Q: I’ve been growing a small business, and we’re getting larger now, adding new locations and expanding the team. So far, we’ve all been based in the same office, but now I have to consider how to remain unified when some people work from home, and others have offices in different cities. What’s the best strategy for us?
—Monique, 47, owner, business consulting firm
A: There is no “one size fits all” solution; the best approach depends on your industry, your customer base, your service model, and your employees’ needs and preferences.
For better or for worse, your industry lends itself to a structure distributed across locations. Different industries, for example, manufacturing, will have different challenges to consider, especially when work from home options are under discussion. But for you, all options can be on the table.
Consider your current customer base and service model. If you’ve built your company on in-person service, this will affect your decision. This is a harder approach to scale up, since you will either have facility costs and specific recruiting needs in each market you want to expand to, or high travel costs to get your people to your customers. A more virtual service approach provides more flexibility in company structure. Take time to determine what suits you best moving forward — where would you like to be in five years?
Now, employees. Start with the needs of current team members. Some may want flexibility to work from home, and others may not. There may be perceived inequity if it’s available to some based on their roles, and not others. Seek out candid feedback on the options.
Then move on to the employees you need to attract in order to grow. Availability will be a big deal. If you’re seeking specialized skills, you’ll need to go where they are or be able to offer something sufficiently attractive to bring them to you. The former is easier — including the work from home option. If you’re looking for a more general skill level, you’ll have more leverage.
Regardless of your decision, when you grow, you need to tend to the company culture that you foster. Let’s assume you’ve settled on some blend of central office, satellite locations and home officing. As the owner, you’re the visionary and the articulator of your company’s shared values.
So, be clear about your expectations and put systems in place to support them. Do you want a company where employees have each other’s back? Then they need to know each other.
One approach would be periodic in-person, all-staff meetings. And, especially in a smaller firm, make it truly all staff, regardless of level.
That way, even if most people don’t see each other day to day, the personal relationships that are the glue of culture can be formed.
Deploy technology to help, as well. Chat tools, video conferencing, and other technological conveniences can really forge connections.
One critique of dispersed workforces is that it can limit innovation; challenge yourselves to find solutions to that downside.
It’s your vision and your company; incorporating others’ wisdom, create an approach that works for you and put the effort and investment into making it work.