Fifteen years ago I launched my marketing company Base Beauty Creative Agency as a virtual business. We’ve experienced many waves of growth since, and each phase brought with it growing pains on the topic of working remotely and having time together IRL.
How companies evolve to meet the needs of their productivity and their employees is not a simple equation. Anecdotally, younger talent that I meet want to cultivate IRL relationships with co-workers; the idea of working remotely from their childhood bedroom each and every day is not appealing. Talent my age, many with kids or pets at home, prefer more work from home days with flexibility — the room in the day to do school drop off and pickup, dog walking etc.
This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all topic, but since I’ve been navigating these waters for a long time, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned as I grew from one team member to twenty-five. We now call our style mostly work from home, a term so official to us that we state it in employee offer letters. As you will read, we all work hard to make this work well, because it’s worth the effort.
- RTO or Virtual — None of this really matters if your team doesn’t feel genuinely cared for on a level tied to personal and mental safety. At Base Beauty we have our antennae up for the emotional hazards that can easily eat away at the staff’s tolerance. For example, once COVID-19 became a news topic in the US, but before it shut down businesses, we prepared the team for daily work from home. For the sake of my staff’s mental health and to the benefit of my clients, our psychic energy was best spent on making effective digital marketing programs and not on the stress and anxiety of commuting during that scary time. Our team stayed home earlier than any other business in my network. Today we provide monthly bonus Mental Health Days off for staff, have a Peer-to-Peer program to foster connection and enjoy a FUNds system to provide teams with staff appreciation budgets. There is also a straight line between staff at all levels and our COO, Aleni Mackarey, who, guided by her PhD in Strategic Leadership, creates an enviable bond with all staffers for frequent one-on-one conversations about collaboration, process, work/life balance, quality of life and quality of work.
- Hire For Hybrid Work — We are so effective at our mostly work from home hybrid style because I’ve been hiring for it for the past fifteen years. Not everyone is suited for this style of work, and employers need to recognize that if they really want to commit to a mostly work from home style, that they may need to adjust the hiring parameters. To succeed in this work style, at every level of the org chart the team member must be 1) “the boss of their own work” 2) self-starter 3) excellent communicator 4) generous collaborator 5) efficient at independent work 6) nimble 7) lead with kindness 8) high emotional intelligence. This is not the right work style for someone who needs a lot of direct oversight and hand holding. We are an ecosystem that depends upon everyone meeting these credentials. I describe Base Beauty as a very fun pool to play in, but to succeed in this work style you must be a strong swimmer (see 8 points above). If you need a life vest (i.e. hand holding) this is not the right place and work style for you.
- Our IRL Workspace Matches Our Work Style Commitment — In 2019 we leased a new office, gutted it, and built a space that reflected our mostly work from home style. There are no desks or filing cabinets. The space resembles a bright hotel lobby more than an office, as there are many sitting nooks of various configurations, some open air, some with doors. When a team member sees this space for the first time it reinforces our truth: we operate in a different way and understand what it takes to excel at hybrid work.
- Staff Choice and Scheduled Time Together — In a mostly work from home world, people work where they are most effective, and it’s up to them to decide this for themselves (recall “being the boss of your own work”). I am much more productive working from home, while other staffers come to the office almost daily to get out of their apartments and have a fresh view. There are also times when we must be together, and the collaborative teams determine that for themselves. Remember, they have high emotional intelligence and are beautifully committed to doing great work, so when hosting a meeting face-to-face will make for an easier/better/more enjoyable outcome, they make plans accordingly. There is no corporate direction dictating the days of the week for in office meetings. The team is trusted to make great work happen and they know how to do so. When there are moments like travel, photo shoots and events that are all in-person moments, the team comes together and makes that work great. Once again, I don’t have to mandate that a staffer attends a photo shoot. The accountability and commitment to work is what determines their attendance, not me.
- Life Happens — I am a realist and not a robot. Real life stuff gets in the way of our best plans, so we make a new plan. When an art director’s child falls sick the day of a shoot, and she has no alternative caregiver options, we find a way for our art director to attend the shoot remotely. When a team member is not comfortable with air travel, we find another way for them to connect with the client. All of this can be solved for, because we treat our staff like adults, because they are adults.
Whether you choose for employees to return as hybrid or a mostly work from home model, you must think long term to maintain quality of work and quality of life. It’s not a one-and-done decision and it requires investment in talent and tools.
More of these lessons are shared in my new book, Facing the Seduction of Success: Inspiring Stories of Leading in Business While Living Your Life available now for pre-order on Amazon.
What’s your work style preference — in-person, hybrid or mostly work from home and why?