like a including. contributor, I’m a little biased – I think theirs gives the best practical advice, assuming Airbnb’s work policies give employees more autonomy. Others speak of various advantages and disadvantages from a management perspective. In FortuneIn Elon Musk’s article, the author notes Elon Musk’s outside policy: “Elon Musk says remote workers just pretend to work. Turns out he’s (sort of) right.” We disagree, but that’s not the point.
In fact, all these articles are a bit beside the point. Because the situation is different for every individual employee, just like the job. A single mom whose childcare cancels at the last minute doesn’t have much leeway — and someone who simply can’t find affordable childcare has even less. A surgeon cannot work remotely. Anyone who has just tested positive for Covid cannot meet in person.
To be sure, companies need employees who are focused on the fundamental goal of serving customers profitably. But often this does not depend on where the work is done. It depends on the work being done efficiently. Companies that rely on remote working policies that deal with: Where inevitably underserve customers or impose unrealistic ideals on their employees. Or both.
But what if companies partner with their employees to serve customers – what we call it? economic involvement? Without partnership, a company is concerned with telling employees what to do, how to do it, and where to do it. No wonder companies in the top quartile of economic involvement have double the profit growth of their peers, as our research has shown: a key strategy for doubling your profits.
At One Week Bath, an independent bathroom remodeling company in Southern California, (full disclosure: I own 30% of the company), we focus solely on what needs to be done to serve our customers profitably. We have learned from the pandemic that many jobs do not require time in the office. In response, we reduced our office space and costs, allowing our employees to avoid the twice-daily rush hours in LA and improve their quality of life. We have also learned from the pandemic to face every challenge with the same two principles:
- Take care of yourself as best as possible, with masks, vaccination and caution
- Take care of customers as best as possible, as efficiently and profitably as possible
That is it. We strengthen the practice of partnership with our employees by openly discussing the company’s financial results on a weekly basis. We listen to the ideas of employees on how to achieve these results. We predict those results together. And if the company succeeds, our incentive plan ensures that every employee shares in that profit.
Some companies talk about employee engagement. We have economic involvement, and the best team in the industry. And those two basic principles? They enabled us to respond to our customers so well that our repeat and referral revenue soared through the worst of 2020-2021. And we did that without layoffs and virtually no turnover.
So, what is our stance on remote working? It’s the same two principles – nothing more. Everything else is at the discretion of the employees. Some activities, such as receiving and presenting products for future assignments, are really practical. Krystal and her warehouse team go in physically every day. Others prefer to work remotely and can, such as Bonnie and her team in finance and administration. Sales and Design already did a lot remotely. So were the crews, as were Southwest pilots.
Some suggest that employees should be in the same space to build culture. But working with your employees, rather than treating them like hired hands, often aligns people in a profound way. SWA has a legendary culture, with many of their members at a distance for decades. Or take our weekly meeting at OWB. Finishing assignments on time was a challenge. A few weeks ago, crew chief Rudy announced that he would finish his work the day before, and the team erupted into spontaneous applause. Rachel said, “What you don’t realize is that Rudy’s project was the first sale I’ve ever done, and that client is really demanding. But I just called him and he’s just excited about Rudy and his team.” Applause gave way to exuberant cheers.
Some may say we leave inmates to run the facility. But we have no facility. We have a company where every employee has a direct interest in the profits. We don’t have remote working policy. In fact, we have very few ‘policies’. We have smart people we trust to make decisions, all focused on serving our customers profitably. Sometimes a new decision improves our service to a customer. Sometimes not. But we give our team room to continuously learn and improve.
This also means that Matt (our president and majority shareholder) and I spend a lot less time on administrative matters and a lot more time on improving the company. It seems to work. Two years ago we were with 8 crews. Today we have 14 – not to mention a record backlog, frequent referrals, and robust remote operation. If you need policies, focus them on serving customers profitably. Leave the rest to a well-motivated team; just make sure you motivate them.