How Small Businesses Can Usher in a Sustainable Working Future

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As the world in which we live begins to look more and more like the science-fiction stories that many of us grew up enthralled by, it becomes increasingly crucial to think like a science fiction author. This means keeping an eye towards the future, refusing to shy away from bold, visionary ideas, and seeing opportunity where others see insurmountable difficulty. Even twenty years ago, the idea of a remote workplace staffed by workers signing in from all different parts of the globe would have belonged to the same realm of speculation as flying cars. Now, however, remote work is becoming the norm.

In fact, it is estimated that by 2025 70% of the workforce will work remotely, in what is known as digital organization culture. As businesses of all sizes and across all industries make this shift, employers find themselves faced with a wealth of new possibilities.

While the prospect of maintaining a strong company culture in a remote workspace may seem like an extraordinary challenge to some, the shift to remote work also represents an opportunity to thoroughly investigate and reevaluate the workplace cultures of the past. This allows employers to remedy longstanding inequities and sources of discontent in the name of a more materially and socially sustainable future. Viewed this way, an overhaul of company culture is not simply an adjustment made for the sake of staying afloat. Rather, it is a permanent transformation of work and life for the better.

Making the Leap to Remote Work 

One of the virtues of the remote workplace model is that the term itself is flexible and open to creative reimagining. While many associate the term with working entirely from home, this need not be the case. Some companies have begun alternating between entirely remote work and work from shared rented business spaces known as flexible offices.

Regardless of the particular arrangement a company chooses to adopt, the larger trend toward flexible work arrangements allows them to suit their workspace organization to their practical and financial needs. Allowing employees to work from home can help reduce overhead. It saves money that can then be spent on renting office spaces or organizing retreats to create lasting connections among employees. The traditional 40 hour on-site work week may well have outlived its usefulness, especially for small and growing businesses. Going forward, employers need to think about how to incorporate the best of that model — such as its ability to foster strong company cultures — while leaving its limitations behind.

The Future of Onboarding 

It is crucial for an employer to take a leading role in facilitating lasting connections. One great way to do so is by creating (or redefining) a company’s vision in a clear, accessible manner. Creating a list of company values and objectives and finding ways to keep them at the forefront of daily operations are keys to helping employees feel like they are contributing to a brighter future of work.

Investing in an onboarding process that focuses on instilling these values rather than simply imparting basic skills is a great way to ensure that new hires feel like an integral part of the company from the very beginning. Allowing employees to complete basic training tasks asynchronously while setting up synchronous meetings and activities — both work-related and just for fun, like a trivia night or a meetup over coffee — helps integrate them into the team early. When employees see their coworkers’ faces, it gives a huge boost to their sense of belonging. One survey found that upwards of 90% of employees felt that video calls increased their sense of belonging to the company.

In addition to helping new hires internalize a company’s values, it is crucial to ensure that longtime employees feel valued. Team-building exercises and opportunities for further training — whether in-person or online — help to create lasting connections despite physical distances. Moreover, they ensure that all employees stay closely connected to one another and to the company’s overall vision.

Clear Policies and Effective Navigation

Another effective way to keep employees invested in a company’s vision is to make it compelling and easily accessible. Companies that find creative ways to express their values — such as sending unique welcome care packages that embody the company’s vision or sharing stories from founders and company leaders — make new employees feel proud of and excited about their new workplace. Employees who feel drafted onto a team perform better than those made to feel like cogs in a machine.

The importance of making employees feel that their company is a safe and responsive space cannot be overstated. Starting a new job can be nerve-wracking at the best of times, and starting a new job without being in the physical presence of one’s coworkers can be especially intimidating. Clear and consistent workplace values and policies that are easily accessible at any time are crucial to maximizing internal communication. Encouraging employees to feel that they have voices in the company and a clear understanding of how the company operates drastically reduce complaints and conflicts.

As always when it comes to sustainability, it is essential to think long-term. Complaints in any organization may be inevitable, but how employers manage complaints makes all the difference. Giving them the proper time and attention helps employees feel that their voices matter. In turn, it encourages them to cultivate more long-term relationships with the company.

The Asynchronous Office

As with all other aspects of a business, having clear communication policies in place can help turn a potential source of disorder into a source of organizational strength and coherence. Although communication is always important, it is fundamental to the proper functioning of a remote workplace.

Employers need a full understanding of where their employees work from and then set meeting times convenient for everyone involved. On the other hand, allowing individuals to prioritize their own tasks and set schedules that suit their needs is a great method for streamlining output. Effective communication is the key to pulling off this balancing act. Creating systems that give employees maximum autonomy while ensuring that their projects and processes are clearly communicated to the rest of the organization is necessary for taking advantage of the remote workplace’s unique benefits. By giving employees added responsibilities supplemented with an added sense of agency, companies can empower them to do their best work in a way that feels the best to them.

This increased level of autonomy over the working process creates the need for clear boundaries on all sides. Employers who remind employees to take breaks that work for them and who model effective work-life balance by not answering emails after a certain hour can help prevent employee burnout. Of course, it is also important to bolster employees who go the extra mile or do something exceptional. Allowing employees to compensate for extra-long Mondays by giving them shorter Fridays can help them discover exactly what a sustainable work-life balance looks like to them.

New Frontier

Navigating the future of work requires a dynamic mixture of tried-and-true management practices and a willingness to continually be experimenting. Having a unified and compelling vision, communicating clearly, and being responsive to employees’ needs always create the conditions for success. However, companies interested in shifting to remote work need to understand that yesterday’s strategies are not going to map directly onto today’s organizational structures. The company cultures of tomorrow will certainly look different from those of yesterday. However, this is no reason to be afraid of the future of work. In fact, it should be a reason to celebrate. Recent events have shown that the old model was not sustainable, and small business owners have the chance to be the first to explore the new frontier of remote work.

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