Work-from-Home (WFH) is here to stay. COVID-19 forced companies to adapt to the remote model or grind to a halt. Even companies that have previously resisted WFH have found most of their concerns to be unfounded. Some have even gone so far as to claim that the WFH/virtual model will be the dominant model going forward, and that offices are effectively ‘dead’.
While there are significant benefits to a WFH model for many businesses, there are still potential downsides that technology alone can’t solve. After all, we as humans are social beings. There is a reason ‘solitary confinement’ is considered severe punishment! Human connection and interaction are essential to personal happiness. In-person team collaboration helps to build relationships, foster ideation and strengthen company culture. And there are ‘moments of serendipity’ that can only happen when working in an office environment.
WFH Has Many Benefits
Working independently from home provides numerous benefits for employees and businesses alike. These include:
- Employee flexibility and ‘spirit of freedom’, giving employees control over where and when they work
- Higher productivity. Although WFH has its distractions, this is likely outweighed by lower commuting times and a longer window for working hours
- Broader ability to recruit talent from remote locations – not being restricted by commute times to local offices
- Lower facilities cost due to less need for permanent space and related support systems
But WFH Also Has its Downsides
WFH is not all ‘rainbows and unicorns’ – some of the challenges include:
- Employee burnout and disengagement due to longer hours, more time online and a feeling of monotony. In a recent study from DigitalOcean on remote work, 82 percent of U.S.-based remote-working professionals report feeling burnt out.
- Maintaining company culture and unity is challenging due to minimal personal interaction and connection, which in turn impacts consistency of performance and employee retention.
- Less in-person collaboration and interaction also reduces the opportunity for those ‘moments of serendipity’ where new ideas are generated, or problems handled quickly. According to a recent PWC survey on remote working, the number one reason employees say they go into the office is to collaborate with other team members (50 percent). Difficulty collaborating is also the number one reason people give for being unproductive at home (39 percent).
- Ongoing skills and career development, as well as apprenticeship of junior employees can be a challenge, although this can be mitigated with investments in new systems, processes and training (both for managers and colleagues).
Sparq – Taking a Balanced Approach
The office isn’t obsolete, but it is changing. While the COVID-19 crisis showed that staff can interact well when apart, people still cherish in-person engagement with colleagues. Having colleagues interact in-person yields strong benefits to culture, innovation and ongoing career development. We feel the best approach is to blend the freedom and flexibility of WFH, with the personal interaction and collaboration found in Work-from-Office (WFO).
Our development centers, located in Middle America communities, provide great hubs to enable this balanced approach. We also feel there continues to be strong business benefits to our software development center-based model, including:
- Access to strong overlooked talent, and keeping IT jobs in the U.S.
- Lower cost of living
- High quality of living compared to larger metropolitan areas
- A strong catalyst for bringing the innovation economy to Middle America
As we at Sparq take steps toward moving colleagues back to development centers, our priority will be to maintain:
- Employee safety, well-being and satisfaction, and opportunities for in-person connection, relationship building and team collaboration
- Productivity and performance for our clients
- Employee skills and career development, including best-practice sharing
- Company culture – preserving the ‘glue’ for retention, consistent performance and market differentiation
- Our focus on being part of, and giving back to, the local communities in which we operate – helping to build the technology hubs of the future
We’ve always been intentional about creating ‘collision points’ for our colleagues to interact and work together. Now, we are rethinking how to do this safely. By strengthening the bonds our colleagues form in the development centers and across locations, we will drive greater collaboration and deliver even better results for our clients.
Office space and its design are important pieces of creating a collaborative environment. That’s why we’re rethinking how best to use the space to create the type of location that fosters creativity and teamwork, rather than building just a heads down work environment. This will include more teaming areas and better pair-programming setups. Teams will be able to complete heads down work-from-home for part of the week and come into the office for sprint planning/grooming, difficult project points and greater innovation discussions.
As we speak with our colleagues it’s very apparent that they want to return to the development centers. They don’t necessarily want to come back to a ‘weird pandemic environment’ but do wish for the positive aspects of our pre-COVID environment and the ability to socialize/collaborate in person. While we have all benefited from some aspects from WFH, we’ll take the learnings from this unique time and build an environment that brings the best of both worlds together to the greatest outcome.
About the Author
As President at Sparq, Ingrid Miller Curtis is responsible for realizing Sparq’s vision to provide US-based high quality IT outsourcing solutions through her management and oversight of all Sparq development centers. Her responsibilities include leading and developing Sparq talent, client relationship management, ensuring the scalability and reliability of Sparq’s process and systems and strategically determining the next set of solutions for our clients. She is also responsible for establishing and ensuring consistency across the organization with respect to Sparq’s processes, values, and methodologies. Ingrid brings an expansive knowledge of underlying computer systems and technologies, allowing her to contribute to all aspects of our application development and maintenance projects.
Ingrid is a graduate of Babson College, where she earned a B.S. in Business Management.
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