Going Remote: Our Traveling Office
By Rachel Gutter
Working for a school district, my mother had the flexibility to take well-deserved summers off. Like me, powering down is not something that comes naturally to my mom, so rather than disconnecting completely, she viewed her summers as an opportunity to tackle a long list of projects. I have vivid memories of piles of papers, Post-it Notes and publications stacked up around her in the beach house we rented for the summer. Her dedication to her work continued during those warm months, but with an awe-inspiring view of the ocean. My mom may not have taken summers off, but taking summers away gave her an annual opportunity to rest, refresh and return to work in September with all of her energy restored.
For many of us, the opportunity to disconnect from our work environments and reconnect with ourselves feels like a luxury we can’t afford. However, thanks to technology and shifting workplace cultures, remote work is becoming a real possibility across many industries and job types. Since joining IWBI, I’ve experienced both the challenges and the benefits of remote work firsthand. Shuttling between my home in Washington, D.C. and IWBI headquarters in New York, I benefit both from energizing face-to-face interactions with my team and from spending entire days in my yoga clothes, standing on my balance board with the breeze blowing in off of my deck. Many of our other team members at IWBI also work remotely, from different parts of North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
Last summer, as we transitioned to our new headquarters, we were without an office of our own for the month of July. A month without a permanent headquarters presented a unique opportunity to make lemons into lemonade. Last spring, we launched WELL v2 after less than a year’s time, bringing to live a dramatic refresh of our rating system in less than one third of the time typically expended for this process. We were exhilarated, but we were also exhausted.
I encouraged each member of my team, which at the time extended to those individuals working on IWBI’s Product team, to choose a place that made their heart sing and to work remotely from there for the month of July. The places that they chose ranged from Chicago to Guyana and from Dubai to Vermont. One team member worked from California to be closer to family, while another chose to fulfill her lifelong dream of renting a pied-a-terre in Paris. Two team members went island-hopping in Greece together, while others made arrangements to spend time with our WELL customers across the globe. I chose to stay at home, relishing a rare opportunity to stay in one place for four straight weeks.
Our work with WELL requires that we maintain a pulse on the latest innovations shaping the modern workplace, and one of those trends is remote work. The book Remote: Office Not Required, which the Product team read prior to our month away, suggests that “the new paradigm is to move work to the workers rather than workers to the workplace.” In an organization that certifies the physical places where people work, we unexpectedly found ourselves asking: How might getting away from the four walls of an office support our ability to return to a space of health and well-being?
Research shows that flexibility in work schedules and location increases individual and team focus, organization, productivity, efficiency and overall effectiveness 1. Studies also suggest that flexible work arrangements, including remote work, can lead to improved performance, job satisfaction and employee engagement 2-4. Upon everyone’s return last August, we all reported feeling more refreshed, revived and enthusiastic about our work and our mission than ever before. We had more empathy for the remote workers on our teams and the challenges of feeling connected when face-to-face interactions aren’t an option. Many of my team members reported new learnings about their work styles, given the flexibility they had to align the task at hand to the time of day. Some felt more creative at dawn, while others did their best work in the dark of night.
This year, as we expand this remote work opportunity across our organization, we’re taking a data-driven approach to qualifying and quantifying the impacts of this experience. Along with conducting interviews and retrospectives, we’ll do pre- and post-surveys through our survey provider, Afriforte, the commercial arm of the WorkWell Research Unit, Faculty of Economic & Management Sciences in South Africa. We hope to declare the pilot a success, but are also willing to declare it a failure. We hope to submit this new program as an innovation feature toward the certification of our new headquarters.
To keep the office vibrant and lively, staff members are staggering their periods of remote work across July and August so that the office will continue to bustle with in-person activity. Managers are required to approve remote work requests, as we recognize remote work as a privilege for those who meet deadlines and deliver on expectations. We all discussed the book Remote in a book-club format with our teams. Our in-house ergonomist even provided a training on best practices for non-conventional work environments. We know that we will need to be exceptionally communicative, and all staff have committed to overlapping for the same four hours each day, even if it means getting up early or staying up late. Apart from this period each day, our IWBI team members can set the rest of their working hours based on their personal preferences, with free reign to travel to any part of the world where they have access to a quiet space and high-speed internet; video conferencing is highly encouraged.
We view this program as both a wellness benefit and a learning opportunity. We understand that in order for it to work, everyone has to show up, no matter their location. In September, when we’re all back together again, we’ll evaluate the data, share our insights and experiences, and report back to our community with the hopes of inspiring others to think outside the literal box and envision what today’s headquarters can be.
And if you’re wondering where I’m going to be for the month of August, I’ll be the one trading my office for one with a better view and enjoying the long summer evenings with my family on Cape Cod.