What We Learned About Our Remote Work Strategy One Year Into The Pandemic

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When the Ontario government announced the shutdown of all non-essential businesses a year ago, pointA was able to move its business online almost overnight because we were already in the process of implementing our remote work strategy that we developed in November 2019. Our initial plan was a hybrid remote work plan that leveraged existing co-working storage space and to move all our processes from in-person to virtual.

Now a year in, we reflect on how the pandemic has changed our implementation and some lessons we learned along the way. Thanks to Future Skills Centre, we are sharing what we have learned in a FREE virtual course to help small-to-medium business owners and operators create their own remote work strategy and realize some of the benefits we outline in this blog. Click here to learn more about the course and register.

A strategy helps you make decisions

There are many definitions of a strategy but the easiest way to explain is to paraphrase Roger Martin’s work on strategy: a strategy points to a direction we want to go, which guides how we make decisions or choices.

We decided to develop a remote work strategy because our work in transportation demand management (TDM) helped us question whether we were maximizing our existing office space. We already had a work from home policy that allowed employees to work from home once a week, which meant that on any given day, not everyone would be in the office. Yet our office was too small for our board or client meetings and so we were left with an office that was too large for our existing team and yet too small for external meetings.

TDM focuses on maximizing existing spaces and systems and so we asked ourselves: was there a better way? What if we gave up our office and used existing storage space to store our programs gear and then rented coworking spaces to store our files and host our meetings?

This birthed a hybrid strategy that eliminated our standard office space, thereby allowing us to create a more flexible working environment for our team, one that worked for their lifestyles, while also ensuring that our business could still operate seamlessly by moving documents and files and working into an online environment.

Our strategy aligned with our values of reducing our carbon footprint, reducing overall cost and waste, and ensuring that our team’s health and well-being needs were being prioritized and addressed. These principles helped guide every decision as we implemented this strategy.

We anticipated that as a result, we were saving the following:

  • Employee commute times: When were wrote the strategy, our team of six commuted more than 35 hours a week in total (round trip). This was equivalent to adding another person to our team. A hybrid remote work solution meant that we were cutting down our overall commuting time by up to 75% by only requiring that we all be in the same office space once a week for our team meetings. This saved employees more than $5,000 on commuting costs annually as they can take advantage of more sustainable and cost-effective modes to get to work instead (e.g., walking, cycling) because the coworking spaces were closer to their homes. By reducing commutes to walking distance, and by not renting an office that wasn’t fully utilized, we are also reducing our carbon footprint.
  • Reducing overhead costs: There are a lot of costs associated with renting an office, from printing paper and cleaning supplies to furniture and internet in addition to the rent. We realized that by foregoing our office and renting coworking spaces, we could save more than $20,000 annually.
  • Spending less time and money on in-person, paper-based processes: Our most resource intensive process was our financials and by investing in automated processes and outsourcing work accordingly, we reduced our workload by 64% (equivalent to $13,000) that involved menial tasks like photocopying and collecting receipts.
  • Increased security, transparency, and reducing our carbon footprint: Specific to our financials, cloud-based storage is more secure, provides more information for and control over approval processes, and produced much fewer paper files, thereby reducing our file storage needs.

Implementation is not always perfect

Our remote work strategy developed from a reimagining of how we currently work. But of course, implementation is not always easy or perfect and COVID-19 certainly played its part in making it more difficult.

The most obvious change was working from home full time during the pandemic instead of using existing coworking and office spaces in addition to remote work. Post-pandemic, we won’t be sure what coworking spaces will be available and at the same prices.

By far, our most difficult area to move online was financials. Traditionally, financials are often paper-based and it was difficult as a small business to find the right vendors that provided solutions for small businesses. Having a strategy helped guide our procurement processes to find suitable vendors. Furthermore, the closure of our office due to lockdown orders meant that the digitalization of our paper files was delayed by many months and in the end, a shared job done by all staff was done by one or two staff due to pandemic restrictions.

Implementation is not always easy because circumstances change. But ultimately our strategy helped us make the best decisions for our organization. While changing processes can take time, energy, and sometimes more money initially, once the processes are set, you begin to see the benefits and be able to innovate to further improve processes.

Benefits are not always quantifiable but they’re no less impactful

When trying to determine the cost vs benefit of a remote work strategy, often we try to quantify everything, especially the costs. But benefits are not always so tangible. If working from home means being able to have dinner with your family or spend an extra hour with your kids instead of commuting, that’s not always a readily quantifiable measure. At pointA, we always want to ensure our programs maximize the well-being of communities and often well-being is measured in reducing stress and incidences of stress-related diseases. But stress remains an individual measure that can make it hard to compare and by extension, not an easily identifiable benefit to compare to costs.

Likewise, when processes are moved online, they’re often more secure and transparent, which are also not easily quantifiable as benefits. Instead, they help reduce certain risks and improve the overall health of our organization.

This speaks to the values outlined in the strategy and what matters most to a business.

We are excited to announce that thanks to Future Skills Centre, we are offering a FREE 5-week virtual course starting June 21 to July 23, 2021 for small-to-medium business owners and operators (and yes entrepreneurs!) who are interested in learning how to do the above: creating a remote work strategy so that you can also reap the many benefits that come from reimagining your business post-pandemic! Learn more and register here.

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