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Could remote work transform employee engagement for your company?

From refreshing remote work policies to adopting new hiring practices, we look at lessons learned from our leaders during the pandemic

Over the past year, lockdowns have forced tens of millions of employees around the world to adopt remote work, according to a figure cited by McKinsey. For many companies, including at Volaris, these emergency work changes acted as the proof of concept that they needed to make permanent changes that would last beyond the pandemic. They are not alone in this – major tech companies, including Shopify, Google and OpenText have relaxed working arrangements to allow some employees to permanently work from home.

Portfolio+ and Andar Software, two vertical market software firms at Volaris, share their insight into how remote work can help build resilience into company operations, and how they keep employees engaged.

Revamping remote work policies

In March 2020, Portfolio+ CEO Dianne Cupples was facing the same situation that many company leaders were facing at the time: how to rapidly move her employees to remote work.

Her employees all work from home today, but the adjustment wasn’t instant, according to Cupples: “We were all experiencing disruption as individuals, as a business, but also as a society. People were going through an exceptional time, and we needed to first work with them to add flexibility to their work life and support them through this collective challenge.”

"We all have lives outside of work we’re trying to balance during this unusual time... It’s on us as leaders to support and care for our team."

Dianne Cupples, CEO, Portfolio+

As remote work continued for several months, Cupples realized some members of the team wouldn’t want to return to the old way of work. During the summer months of 2020, Cupples surveyed her team to be sure they were getting the support they needed and see if they had found any bright spots working from home.

"About 30% of our team said they’d prefer to only come into the office one to three days a week. Most employees indicated that they would love to continue to work remotely unless they needed time in-person to collaborate on a project or a solution.”

That employee feedback was enough for Cupples to begin work on a new, more flexible remote work policy. The new framework reinforces a culture of accountability regardless of work location – holding employees accountable for their work, not where they do it. The company is taking a hybrid approach, where employees can work from home, while Portfolio+ will maintain office space for team meetings, flexible collaboration space, or simply for those who prefer it as a work location.

Letting go of a physical office

Meanwhile at Andar Software, Harry Veening faced his first major decision as General Manager. He had onboarded remotely during the pandemic, and his teams had already worked for close to a year without stepping foot in their office based in Markham, Ontario. Andar’s lease was up for renewal and Veening had to make a tough decision.

“We explored a variety of options, such as sharing space with other companies, and finding a new, more flexible home for the employees that wanted to go back to a permanent desk,” says Veening. “But nothing was a natural fit for the next stage of our company’s story.”

After much thought and discussion, Veening decided not to renew the lease, instead embracing the opportunity to rethink the workplace. For Veening, the change is not just about saving on real estate. The company upgraded infrastructure, moved data centers to the cloud, and is left with a more resilient operating model for the future, which the company was able to do with the flexibility made possible by not being tied to a long-term lease.

“Our team was already about 50% remote, with folks working successfully across North America,” says Veening. “We have now embraced this throughout the company.”

“In the beginning, staff were perhaps not ready for a fully remote office, but as time went on, we realized we could collaborate this way, get things done and add flexibility to our lives at the same time.”

Harry Veening, General Manager, Andar Software

Refining employee engagement strategies

The next stage for both Portfolio+ and Andar Software is to translate their companies' unique cultures and operating styles into new remote working styles.

“I think the pandemic has made the work environment more personal, requiring leaders to be emotionally intelligent and compassionate in all interactions with team members and customers,” says Cupples.

“When we are home-schooling or supporting our families through this time, it’s truly no big deal if a child or pet pops up on the screen by accident. We all have lives outside of work we’re trying to balance during this unusual time, and the remote work experience has brought that to the forefront. It’s on us as leaders to support and care for our team.”

Portfolio+ now runs weekly all-hands calls, which provide Cupples and her leadership team an opportunity to check in on staff, while also being fully transparent about company performance and strategy. She also conducts drop-ins with employees across the company to check on how they personally are coping. It’s a key part of the company’s culture of mentoring and coaching.

Cupples is now also rethinking what their office needs are as they embrace hybrid work. “We need flexible spaces, such as a room for video calls where there may be two or three remote employees and office-based staff all presenting a solution to a customer,” said Cupples. “When our team leaves their home offices to come together, they are not going to want to come work in small, isolated spaces. We need a collaborative space.”

At Andar Software, Veening is working to find the right balance between virtual and in-person engagements. “We have traditionally brought the whole company together in Markham for an all-hands once a year and employees have always looked forward to these moments to get together for face time. These moments will certainly be important as everyone is remote, so we’re working out what cadence we need to bring everyone together and what remote touch-points make sense.”

Andar Software has also embraced some virtual team building into their routines. “We get together for virtual events and everyone participates, it’s been a great way for the whole company to come together.”

Remote work offers an edge in recruiting and keeping talent

Both companies have also been able to use their new remote work policies to think a bit differently about talent strategies. Portfolio+ has hired several new employees in cities outside the Greater Toronto Area – something that they would have never previously done.

"Having the flexibility to move to Halifax and work remotely for Andar is a dream come true."

Hilary German, Director of Marketing, Andar Software

And for Andar Software, giving employees some flexibility has meant they can stay with the company regardless of where their post-pandemic lives take them. Hilary German, Director of Marketing at Andar recently relocated to her dream home in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“Toronto is a great city, but owning a home there was out of reach. Remote work has been essential for helping me achieve my personal goals without sacrificing my professional goals or being tied to an office location. Having the flexibility to move to Halifax and work remotely for Andar is a dream come true," said German.

"The remote work policy is a huge competitive advantage for the company." 

As the post-pandemic race for top talent heats up, having options to hire in multiple markets or retain employees through different phases of their lives could prove to be a key advantage.