WFH is here to stay. Adapt or die.

COVID-19 disrupted the way we work as a company. It changed how, when, and where we do… everything we do. But it didn’t stop us. Almost overnight we went from giving employees the option to work from home one day a week—with any additional flexibility as needed—to being a completely remote workforce. Yes, there may be downsides to not having our team in the same office anymore, but having the entire company working remotely has dramatically opened things up in terms of recruiting and hiring. We’ve been working this way for over two years now, and have learned quite a bit about navigating this new world order.

Now you can recruit from anywhere

Geographic barriers have collapsed further and we’re even less constrained to finding people only in the cities where our offices are located. Recent research shows that open jobs that allow employees to do remote or hybrid work received seven times more applications than in-person roles. Because of the work we do, we can focus on finding the most talented, creative, articulate people—wherever they might be! In fact, four of our last six hires have been remote, and now we have people working in Los Angeles, San Jose, and Seattle, in addition to our main locations in St. Louis and Washington DC. This approach has worked regardless of experience. We even hired a fresh-out-of-school intern who worked from her home in Olathe, Kansas—and performed so well we hired her full-time.

Hiring people from different parts of the country also increases opportunities for diversity, which inherently brings a positive mix of intersecting identities, education and skills, perspectives, and life experiences to the collective conversation.

Keep in mind, however, that this also applies to all other companies, whether inside or outside of our industry, who are looking for talented people (like yours). Changing jobs, especially knowledge work, no longer means packing up and moving to another city or state. Attractive opportunities elsewhere will be a constant, so you better make sure that the grass is as green as it can be on your side of the fence. 

As an employer, restricting your hiring to a small geographic region means you’re not getting the best people you can. As an employee, restricting your job search to companies within a reasonable commute means you’re not working for the best company you can.”

—Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, authors of “REMOTE: Office Not Required

Case in point: I recently saw a tweet quoting a business leader that said something like, “Every time I see an article about how a competitor is forcing its employees to return to the office, my recruiters reach out to their people. We’ve hired a dozen of their engineers in the last two months.” Think about that for a minute.

Prioritize team-building and collaboration

After two years you likely have a team that is productively working from home, able to collaborate and get things done (whether three blocks or three states away). But it’s also important that you’re thoughtful about building a culture that brings your team together so they have avenues to connect that go beyond simply doing the work. 

Even through all the uncertainty of the last couple years, we know we can be effective working remotely—it’s just much harder to figure out the best ways for connecting virtually. You can’t force camaraderie but you certainly don’t want to stifle it, either. Here’s where we’re at right now.

  • We have a morning standup meeting where everyone comes together on Zoom at 9:15 a.m. It’s a chance to see everyone’s bright, shining faces and briefly go over that day’s schedule and anything else people want to bring up. A resourcing doc captures the work plan for every day, so it’s always available to anyone who couldn’t attend.
  • We use Slack for company announcements, communicating about client projects, impromptu video chats, sharing personal news, and of course, sharing memes—usually about pets.
  • We also use Zoom for client meetings, and it’s very handy for virtual brown bag lunches and Crappy Hours—which is our term for creative happy hours where we play various drawing games.
  • Miro was something we passed on pre-pandemic, but was quickly adopted as a way to hold virtual creative whiteboard sessions with our clients. It has the same tools you’re used to having in a conference room—markers, sticky notes, and big whiteboards—but because it’s a digital platform, you can easily import PDFs, PPTs or even videos and export the results. You can also edit your drawings and diagrams, and this added dimension of live sketching, one of our core skills, allows us to translate ideas and conversations into pictures so they become more understandable and memorable.
  • We use TinyPulse to run surveys about employee experience and serve as a suggestion box, and we try to maintain regular monthly 1:1s with the team.
  • For now, we’ve kept our main St. Louis office. The team has told us that having a place to occasionally get together is still important. Based on polling, we agreed on one day of the week for everyone who wants to to come in, reducing the chances that anyone will end up all alone in the office. We also have one floating office day where you decide when/if you want to come in, leaving three WFH days. None of this is mandatory and we’re still considering alternatives to renting office space.
  • We’re also still figuring out what works best, as well as ways to get everyone together safely (no matter how remote) at key times during the year. 

Embrace this new way of life

While most agree that working together in the same office can be great, for us it’s not necessary every single day. And working from home allows for greater flexibility in our lives and greater optimization of our workdays: scheduling appointments, dealing with childcare, not having to get dressed up, not having to prepare lunch in the morning or buy it in the afternoon, and avoiding the dreaded work commute (which can save 90 minutes a day and a fair amount of gas money for some of us!). 

Going into the pandemic, lots of people stressed about staying home and losing connections, but remote and hybrid work is fast becoming the preferred way to do things. Sure, some people thrive in a more social environment and some prefer to work alone and some may not have the greatest office space in their home… but the trick is knowing what actually works vs what has been the standard and what your team needs vs what you, as a manager, want or are used to.

For us, it’s about flexibility and productivity. If it was simply about control, which is what a lot of the “back-to-the-office” mandates seem to be, I think there’d be problems. No matter what there’ll be a lot of learning as you go—and we’re still learning here—but that’s a good thing.

Photo by Cristian Tarzi on Unsplash.