Remote, in-person or hybrid? Post pandemic shutdown, employers find a balance: Top Workplaces 2023

Remote, in-person or hybrid? Post pandemic shutdown, employers find a balance: Top Workplaces 2023

When COVID-19 struck in 2020 and business pundits warned that office culture as we knew it was over, Chris Suarez thought the exact opposite.Suarez, founder and CEO of Xperience Brokerage Network at Keller Williams Realty, knew that tectonic changes loomed for the American workplace. Only months into the pandemic, corporate CEOs had already declared that the Age of the Office had ended. They enthusiastically extolled remote work as essential to building a happy, healthy and productive workforce.Suarez agreed. Realtors, after all, have worked from home for years. But he didn’t envision empty office buildings. So, instead of following the herd, closing shop and paying off leases to save money, Suarez bought two buildings and remodeled two others.He wanted open and inviting layouts with big kitchens and big sofas that would entice agents to leave their home offices and enable them to work face-to-face with clients and colleagues.Hybrid work, he said, would not destroy workplace culture. It would save it.“I still believed that people would come back,” he said. “It would just look more like a collaborative space and not: I’m gonna go there to work. I’m gonna close my door. This is my office and yours is down the hall.”Xperience, a network of Keller Williams brokerages in Oregon and southwest Washington, is among the winners of The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Top Workplaces 2023 competition. The winners were selected by Energage, the research partner of The Oregonian/OregonLive, which administered tens of thousands of surveys on employee engagement and selected and ranked the winners based on their survey scores.Nearly every business on the list has faced the existential question of our times: How do we create a meaningful company culture if half of us are working alone at our kitchen tables?Early in the pandemic, companies adapted on the fly and then bragged about their newfound commitment to employee happiness. But remote work didn’t work for every company. Now, some of the very same corporate titans who extolled remote and hybrid work in 2020 are changing their tunes. Amazon, Zoom, Meta and other companies are ordering employees back to the office.For some companies, remote work required a massive investment in new technology and a complex game of musical chairs to make sure the people who needed to be in the office were there, every day if necessary. The transition was easier for some companies than others. Smaller, progressive companies with a younger workforce and a prior emphasis on employee satisfaction barely missed a beat.Trend Capital is a Vancouver-based technology company that specializes in marketing. Trend didn’t offer its 65 employees a work-from-home option prior to COVID. But there were catered lunches, team dinners and a hair stylist who came in once a week, at company expense. The team culture at Trend was on solid footing before 2020.“We make it a point to (make sure) that there’s more to our relationships than just within the office,” said Michael Rongo, the chief operating officer. “That people are important to us.”That made the move to remote work easier, he said. Most people were eager to return to the office once the quarantines were lifted. There’s not a lot of turnover at Trend and colleagues are close. Rongo believes the pandemic served as its own team-building exercise. His co-workers are closer now.“There is a stronger sense of camaraderie, and team spirit,” he said, “because (we) were in the trenches together.”But bigger companies with a more traditional work culture have struggled to make the transition to remote work. It’s been especially hard for the retail industry.At Wilco, the farmer-owned agricultural cooperative based in Mount Angel, the pandemic has forced difficult changes to corporate philosophy, with mixed results.“Pre-COVID, we were a company that always touted putting our customer first and that was kind of hard to say to employees,” said Wilco CEO Sam Bugarsky. “I don’t know that that works anymore. I think the employees today really need more care and attention than they did pre- COVID.”Wilco employs more than 1,000 people, many of whom work at its two dozen retail stores that stretch from Seattle to California. For their colleagues with office jobs, remote work is not guaranteed. The human resources department decides on each request individually based on variables that include availability of a proper workspace and the number of young children at home. Ultimate decisions are based on what best benefits the company, not the employee.Implementing work-from-home policies isn’t as simple as handing out laptops. Bugarsky said that supervisors who monitor productivity and performance often have different standards for determining who is best suited to remote jobs. Some Wilco workers have been asked to spend more time in the office based on their remote work performance. Turnover remains high.“With telecommuting changes at so many companies, there’s just a lot more opportunities out there that don’t require the hours and the in-person customer interactions,” he said.Overall, however, Bugarsky can see the benefits of Wilco’s new corporate philosophy. Communication has improved, because supervisors are required to meet each day with their teams, whether they’re in the office or not. They’re also required to make regular visits to the farm stores and other locations.Suarez is convinced that remote work has enhanced his company’s culture for the same reason. The company’s nearly 650 employees have been forced to make more deliberate and consistent efforts to communicate with each other, whether they’re working from home or in the office.The company’s offices in Portland, Medford, Eugene and Salem serve as comfy meeting spaces for team gatherings, training and coaching. Xperience also provides remote coaching and hosts three in-person companywide events each year.“We have always functioned on a hybrid model,” Suarez said. “We have in-person meetings, in- person collaboration and in-person coaching. But everything that we do has to be accessible remotely as well.”

https://www.oregonlive.com/business/2023/09/remote-in-person-or-hybrid-post-pandemic-shutdown-employers-find-a-balance-top-workplaces-2023.html

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