By Mike LeBlanc
My first time working remotely was in Afghanistan as a Marine. Our unit was split into 13-man teams, and while the logistics looked easy to manage on a PowerPoint presentation, the reality of working in separate dispersed teams was complicated. It was easy for communications to fall apart, and for subcultures to be created in each of these groups. I feared a fistfight would break out when we learned of another satellite team that had ice cream on their base.
Leadership took great pains to make sure everyone would come together and feel like part of the same team, whether it was replicating the perks on each base, to having the exact same equipment, to the same food and snacks.
Following the pandemic and working exclusively from home, I find myself in a similar situation as we navigate the adjustment of returning to the office for employees and employers everywhere. What seems to be taking shape does not resemble physical corporate offices of the past where all employees worked in the same centrally located corporate offices Monday through Friday. What we’re seeing instead is more satellite offices, landing pads, or WeWork offices emerging, where employees are not tethered to a certain city to work in a physical office to be part of the organization. While employers want employees back in the office for a host of reasons, including greater productivity and collaboration, they are realizing that now needs to be accommodated through a model of distributed satellite and landing pads set up all over the world where their employees choose to reside.
Though it’s convenient for employees to work from locations of their choosing, the challenge for employers is to have everyone feel like they’re on the same team and all part of the same company, sharing a common company culture.
I experienced this challenge firsthand as a former Marines Officer on my tour in Afghanistan. Bridging the divide of scattered remote offices and landing pads to make sure company culture is shared and communicated effectively is a new challenge for many employers today. For example, it’s easy now for 13 people in a Boston WeWork office to feel completely left out of the company and miss out on the camaraderie and unity the other larger offices have with one another. This ultimately leads to disgruntled employees without a strong sense of loyalty and connection to the organization looking for other job opportunities.
There are some straightforward, simple steps for large enterprises with dispersed offices to take to ensure each office has the same look and feel, the same policies in place, and that employees feel connected to one another. Fortunately, with advances in technology and automation, it has become easier to replicate procedures across multiple global offices from large headquarters down to smaller landing pad or WeWork spaces.
- Uniform access control needs to be global. This means entry into facilities needs to be universal across your organization and look and feel the same. So if you have a badge at your homebase New York office, it works in your San Francisco satellite office as well as your Paris landing pad.
- The same physical security procedures should be in place at all offices. This includes how you handle which areas of the office are open to the public, and which are for employees with badges and visitors, or how and when you deploy security guards or automated services, such as mobile robotics, to provide 24/7 protection of your facility.
- Visitor management should be uniformly handled across offices. Ensure consistency down to your smallest landing pad whether this is handled by an actual receptionist or someone connected by automation to reception in a bigger office.
- The same office amenities should be offered at every facility whether this is a fancy espresso coffee machine, free fitness or wellness classes, casual Fridays, or free lunch delivery.
- Uphold the same janitorial standards uniformly. This may seem like a minor detail, but upholding the same standards of cleanliness at every office is also important to employees and helps make each and every office at your organization look and feel the same.
The discontinuity of culture as companies move to satellite offices can become a big problem if you’re not on top of it. And while you may have thought through some of the bigger HR issues for standardizing procedures around hiring and benefits packages and even have a company manual everyone adheres to, some of the smaller processes can be just as important. Issues like privacy, security, amenities all matter to your employees and all define who you are as a company and how you value your employees and treat them equally.
The days of working for the same large company for years and years are over; with less pull to a physical corporate office and people realizing they can work from home or from any destination that they want in a WeWork, we’ve really become a new generation of transplant workers. It’s more important than ever to keep people engaged, excited, and motivated to work and stay committed to your company.
Bringing people back into the office is crucial for many companies – it’s where ideas are exchanged in person and some of the best brainstorming can happen, and where company culture and connection really take place. Satellite and landing pad offices are very enticing for employees as it gives them a major convenience to work from anywhere, but balancing that with a sense of community, accountability and camaraderie is crucial so that you preserve the connection and the invaluable human capital at your organization.
Mike LeBlanc is President and Chief Operating Officer of Cobalt Robotics. Prior to joining Cobalt, Mike was a Marine Corps Infantry and Intelligence Officer for 10 years, serving three tours to the Middle East including two combat tours to Afghanistan. He is a graduate of Harvard Business School.