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Friday, Dec 9, 2022
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OC LEADER BOARD

None of us imagined at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that some companies would continue to be working virtually over a year later. Even with the tier restrictions lifting in Orange County and throughout the state, we have faced a point where decisions are being made to either return our workforce in-person, continue to work from home, or in many cases, implement some sort of hybrid arrangement.

The decision is a seismic shift in corporate America—businesses are embracing a new hybrid work environment where teams work both in the office and from home. Many business leaders are going through a process similar to Word & Brown, where we have worked with our leadership team to make substantial and consequential decisions on how to address working in a post-pandemic reality.

At the heart of our decision is not just the consideration of work output and productivity, but also the question of culture. Like many family-owned companies, we are proud of the culture we have built for our team members since our 1985 founding. We can’t take for granted the strong relationships built through celebrations, teambuilding events, trainings, conferences and even lunch and water cooler conversations.

Businesses everywhere are grappling with this challenge: how to ensure excellence in workflow and productivity while maintaining a corporate culture that both supports and recognizes team member contributions to the organization. COVID-19 made this a challenge but we have learned new best practices that we can use to guide our new hybrid culture.

A Shift to a Hybrid Work Culture

When the pandemic began, we, like a number of businesses across the country, learned that team members can be just as productive working from home as they are in the office.

We took this important factor into consideration as our leadership team began to plan for a return to the office.  Before setting any plans into motion, we needed to know how our employees felt about a return to in-person work. A survey of our workforce determined about 70% preferred to continue to work from home.

With this overwhelming majority, we have decided to test a work from home policy that continues to optimize productivity while offering employees flexibility and healthier work/life balance.  

Through the end of 2021, our work from home policy will allow each individual employee to either come into the office or continue to work from home. However, managers have the option to ask employees to come into the office, no more than two days a week in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, for meetings, collaboration sessions, key presentations and more.

Our decision to give employees the choice when they come into the office gives them the flexibility to plan their work week around school schedules, doctor’s appointments, home repairs and more. While we know employees appreciate having more control over their work/life balance experience, we are optimistic that productivity and work output will continue to be high.

A More Creative Approach to Office Space
Open office floor plans have many benefits. While allowing for collaboration, it also creates an inclusive culture, where everyone is seemingly at the same level. However, the pandemic caused our company and many others to reevaluate these space configurations, in addition to satellite offices set up in a similar way.

Over the course of the last year, we concluded that we can—and should—take a more creative approach to our office space. For example, we are reducing our office space by 20% at our Orange headquarters. This will allow us to create hybrid workstations and remove assigned desks to allow for a more flexible and collaborative environment. We are also considering rolling out this approach to our five regional offices located throughout the state.

A Continued Emphasis on Culture 

Our leadership team’s primary concern is our culture. Many team members have missed out on both planned and spur-of-the-moment celebrations that foster comradery and community.  

We think we have found a solution. We kept our celebrations alive through regular virtual events. In fact, we have forged stronger connections with employees outside our core Orange office team better than before.

We’ve also continued to hold our quarterly all-employee meetings where our owners, John Word and Rusty Brown, acknowledge new employees, celebrate work anniversaries, recognize our Service of Unequalled Excellence award winners and more. Some events are as simple as “take a selfie wearing your company gear and win a prize,” which are designed to keep our teams engaged and connected with one another.

We are also committed to hosting more in-person events, such as a recent Cinco de Mayo taco lunch at our offices, where colleagues could meet and mingle before heading home. We hear from our workforce that they appreciate these occasional in-person functions at the Center Club now that Covid restrictions are lessening.

As we and other businesses across the county get plans in place for a return to the office, our team views 2021 as a transitional year. The hybrid work culture shift requires all leaders to regularly check-in with employees to obtain their feedback so that adjustments can be made on an as needed basis. Work/life balance, along with reimagined work spaces and an emphasis on both virtual and in-person events, will remain key considerations as we plan for 2022 and beyond.

Editor’s Note: Jessica Word is president of Word & Brown General Agency, which provides services to brokers in the health insurance and employee benefits industries. Established in 1985 and headquartered in Orange, Word & Brown General Agency is part of the Word & Brown family of companies, which in total has more than 500 employees. On June 15, California is scheduled to end most COVID-related restrictions.

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