Remote work has emerged as a pillar of workplace benefits

October 18, 2021

While the past year has presented many challenges for associations, it has also created opportunities for innovation, particularly to office space and the employees who occupy it. One such innovation involved a shift to remote work, where employees log in from their own workspaces.

Remote work should be considered a success in its meteoric rise to prominence over such a short timespan, as employees have been more content eliminating commutes while remaining as productive at home as working in an office. Those results are causing shifts in the way employees imagine wok. According to a survey conducted by Owl Labs, 77% of respondents believe working from home would make them happier. However, these results, while major, have spawned questions about the workplace culture, financial implications, and all-around future of office work for associations.

Skipping the Office
In the past, businesses could expect employees to occupy the office eight hours a day, five days a week. The cost of running such a space—plumbing, electricity, climate control, and technology—was a necessary part of business. Today, though, associations have discovered downsizing or eliminating their office space altogether can cut costs without dire implications.

“If an association can shed its office space, or at least downsize and reduce their footprint, it’s going to be saving a significant amount of money over the long term,” said Justin Martin, CPA, Director of Client Financial Services at Association Headquarters (AH).

The removal of an office space can not only reap huge savings for an association but can allow for a reallocation of resources to improve and better support workplace infrastructure, such as human resources (HR), a department that must evolve as remote work becomes more commonplace.

Creating a Remote Workplace Culture
Remote work may be mutually beneficial for employers and employees alike, but work still plays an incredibly large role in their everyday lives. For all its benefits, remote work continues to be a jolt for workers and employers.

Case in point: The blurred lines between work and home. An office space affords workers a clearly defined thinking space, away from home. Some employees operate best in an office setting—either because of the social and cultural elements or because an office environment lacks the distractions of the home environment—while other functions, such as staff and client meetings, may lack collaboration and camaraderie once they go digital. What’s more, a commute, if nothing else, has always been a chance to both prepare for and decompress from the day. Now, remote workers live where they work, meaning they can at times struggle with separating the two. Rarely have association leaders and employers had to manage such changes in such volumes, on such short notice.

As a result, it’s become paramount that leaders and culture-setters redefine how they connect with the people who make up their organizations. For many organizations, that starts with their HR teams and the way leaders and employees view them.

“HR is moving from more of a standard compliance office to a, ‘what’s going on with our workforce’ office,” said Julie Ann Sullivan, MBA, CLL, founder of Learning Never Ends and Catalyst of Culture. Sullivan says that change in thinking—from the concept of paperwork to a team that betters the lives of an association’s employees—can go a long way for a remote workplace culture. “Because HR is really more involved with the many needs of employees, whether it be physical health, mental health, and childcare.”

One such way to meet the needs of employees in the remote workplace is communication. “There has to be a continued greater focus on communication; more is better than less,” Sullivan said. Communications such as mental health outreach, possible meetups, and any other pertinent information, creates a strong tether between workplace and employee.

By keeping employees well-informed, associations can remove uncertainties and constantly remind remote employees they are valued. “Those with thriving cultures are expanding with new ideas,” Sullivan said. “Culture makes a difference, because it asks, ‘What do you need?’”

Another question to ask: What else does an association need for remote work to remain a long-term solution?

Financial Implications of Going Remote
The employee flip from in-office to remote work felt like it happened overnight. For associations, that flip cannot happen as quickly.

For example, commercial lease agreements, which can range anywhere from five to 10 years, may keep some associations bound to their office space and unable to take full advantage of remote work. While one may allow an association to reduce its office footprint or sublease the space to somebody else, another may offer an association no flexibility and require the space be theirs until the lease expires. To ease the process, Martin emphasizes each association should understand its office space lease.

Another challenge is technology. Converting an in-office workforce to a remote workforce is a giant undertaking, and requires understanding each employee’s internet connection and acquiring additional equipment for at-home use. 

“Setting up the ability for your employees to work remotely still involves your servers, meaning you still pay for the actual cost of the equipment,” Martin said. For example, before shifting to remote work, AH’s network was heavily taxed with the rush of employees attempting to connect to the company’s server, causing issues. To remedy this, AH had to upgrade its systems to accommodate the new demands of its remote workforce.

Preserving Culture and the Bottom Line
Overall, the benefits of downsizing a physical office footprint and embracing a remote workforce have shown to be worth the challenges. Leaders who leverage their HR teams to both support employees through the shift and work to preserve and build culture in a new environment, while balancing the short-term spending required to get a remote workforce up-and-running, proactively sets itself up for long-term success.

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