Should we go back to the office? Should we remain fully remote? What is best for our staff? What is best for the business? If we go to a hybrid in-office and flexible work model, how (out of the myriad of ways) do we structure it?
As we begin to emerge from pandemic-related shut-downs, leadership teams across the world are wrestling with these questions and many more.
We are in uncharted territory as companies across sectors and geographies are reevaluating their ways of working without any clear best practices. Looking to experts for direction only results in confusion. One article will declare that working from home two days per week is best for all workers everywhere and the next article will fiercely advocate for a fully remote model. We all want to do what is best for our teams, but figuring out what that is, and how to get there, can be overwhelming.
Here I share how Next Street identified our future work model – including the why and the how – to share and learn from others. Next Street is a mission-driven firm that mobilizes capital, customers, and capabilities to small businesses and entrepreneurs that have been systemically held back. “Mission + People” is our rallying cry, mantra, and north star. Our people are at the heart of what we do, and our leadership team is intent on creating a working model that is right for our community.
We spent the past several months gathering feedback from our staff, filtering through different expert perspectives, and ultimately determining what was best for our people and our unique firm. Here is our journey.
What we learned from working remotely
We started by reflecting on what we had learned from working remotely. Our people have done a phenomenal job working remotely over the past eighteen months, and have shown us that:
- They are able to work effectively remotely, without interruption to productivity
- Working remotely has broken down silos, as our all-staff meetings now make us feel like a larger version of the Brady Bunch
- Some have embraced the flexibility and taken advantage of new opportunities, such as living in a new part of the country for a few months
At the same time, we realized that most of us enjoy spending time together in-person. A Slack message cannot fully replicate a Monday morning debrief on our weekends. And a quick chat at the start of a Zoom meeting cannot replace an impromptu coffee run which leads to sharing the latest pictures of our children or pets or debriefing a meeting we just had. Our firm has also grown significantly in the past year, and it is important that our new colleagues have the opportunity to form relationships with their teammates.
What we prioritized in moving to a hybrid work model
We knew pretty quickly that a hybrid work model (meaning a mix of in-person and remote working) was right for Next Street. It was important to maintain a strong culture by spending time together in person, while keeping some of the flexibility that our staff had come to value. As we put shape and form around a hybrid model, we prioritized the following:
- Preserving our strong community and enabling staff to build connections
- Quickening the onboarding of new staff by helping them observe our cultural norms and meet teammates from across the firm
- Fostering professional development so staff can learn effectively from their team members
- Creating opportunities for brainstorming and collaborative work
We explicitly did not prioritize requiring staff to complete work in the office or mandating “face time.”
How we will work in a hybrid work model
So what is our hybrid work model? Starting in September 2021, we will be requiring that staff spend a “meaningful” amount of time in-person at a Next Street office. It sounds somewhat vague, and that is intentional. We define ‘meaningful’ as a minimum of 4-6 weeks of in-person time per quarter, but are giving staff wide latitude to shape this with their teams and based on their individual preferences. Some teams will need a more set schedule to meet client needs, while others will shape working time around client, project, and broader firm meetings. It is simple and flexible.
We have also made the intentional decision not to police staff’s in-person time. This flexibility might make some leaders cringe, but we trust that our staff and their managers will follow the spirit of the model. We are confident that they will be excited and committed to spending time with each other, which in turn, will help strengthen our community.
This is going to be an experiment. We expect that we will learn, iterate, and evolve as we go. However, we are excited to have a model that balances community and collaboration, while giving our people flexibility and autonomy. As a firm driven by “Mission + People,” most of all, we are excited about the opportunity to once again spend time together in person.