A CEO's Guide to Choosing Whether to Stay Remote Post-COVID

Did the vaccine announcement change your plans?

Ok, so some good news in this pandemic, a vaccine might be on the way! After news of not one, but two vaccines with over 90% efficacy, the world took a big breath out. Perhaps you then gasped again if you are following US politics, but that’s a different kettle of fish. 

With this wonderful news, business plans may start to shift. If you made the announcement to stay remote until next June, next December, or forever… does the imminent idea of a vaccine change your mind? And for the folks that haven’t made a decision or declaration yet, now may be the time to start planning. 

If you’re wondering what the eff to do, here’s my thought process and recommended framework. It comes to two phases - problem identification and solution testing. 

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Phase 1: Problem identification

Like most big decisions in business, you have to figure out what the real pain is. Remote work and lockdown remote aren’t the same thing, but that doesn’t mean people didn’t like some elements of remote-due-to-COVID work. 

Here’s what to do: 

Step 1: Survey your people (if you haven’t already). 

  • Ask about if they like being remote in general. 

  • Ask if they feel productive remote.

  • Ask if they feel they have the right technology / tools to do their jobs.

  • Ask if they feel communication is sufficient and they know what’s expected of them.

  • Ask if they want to work in a central office again (all the time, half the time, part of the time, drop-in only, or never).

This should give you a baseline of whether remote is something people actually want and give you some initial diagnostics on what’s working and what’s not. 

Step 2: Think about costs. 

First document about the costs you will be shedding:

  • Rent or mortgage.

  • Furniture costs.

  • Office management costs. 

  • Etc. 

Minus any committed costs:

  • Contracts. 

  • Leases. 

  • Prepaid expenses. 

  • Etc.  

Minus any new expenses due to remote work: 

  • Virtual office platforms.

  • Collaboration platforms.

  • Perks and benefits shifted to remote.

This should give you a decent back of the envelope financial picture of how remote work will shake out in the budget. Hopefully, that’s a big surplus you’re looking at. If it’s not, you may need to reconsider how you do remote work and if you really need all the expenses you have. 

Step 3: Insurmountable barriers

Not every person or every role can be remote. If you do field work, for instance, the best you can do is largely remote service but that won’t let you go fully remote. You need to be clear on which roles were remote due to a global pandemic and which really need to be done in person whenever possible.

Phase 2: Solution identification

Thus we get to the fun part: picking which kind of work on the office-remote spectrum works for you. 

Generally, you’ve got 5 levels to think about:

  1. All office

  2. Office-based with flexibility

  3. Hybrid remote

  4. Remote-first with office access

  5. All remote

And then within those 5 you have a lot of options of how you precisely configure things. 

Step 1: With that in mind, picking the kind that works for you will be a balance of:

  • What employees want.

  • Where employees feel most productive.

  • Cost bases and leadership considerations. 

  • General company vision shifts due to the pandemic. 

Step 2: Figure out your communication highways. 

As Floyd Marinescu said in our interview, you need to build systems. If you don’t, you’re setting people up for communication anxiety, as he calls it. 

That means thinking about how you do communications triage, what kinds of messages go where, and how people need to respond to messages. This could be asynchronous (and many remote work advocates believe it should be).

Another big part of this is documentation - the more you can document and keep in a central (easy to search) file, the better.

Step 3: Figure out your culture home

Culture dies when it doesn’t have a home. In the office world, that home was a given. In any form of remote world (even office-first with flexibility), you need to be intentional about your culture. 

There are thankfully many startups tackling the remote culture problem, but you don’t always have to spend tons of money. Culture is more about how people are treated and how they connect. If you are intentional about your communication systems, you can create one just for the cultural side. Shelly Spiegel shared a bunch of the tactics she uses with her 80-person all remote team during our interview (it’s worth a read / listen!). 

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