Bill Coltzer, Jr., AIA
Well here we go; about to start the first full week of the remote workspace world for Zero/Six. As the CEO, I am excited (and more than ready) to see how this pans out…and it is not because I am an advocate. I fully understand there are employees (team members) who do not need to be supervised and will perform their duties as assigned even if they have to use the coffee shop WIFI (uh, from the sidewalk of course) to get it done. But we all know there is another group of employees that cannot maintain focus even if their manager was sitting in their cubby with them. Some of these folks are super talented; they just have attention issues. Unsupervised, the growth of these individuals (corporately) is going to be limited (and their mere employment could become a challenge) in a world where their time is managed virtually.
I am also concerned about how the success of work from home will be sold in the remote workspace world. The well-intentioned portion of this focus challenged crowd (mentioned above) is still going to get the task done; it just may take 14 hours instead of 8, and that is not the quality of life the proponents of work at home are shooting for. As a person that “lives their business”, I understand the benefits of working from home, but I have also learned to appreciate the ability to separate the two. I also worry about the increasing delta between profit and value. I run businesses that bill by the hour. As long as my employees bill a certain number of hours, they are profitable and likely not on my “poop list”. However, we are not just trying to be profitable, we are trying to provide value. If we allow 8 hours for a task that takes 4, it does not mean bill for the full day and take a half-day off. No doubt this can be managed and we think we have a solution. The bottom line is that it will take more management; more management is more overhead thus the price goes up, but the value stays the same.
This brings us to character. Character that is developed through the corporate culture. I am 57 years old and have been managing folks over half of my adult life. People of all types, races, sexes, socio-economic conditions, nationalities, wealth (or lack of it) and more. You name ‘em, I managed them, and none of those obvious features of a person tell you anything about their character. I have been both pleasantly surprised and disgusted. I can tell you that when folks buy into a corporate culture that supports good character, they become persons of good character (or they voluntarily move on…seriously). Culture is not a new slogan or a fresh brand. It is the soul of the business and it does not change. You can’t see it, but you can feel it. And I am concerned that a virtual world is not going to adequately support the culture that we have created at Zero/Six.
Now I am not going to lie and tell you that working for Zero/Six is always a picnic, but it is a damn fine shop with a great culture. A culture protected by teams (some remote by design) that were trained under a common roof. My roof. Tomorrow I may have less than 4 people under the roof of our headquarters with the balance working remotely.
So why am I excited? Well, the world is hip on the “work from home” concept, but it is not something I would have volunteered for my firm. That said, I know that mass (forced) participation will produce some good data. Businesses of all types and sizes will be closely watching for the successes and failures of work from home (i.e. we will not get a mere BETA test that may or may not apply to our model). As a testing guy, as such, I am an analytical type and this work from home program will be a hell of a test that will produce some valuable data for managing future remote workspaces.
For the record and safety’s sake, I am all on board with remote home offices and social distancing (at least until the Cooties pass). But when this virus is behind us, I look forward to having the bulk of my teams back under common roofs where we will not be socially distant, maybe cook some food, and for the love of God…shake hands again.
The good news is that, for now, we are working and for that, we are truly blessed. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are not as lucky. We are rewriting the playbook now. Good luck to all.