Office space is dead. No, not the movie. Actual physical office space that companies used to use B.C. (Before Covid). The number of companies that we talk to who are giving up their office space or plan to give up their office space for remote work is astonishing. It actually makes us fearful of commercial real estate brokers flooding the streets with pitchforks and torches.
The way that the Covid pandemic has changed our work and workstyles won’t fully be understood – probably for many more years. This new way of doing business still has us scratching our heads. Here are a few things that business leaders should think about (i.e. seriously consider) if they are planning on going 100% virtual.
It’s starting to become apparent to companies that there are legal requirements in various states when it comes to having a physical presence. While your company may operate in the cloud, states like Washington, California, Virginia, etc. will not let the cloud be your physical address. And many (most) will not even let you use a PO box that’s housed in the state. So what’s the plan? These are some things you’ll need some advice on: Where are you going to be domiciled? Where are you going to file your annual reports? And where are you going to pay your government fees and taxes?
Taxes and remote work
While we’re on the topic of taxes, now that employees are working remote, it’s important to make sure that you’re withholding and remitting taxes to the right place. This includes state taxes and unemployment taxes. We’ve heard stories of companies whose employees are working from home “just over the border” from their physical office and have not been remitting the correct taxes on their behalf. If you think that these states, broke as they are, won’t be coming after you for their money – then we’ve got a bridge (in another state) to sell you.
Remote work policies
There has never been a better time to reevaluate your employee policies and/or employee handbook. It’s a great idea to consider strengthening your remote, telecommuting, and/or work from home policies. These things include for example cybersecurity and data integrity (as mentioned above), PTO policies, and re-defining professional attire. Performance management and productivity policies and standards should also be very clear, since the success of your business will depend on everyone doing their part.
Your employees are rightfully facing a whole new set of decisions if remote work becomes the norm. People may not want to go out to lunch for sales meetings if you have to eat outdoors in a “streetery” or a plastic bubble. Employees will not want to pay city-sized rent and city taxes if there’s no place for them to spend their workday. Some employees may prefer to move closer to elderly parents as Baby Boomers age and need more care. A best practice emerging is allowing employees to simply “work from anywhere”, with a fixed and agreed upon address as their registered state for employment purposes (where viable and legal).
Fax machines and copiers may have finally drawn their last breath. Long live the home office equipment and desktop scanner/printer/copier! Will your business reimburse employees for these purchases? You’ll need to put some thought into this potentially enormous expense (think about all those “maintenance” and “I’m out of toner again” emails as well).
It’s very possible that we see a mix of co-working and hoteling in the future. Will happening co-working spaces like WeWork become in vogue again? It’s possible, albeit with more plexiglass separation, hepafilters, and social distancing rules. You may want to look into getting multi-year contracts now while some of these coworking spaces are willing to bend on their pricing. If you are planning to let everyone work from their home address, consider that you’ll need to know their state-appropriate labor laws. You’ll also need to have federal and their state-specific labor posters delivered to them. This can be done by email and followed up with a simple acknowledgement.
Culture in Remote Work
What happens to a company if they don’t have a physical location to plant their culture “seed”? We may need to look at the companies like Automattic, GitHub, and Harvest that have been remote and virtual for years now. We recommend frequent events, rotating chatrooms, and company literature that helps foment the culture they want to see grow in the company. Most likely, things won’t be the same. So write down what you would like to see change in culture in your business, and make a roadmap to implement ways to encourage it.
How much about office space was really about leadership ego? The big office in the corner. The office with the windows. All the awards on the walls. How else are business leaders going to be able to put their ego on display without real office space? This is a great opportunity for business leaders to let go of their ego. It can help focus on inspiring their team to complete meaningful work. As opposed to what art is hanging on their walls or what color the couch in their office is.
There may not be a need for “office” managers anymore, in the B.C. sense of the word. You can certainly retrain and re-skill these important positions for a virtual workforce. They can become culture and meeting managers to ensure virtual remote work goes smoothly. They can take over coordination and management of company projects, initiatives, and efforts. We think it’s entirely possible for the Office Manager role to meld into something that blends Office Ops, Corp Dev, Project Management, HR, and Finance. Whew, that’s a lot. Maybe the idea of office management has just been marginalizing people all along?
Security. The vulnerability of your company’s data is threatened now more than ever before. There are innumerable possibilities that can be utilized to administrate and safeguard a fleet of tech assets, as well as IP and sensitive data. Consider putting all employees’ wireless connections through VPNs. Forbid connections to public-access wifi. Manage laptops remotely with Fleetsmith or Rippling’s solutions. Some companies are even applying deep learning to cybersecurity, like Deep Instinct, for predictive protection. Make sure that a policy is set up. Communicate it well with all employees. Make sure that penetration and phishing tests are done to ensure implementation. Cyber insurance now matters more than ever.
Need a hand?
As your business faces the post-Moderna work world (“post-Pfizer” just isn’t as catchy), the big question about whether to return to an office location assumes hundreds of tag-along decisions. In most cases, you will need to consult with an experienced HR professional on how this needs to be done. The Suitless team is only a call, email, or text away. If you’re considering going full remote, consider chatting with us first and we can help you along the path.