Over the last two years, many of us have gotten comfortable with working from home. So much so that many companies are rethinking their approaches to remote work—and in several cases, embracing it.
Plenty of big-name national companies, such as Slack, Zillow and Twitter, have announced new policies allowing most employees to work remotely for the long run. In its statement announcing the shift, Dropbox said that remote work “will be the primary experience for all employees and the day-to-day default for individual work.”
So, what’s going on locally? Karen Mosteller, partner/medical and business consulting at Southwest Florida accounting and consulting firm Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Company, says clients are continuing to explore and adopt remote work policies, especially firms in professional services including marketing, law and accounting.
“We’ve seen anywhere from 100% work from home to giving employees the choice of what you feel comfortable doing— because there are still employees that want that face-to-face interaction and want to come to the office,” says Mosteller.
Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Company itself has moved to a hybrid model, giving its 54 employees flexibility to choose where they want to work. Mosteller said the fact that the company has operated paperlessly for almost a decade has made the shift much easier.
When CONRIC pr + marketing kept having to find bigger space for its growing firm, president and CMO Connie Ramos-Williams decided to move the company fully remote in October 2019. The decision was based on plenty of research and analysis of global trends, plus what Ramos-Williams called “a gut feeling” that turned out to be incredibly prescient. By January 2020 everyone in the company was working remotely, and by March 2020 the firm had given up its former office space in Fort Myers.
The shift has helped the company with 16 full-time employees grow its client base, not just in Southwest Florida but around the country; it’s now working with more than 150 businesses in 35 states. It’s also proved helpful when it comes to hiring: A recent job posting got more than 40 applicants in the first hour and eventually wound up with about 70 applicants total, only about 20% of which were based in the local market.
“It isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t for every employee, so you do have to have the right team members for being remote,” says Ramos-Williams. “But right now, being able to have a flexible workforce, it’s what the workforce is demanding. And if we can’t be flexible, it’s going to impact the talent that you can bring in.”
Other local companies haven’t made as dramatic a shift, but the pandemic has helped reinforce that increased flexibility doesn’t mean decreased performance. At Fort Myers marketing and PR firm Pushing the Envelope, company president Samantha Scott and her husband, Derek (the firm’s CFO/COO), are both still working remotely because they have a young child and a new baby.
“It works, to be honest,” says Scott. “I’m still fully accessible to the team and the clients.”
The company’s four other full-time employees have always had flexibility to work from home on a case-by-case basis. They’re mostly working in the office these days, but everyone at the company works from home each Friday. Scott doesn’t know if the firm would ever take remote work further than that.
“But we’re always open to discussion,” she says. “I’m not the kind of person who says it has to be this way because it’s the way it’s always been. I don’t believe in that model. But I do think there is something valuable to the face-to-face time and being together. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be every day.”
Rochelle Graham-Campbell, CEO and co-founder of Fort Myers–based hair and skin care company Alikay Naturals, offers her 25 employees the same kind of as-needed, short-term remote work flexibility. But she feels that her still-growing small business doesn’t have the right systems in place yet to experiment with anything more permanent.
“Large companies have the ability to try things,” she says. “They have the bandwidth and cash flow for that. With a small business, we don’t have the payroll or the budget to put employees in place to work from home and then realize they’re not being productive at all.”
Norman Lutz, CEO of Fort Myers–based Iron Ridge Insurance Services, is a big fan of what he calls “business agility.” The firm’s 18 employees have flexibility to choose where they work, and customer service staff have been working a four-day week for about five years.
This approach is “helpful with recruiting, helpful with longevity and helpful with general employee morale,” says Lutz. “It leads to just a better environment and a happier environment.” It also helps with overhead. The company’s current office is 2,500 square feet; Lutz says the firm would need about 5,000 square feet of space if all 18 employees were in the office every day.
Gary Tasman, CEO and principal broker of Cushman & Wakefield Commercial Property of Southwest Florida, said his firm is having conversations with local businesses looking to reduce their brick-and-mortar office footprints due to shifts to remote or hybrid work. His own company of 30 employees takes a hybrid approach.
But he says Southwest Florida’s healthy office market shouldn’t suffer, because some kinds of businesses and services just can’t be done remotely. Companies are also using office space in different ways: For about a decade before the pandemic, he says, the trend was to put more people in less space. “That trend now is reversed to the point where the square footage per employee is actually going up,” says Tasman.
Whether a company takes a hybrid or fully remote approach, it’s important to have policies and procedures in place, ideally in writing. “You just want to have good guidelines so that everyone understands the parameters,” says Mosteller.
Maintaining corporate culture is also vital. “Once you’re remote, don’t lose contact,” says Ramos-Williams. “You have to be more mindful and purposeful about connecting with each and every team member as often as possible.”