(This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)
Are your employees working from home more often? You’re not alone. Thanks to the pandemic, remote working options have become a hot benefit to offer both prospective and current staff. But the issue is complex. For some companiesbeing virtual — or even partially virtual — is a no-brainer. But for others, it’s a non-starter.
A self-employed artist and business owner in Philadelphia, Roger Lee is a big fan of working from home. “There is nothing wrong with working in the comfort of your home environment,” he said. “How you work matters much more than where and when you work.”
Melinda Emerson’s seven-person, small business consulting firm Quintessence Group, based in Drexel Hill, has been fully virtual for years. She said it has forced managers to pay more attention to team members because not everyone thrives working from home, especially with kids, spouses, and pets running around. She also said that remote work has made it harder for some of her people to separate home and work life.
“I personally like the short commute to my home office,” she said. “But I totally understand why others don’t.”
Corinne Green, who runs an outsourced human resources firm called HR Mom LLC in Philadelphia said that the pandemic helped her firm to revisit and redefine her definition of work and “shine a light” on how work was completed from the home environment. She offers hybrid options to her five employees and believes that her policy has helped her recruit and retain good people.
“Our flexible work-from-home policies shows current and future talent that the workplace values the work-life balance and one’s contribution to the greater workforce culture,” she said.
But not everyone is fully on-board with the work from home model.
Ronak Vyas, the CEO and CoFounder of MedCoShare, a five-person, Philadelphia-based firm that provides office space for physicians and other healthcare providers, is one of those business owners that values in-person contact.
“My partners and I regularly meet on Zoom or Google Meet and we’ve had several interns that work remotely, he said. “Other than that, most days are in the office since we’re in healthcare.” Vyas does support a hybrid approach for work but feels that there is “some loss in energy in terms of synergy and building relationships. “It’s hard to create a great culture when everyone is online constantly,” he said.
Stefanie Seldin, who runs Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, a twelve-person nonprofit that provides home repairs, modifications, and improvements for vulnerable homeowners, requires new staff and their supervisors to work three days a week in the office for the first six months and then leaves it to the supervisor and the team to figure out what arrangement works best.
“We’re a small nonprofit so having a flexible, hybrid workplace could very well be an important perk,” she said. “But the nature of our work repairing homes with staff subcontractors and volunteers precludes our employees from ever being fully remote.”
The 21 workers at PolicyMap, Inc. a Philadelphia company that offers a data warehouse of over 50,000 indicators accessible through a mapping and analytics platform, are fully remote. But some face time is still needed. Which is why Maggie McCullough, the company’s CEO and founder said that she let an office lease in Los Angeles expire and will likely keep a space in Philadelphia so her people have an office to go into if they want and for group meetings.
“Our plan is to gather as a team in the office for collaborating on projects, using a white board, group think stuff,” she said. “This will be project-specific and I am guessing could be one or two days per month.”
At Philadelphia’s The Roz Group, a six-person strategic planning and marketing communications firm, spending time in the office is mandatory. “It is important to our brainstorming to be in person, touching and feeling charts, coloring with markers, having lunch or dinner together around the table,” said Rosalyn McPherson, the organization’s president and CEO. “We would not entertain the possibility of full-timers who are home-based only.”
You would think that I’d be a big supporter of remote work because my ten-person company has been fully virtual for over 15 years. But my experience has been mixed. While running a virtual firm is a great way to keep overhead low, I sometimes feel like I’m running the world’s most dysfunctional company! That’s because my team rarely gets to see each other and never benefits from the camaraderie, socialization, and innovation that occurs when a group is in the office, factors which I feel are very important for building a long-term sustainable business.
So, in the end, should you allow your employees to work from home? Like many business decisions, the answer depends on a lot of factors. For me, the answer is best summed up by Andrea Custis, the President and CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia.
“I believe work-from-home policies should be determined by every organization based on what proves to be best for their culture and clients,” she said. “Every organization should make any changes necessary to ensure their work environment is enjoyable and productive while simultaneously being dependable to their customer or client base.”