It has been more than two years since Bloom made the shift to a remote work environment, which has evolved into an 80/20 hybrid model: 80 percent of our work is done remotely, with the other 20 percent focused on intentional time together in person. Here are the lessons we’ve learned, and the benefits we’ve found, from transitioning to a remote structure as an agency.
Lesson 1: There is no pandemic playbook.
In March of 2020—within a week’s time—we went from posting 20-second hand-washing song playlists on the bathroom walls to working from home. Within one month, Bloom Founder and CEO, Brianna McKinney, announced our agency’s transition to fully remote. There was no experience from which to draw; however, in the absence of stability in the world, she knew that making a decision that created a level of permanence for the team had to be the right one. From then forward, we didn’t allow the unknown to paralyze us; instead, we continued in motion—weaving, bobbing, and pivoting.
We faced challenges with courage and while there was much discomfort, there was monumental growth, demonstrated adaptability, humility, and learning. We realized that growth of any kind requires change and adaptation, along with internal shifts as we sought to strengthen our team and agency for the future.
When faced with the unknown, trust your instincts and continue moving forward.
Lesson 2: People are human.
We were all reminded of people’s humanness as we shifted from working in offices to a remote work environment. The idea that everyone has lives full of responsibilities, challenges, and fulfillment outside of our daily jobs instantly moved from an abstract concept to a highly visible reality that could not be ignored. We have all witnessed kids popping up on Zoom calls (especially at the height of the pandemic when the world was completely shut down), dogs barking, being virtually immersed in people’s personal spaces, and the occasional technical glitch. In some ways, it gave the whole world more permission to show who they were in addition to being an employee. Before the pandemic, remote work could be a tricky balance—and some who worked remotely often felt they had to “prove” they could be just as productive, dedicated, and valuable as in-office employees. The pandemic shifted the narrative around remote employees and made us all more empathetic as parents, children, partners, and coworkers.
Not only honoring, but celebrating people’s lives outside of work is important in maintaining ease between work and life.
Lesson 3: Engagement looks different in post-pandemic times.
Prior to the pandemic, we typically relied on phone calls for our regularly scheduled client meetings. No one will forget the catchy hold music offered by the cloud-based conferencing system UberConference: “And I’ve been waiting on my friends, yes, I’ve been waiting on this conference call…all alone.” Zoom caught on early in the pandemic and hold music was replaced by virtual backgrounds and the opportunity to sport a sombrero or bunny ears while waiting for our mates. This also increased our connectivity to clients, getting to see their faces and facial expressions (and oftentimes their kids or pets), especially those in cities across the country and globe that were harder to visit in person on a regular basis. We learned to quickly tell when they were pleased with our work or having a bad [hair] day. The time on video—albeit exhausting—has felt more personal and well spent in strengthening our relationships with coworkers and clients.
As we navigate the “new normal,” it is important to strike a balance when considering time in-person, traditional phone calls, and Zoom to ensure we maintain a sense of connectedness, while preserving our mental health and well-being.
Lesson 4: Remote work requires increased flexibility and trust.
Working remotely no longer means the traditional 9-to-5 workday (was that ever really a thing?). People are now scheduling work days around school drop-offs, dog walks, and therapy appointments. It’s important to recognize that our homes have largely become our offices and scheduling breaks in the day is crucial to our physical and mental health and well-being. This also requires a level of trust from business owners and leadership. It is the combination of trust and outcome-based performance metrics (versus punching a time clock) that make remote teamwork successful. So many companies allow remote work but monitor employees’ online time to ensure they’re still getting in a full eight hours each day.
Effective leaders are those who understand that despite having a mid-day optometry appointment, the work will still get done because it’s as simple as walking into your bedroom (or home office if you’re lucky).
Benefit 5: Interpersonal relationships take intentionality.
We no longer have “default” relationships forged by seeing each other every day at the office. And the onus falls on individuals to connect with others across the agency. We’ve gotten creative in how we connect with coworkers in the same city—and across our three locations at Bloom. We spend a lot of time on the #watercooler channel on Cliq (our internal messaging platform) and GIFs seem to be our love language. We encourage in-person coffees, virtual walk-and-talks, and as a team, we have made time together a priority. In-person brainstorms, trivia nights, monthly in-person workdays, team-building events, and monthly team volunteer days are an important part of our agency life and lend to strengthened relationships with our team and coworkers. But it takes time and planning to make it work and be sustainable.
As with plants and people, relationships require nurturing for them to bloom.
The Remote Work Playbook
Reflecting back on nearly three years of remote work life, we are proud of all we accomplished together at Bloom Communications. Going remote to a remote work environment allowed us to be more financially nimble in the face of adversity. It was the right decision then and it continues to be the right decision now.
Today, businesses are at another watershed moment in which they are navigating the semi-post-pandemic work environment. Once again, we are presented with challenges, but more importantly, opportunities. Cheers to writing your own playbook.