Much of the conversation about workshifting traditionally focuses on the shifter — i.e., the individual worker who is creating her own transition, or whose employer or job situation allows for remote or flexible working. However, unless the company itself embraces and effectively manages workshifting, problems can result. This was clearly proven in 2013 when Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced a decision to curtail remote working due to a breakdown in their own work culture.
Of course, one challenge the workshifting revolution faces is an identity crisis: Does workshifting automatically equate to working from home? Or does it mean coworking? Or working in the field but perhaps as much with a company’s customers as on one’s own? In the Yahoo case, the example was clear: The company had long maintained a traditional telecommuting model that allowed for great flexibility but did not enshrine the necessary face time and cultural mores that would sustain it over time.
This lesson has not been lost on me in my role as a CEO. Having established Wendt Partners in 2006, I originally embraced not only a traditional model of work but also a traditional model of business. We were, back then, a pretty conventional company in many respects. Everyone worked in the office. We only accepted corporate checks for payment. We used Windows PCs. We had a local area network (LAN).
We were innovative for our time, though. From day one, we provided employees with BlackBerrys and encouraged employee learning and continuing education. In fact, an article on emerging workplace trends back then featured our firm for our cutting-edge practices.
Well, that was then. Today, the world is completely different.
And what I see clearly now is that it’s not just that we embraced workshifting — it’s that the market demanded business-shifting.
We had to change how we did business and become more flexible in every way. In other words, embracing flexible work led us to become a better company. If we had stayed with a traditional work model, we would have stayed with a traditional business model — and neither would have been the right move.
This is, in my experience, the true benefit of workshifting for the CEO: It allows you to create a more dynamic, responsive, market-focused company by attracting and supporting a more dynamic, responsive, market-focused workforce.
Here’s how we did it and how you can too in three strategic steps:
1. Move to the cloud. Now.
You need to move your company to the cloud, even if your best advisors say otherwise. We used traditional QuickBooks for years but — over the objections of every CPA we knew — migrated to QuickBooks Online. Yes, it’s an infant product. No, it can’t do all we would like. But it’s in the cloud, and it’s made all the difference in reducing steps and improving workflows. The same is true across the business.
We did our cloud migration in two steps. First, we moved off of Windows PCs and standardized on Macs — and Mac software. Then, we realized that Macs were awesome tools but that proprietary Mac software was holding us back — just as proprietary Windows software had. Just on the issue of interoperability alone, the cloud wins. Cloud applications can often auto-integrate with one another, whereas server-based systems are forever dependent upon vendor updates and APIs.
So, we made the shift: from Mac Mail to Gmail, regular CRM to Salesforce.com, a file server to an online file sharing service. We’re still not finished, but we’re 90 percent of the way and not looking back. And neither should you. Yes, you need to address new issues — like providing always-on Internet access to your employees (try Verizon mobile hotspots) and provisioning cloud software passwords in a controlled manner. But it’s worth it, because it frees everyone up. By the way, on that last issue of managing cloud app permissions, we’re now piloting a new app called Meldium to help with that. And yes, it’s cloud-based.
2. Avoid traditional leases like the plague.
Certainly, some companies are in industries that require traditional office space. But that number is much smaller than you think it is. After all, JetBlue Airways created a hugely successful distributed call-center model in which nearly 2,000 employees work remotely throughout the Salt Lake City region — and they started it all the way back in 1999. At the same time, EarthLink invested in a huge centralized call center in Pennsylvania to hold a thousand employees — and then the cost burdens (along with marketplace disruptions) found all of those people out of work and the space completely vacant just a few short years later.
Yes, Wendt Partners had a traditional office too — one with great furniture, wonderful light and our name emblazoned on the wall. We loved it, and we put our heart and soul into making it “just right.” Yet now, I look back and realize that every minute we spent on selecting, outfitting and managing our office space was a minute away from the business of building our company. Our phone system was outdated in a year, but the lease on it was for two years. Our employees changed, but the office didn’t. New office configurations were impossible without removing and replacing furniture we had just purchased. Our meeting room got less use than we expected. Our lease — which was competitively priced for a nice, short term of only three years — was all wrong for our needs just about one year in.
Trust me, your company is better off in a business office center or coworking space unless (a) you really MUST have dedicated, permanent office space for hundreds of employees or (b) you have a personal passion for lease negotiations and making risky long-term financial commitments.
Many companies we’ve seen come and go from business office centers complain about the cost, but that’s because they miss the point. You don’t move to a business center and plan on everyone working in the office every day. No — you set up an office at the business center that can serve as a touchdown and gathering focal point, and then maybe provide permanent space for a handful of administrative staff coupled with shared desking or coworking for a few others — and that’s it.
3. Cowork your culture.
This step is undoubtedly the hardest part. Anyone can announce a technology shift to the cloud and many companies can transfer their existing office space into a shared facility. But creating a coworking culture is the real key to success (or the gateway to failure in the case of Yahoo). This begins with how you recruit and configure employee relationships. Certainly, if highly valued existing employees need to move or change their workstyle, let them. But that’s just the beginning.
Going forward, look for individuals with coworking or independent working experience. We specifically focus on candidates for whom laptop-toting, Starbucks-working productivity is already second nature. We also recruit most of our new employees through a three-month onboarding process that allows us to cowork together on specific projects and pursue learning/working goals while we get to know one another and check for a clear cultural fit. We support bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. Our team is a mix of traditional employees, partner firms and individual freelancers — some of whom we’ve found through online services such as oDesk. This also means that each team member gets accustomed to working with other kinds of team members, which reiterates that how or where a person works is not so important as what work they contribute.
We also give employees unique benefits that support our culture. Everyone receives a Regus Businessworld Gold card, which gives them access to Regus business lounges in major cities worldwide. (We’re huge fans of the Regus Thinkpods.) And we subsidize employee memberships with ClubCorp, the largest network of private business clubs in the United States. This not only allows employees access to reliable office or meeting space whenever they need it, but it encourages them to network and engage socially with other professionals as well — all supported by a dynamic, empowering coworking culture.
Finally, we schedule regular remote meetings and in-person coworking sessions — as a full team or with select employees working together. Sometimes, we’ll work closely together at a shared table or open desking area. Other times, we’ll meet up and collaborate a bit, and then work in separate locations across the business lounge or center. The point is, we maintain the critical cultural experiences that humans need in order to be productive.
The transformation is a journey, not a destination.
Our company’s ongoing migration is not something we view as a project to be completed by a given deadline. The marketplace demands constant change, and new innovations create new opportunities. Today, our flexible and dynamic company identifies many new leads through social selling. It accepts credit cards from businesses of all sizes. We’ve served customers from Dallas to Dubai. And we’ve had team members from Portsmouth, NH, to Portsmouth, U.K. And we maintain a team Basecamp project dedicated to new ideas and innovations that can help propel our ongoing workshifting and business-shifting journey.
In the end, becoming a workshifting company means constantly changing — and that’s a good thing for any business. The marketplace requires motion, and workshifting your company will undoubtedly open you to new efficiencies, new opportunities and new horizons for growth.