2022 and we have been an “intentionally remote” company for a year and have doubled in size to a team of 25. Our team is deeply connected and collaborative and sees each other in person only a few times a year.

Here are a few lessons we have learned about being a remote company with a fabulous corporate culture:

1. Be intentional about your culture.  The belief that culture is only formed from in-person interactions is based on an erroneous assumption about how culture is formed. In simple terms, corporate culture is an amalgamation of the people involved, the systems that support those people, and the mission that brings people together in the first place. Being clear about the kind of culture you want to have, or the kind of employer you want to be, is critical to getting the kind of culture you want. The first conversation we had as a team when we officially became a remote company was about our value of connectedness. What did that mean and how did it look when we are remote? This was a powerful conversation that has guided us for the last year to make sure that feeling connected was always present within the organization.

2. Create a sense of Belonging. We have been leveraging Microsoft Teams throughout our remote work and it has been a game changer. Being able to share work information to the entire company or to a select group in a single post is easy and efficient which means that it is more likely to occur. Instant messaging that creates a “turn around at my desk and ask a question” moment in someone’s day adds to their feeling of teamwork and removes isolation. Creating social channels for sharing personal experiences connects people in a way that didn’t always happen in person. Kitchen chatter over lunch would share news that only those in the room heard. Pop that same info into a company chat and everyone can participate, engage and be “in the know”, creating a sense of involvement and belonging.

3. Provide options. We have an office where people can come to work, and 5 to 6 people can be at the office at any one time. Need some in-person time to keep your productivity up or to have a mentoring conversation with your manager? The office is an option. And it doesn’t have to be our office – maybe a coffee shop or co-working space where they have interactions with others. The point is, working at “the office” isn’t mandatory. Mandatory makes it an obligation. An option makes it a part of the flexibility that people have, crave, and deserve, in their lives.

4. In person is still important.  We have a Social Committee whose mandate is to bring us all together in-person once per quarter. They have a healthy budget, and they are always looking for new and creative ways for us to be together. Our goals in that time together are to have fun, to get to know each other as people, and to not talk about work! These events are talked about for months afterward and they are worth every penny! In-person isn’t a bad thing, it definitely has a role to play, and the trick is to find a cadence and style that creates the desired culture!

All in all, the last year has been amazing as a remote company! As CEO, the best part is seeing our employees spend more quality time with their families, friends, pets, and themselves because they are feeling a sense of belonging at work, they aren’t commuting 2 hours a day to go to an office that is half empty, and they are engaging with their co-workers in creative and collaborative ways. What more can I ask for?


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