Remote Flexibility vs. Return to Office
The pandemic abruptly changed how and where direct selling’s corporate employees did their jobs. Executive teams adapted to ensure the health and safety of workers; to stay compliant with state and local requirements; and to keep their businesses running in spite of uncertainty and lockdowns. Working from home—a long-standing staple within the direct selling distributor field—became the new norm for many corporate employees as well.
But now, as COVID slips ever so slowly into the past, the transition of these employees back to the office—full time, part time or in some cases, not at all—is underway, and it is fraught with challenges that could make this a defining moment in a company’s ability to recruit and retain employees.
So how long might it take, post-COVID for a return to a morning huddle without Zoom? Is it a priority for you to fill those seats at headquarters? Do employees, whose work landscape forever changed as a result of the pandemic, want to come back full-time? What could be gained or lost if they do or do not?
Who’s Back in the Office?
How direct selling companies are handling this return to headquarters runs the gamut. Timing depends on corporate attitudes and philosophies, workforce demographics, cultural concerns and maybe—to some extent—geography.
Stanford researchers discovered the back-to-office pace depends a great deal on where companies are located. Small and mid-size cities, where employees usually commute by car have been chatting up their colleagues in offices for so long it already looks normal. But in larger cities that rely on mass transit and possess highly competitive job markets, employee expectations weigh heavy and remote work numbers remain higher.
Direct selling growth start-up, Red Aspen employs just 60 at its corporate offices in Meridian, Idaho. They believe in-person contact to be crucial to solidifying their fledgling culture, so everyone has been back in the office for months now. Still, they recognize that life requires flexibility. And it’s something their young worker demographic wants, so they’ve delivered.
“Folks outside our shipping team have options to work from home one day a week…It’s been working out really well,” Matthew Kuzio, Red Aspen’s CFO/Chief of People Services shared.
Employees choose their remote times, but Red Aspen expects in-person attendance at cross-departmental meetings. These remote days give people the space—both literally and figuratively—they need to work on bigger projects. Squeezed for square footage, Red Aspen is relocating to larger offices none too soon.
“It’s great. I actually see the benefits of when people do work from home that one day. It gives them a little more uninterrupted work time, so output increases because of that,” Kuzio said.
Fair Haven, Michigan-based, Total Life Changes takes a harder line. They are big proponents of getting workers into the office. The company operates on energy and the frequency and vibration of making emotional connections. Scott Bania, COO, believes that only happens in person.
“Everyone is working in the office. That’s what we encourage and promote,” Bania said.
TLC has introduced flex scheduling in shipping logistics, which drops workers to a six-day work week, shorter hours and provides three shift options. Customer Service is also adopting some of these components. And on an individualized basis, they consider flexible schedules to attract qualified job candidates.
SeneGence, a Lake Forest, California company, recognized the need to find a healthy balance for employees, who loved the benefits of working from home, being productive and still part a fully functioning team. They also needed to address health concerns of high-risk employees, the needs of parents juggling inconsistent return-to-school schedules and re-establishing after-school care, as well as replace employees who relocated voluntarily during the pandemic.
“I personally would prefer to see all staff back in the office full-time. I love the hustle and bustle and collaboration of in-office work, as well as having an exciting and lively in-office environment when our distributors visit. But I understand and acknowledge the benefits of offering a hybrid schedule to our staff. We have seen a happier and better adjusted staff as they return to in-office work by offering this option,” Joni Rogers-Kante, Founder/CEO, SeneGence said.
It was the Great Recession of 2007-2009, not COVID, that facilitated eXp’s entry into the remote space. “When the housing market crashed in the aughts, it was clear that real estate needed to reinvent itself, and how we conducted business at eXp was under our control. A virtual world gave us a strong start, while responding to what the industry really needed, at a time when less agile real estate agencies were failing,” Glenn Sanford, Founder, eXp Realty, explained.
Sanford adopted Virbela as a virtual solution in 2016 and imagined a new world for work as eXp World with some 75,000 real estate agents in the U.S., Canada and 17 other countries. Work from Wi-Fi, work-life balance, round-the-clock support, agent diversity and camaraderie, as well as cutting-edge technology make this remote business model successful.
Amare Global’s home office sits within a health and wellness campus in Irvine, California. CEO Jared Turner said the company is totally remote and probably always will be, yet the mental wellness company offers amenities like a full gym, yoga studio, walking trails, indoor and outdoor working spaces, bike rentals and more to those who engage there.
“Our executive team is spread across four states, and we hire talent from all over the country. I think that’s an advantage to have the ability to hire people from wherever, but the disadvantage is you don’t have that in-person connection and contact that allows you to really build some of that in-person culture. We’ve had to do that all online and through other meetings in person,” Turner said.
What Do Employees Want?
The pandemic pushed some companies harder and further than they could’ve expected when it came to adopting technologies, establishing remote work norms, learning to trust their employees and even changing PTO/sick day policies. Let’s face it—no one is interested in employees suffering through a common cold at work anymore.
The flip side that resonates with employees is a new, post-COVID expectation of what a workday should be and how it fits into their lives. After countless months showing just how agile they can be, workers want reciprocity from their employers. Seasoned professionals may feel they’ve proved themselves worthy of flexible schedules, while Gen Z evolved formative attitudes amid their early career years during isolating lockdowns.
Gen Z looks deeper—beyond just money—and is willing to job hop to find it. They want to work in a hybrid way from an office and remote locations. They want employers that prioritize their wellness and mental health; growth opportunities and mentorship; workplace diversity, respect, equity and inclusion; ethics; and investments in what they value most. Gen Z watches your engagement levels on social media and Glassdoor, and they study your corporate cultures and initiatives to assess the likelihood you get the chance to hire them.
Simply put…Gen Z wants you to care as much about them as people, as you care about their contributions to the corporate bottom line. And with their numbers expected to exceed 87 million workers by 2030—30 percent workforce employment total in the U.S. and five other countries according to an Oxford Economics study—employers everywhere may do well to treat Gen Z desires as demands.
“Offering a hybrid work model keeps our company competitive! Without having this as an option, potential qualified candidates have plenty of other employment options to choose from. Current employees choose to stay with us, rather than look for new opportunities since their needs are heard and acknowledged,” Rogers explained.
But flexibility is incremental in some companies including at TLC where function is a determining factor for off-site work and can conflict with recruits’ priorities. “It’s hard to compete with an offer of increased compensation and full-time work from home,” Bania said.
“We are trying to accommodate the Gen Z population and offering some flexible hours so that we can retain them,” he added.
Red Aspen’s remote work flexibility ebbs and flows to coordinate with the company’s goal-setting trimesters. “Folks know the expectations. When we are summiting together, it’s all hands on deck at all times, in terms of planning vacations, personal lives, etc. So, in the slower months, folks have so much more flexibility, and we’re happy to give that because we know they’re going to be there when we need them in the busiest parts of the year,” Kuzio said.
Psychological safety, dependability, impact, meaning, structure and clarity, Turner said, are foundational to the highest performing teams at every company. Amare Global embraces that as a driving cultural force behind their strategic planning. By focusing on psychological safety, they successfully engage employees’ hearts and emotions, all while being totally remote.
“You have to make them feel like they’re part of something meaningful…I mean, at the end of the day, we have like 4,000 weeks to live and a lot of that time is spent in jobs. So, what are you creating in those jobs—where people spend the majority of their time—so that people give you their best and feel like they’re adding meaning to their lives?” Turner asked.
Some CEOs believe remote work flexibility could be the single most important human resources issue of their careers and a defining moment for the direct selling industry. Fully remote companies look at it as a non-issue because they were built for it from the beginning. Either way, countless considerations—potential gains and losses—remain.
How does remote work really affect corporate culture? Can technology sufficiently foster the connections necessary for people to relate in terms of diversity, inclusion or buy-in to corporate mission and initiatives? Where’s the productivity tipping point—one, two, three remote days? Would money saved on physical office space best be reinvested in attractive compensation and increased employee training? How do we track employee productivity without being intrusive? Could reluctant workers be enticed back to the office by meeting childcare and after-school care needs on-site? Does our location hinder leadership-level recruitment?
But, perhaps, the biggest question of all: How much more might we be able to accomplish?
From the October 2022 issue of Direct Selling News magazine.