The “future of work” has been on top of mind since the pandemic began to spread more than a year ago. In these times when most of us are working far apart from each other, it’s not easy to implement a flexible working scheme while maintaining a sense of camaraderie and keeping employees engaged. How are leaders stepping up to this challenge?
We sat recently with Tobi Skovron and Amanda Vinci to share their insights on the future of work and what it means for company culture. Tobi is CEO of CreativeCubes, a collaborative coworking community that provides inspiring shared office and collaborative workspaces. Amanda is Founder and CEO of The EA Institute, a future-forward organisation that equips executive assistants with community, training, and placement.
The EA Institute: How training online opened up new markets
Early in the COVID crisis, companies were forced into a sink-or-swim situation, to reimagine “the way we do things around here”, for better or for worse. It’s no news that the pandemic has caused a seismic shift in the entire professional landscape – and The EA Institute was no exception, says Amanda.
“In the early stages, there was this sense of not knowing how long this was going to last. And for many people the question was, do we take action? Do we just let this pass over us and then go back and operate the way things once were after six months or so?”
The EA Institute started to look at taking their training offerings online. Doing the switch would not be without its challenges and Amanda had concerns, with the training and development industry being traditionally a face-to-face affair, that online training might be disengaging due to the lack of human interaction. She had her doubts about how they could maintain the quality of their product on a new medium.
But then, the crisis emerged and everyone was suddenly online. Accepting that in-person interactions would not be in the cards for a while, like most business leaders caught in the middle of the pandemic, Amanda decided to take the plunge.
Training amidst flexible work schedules
“We always had the idea of moving our training and development online. However, I don’t know if you’ve ever had that experience with online training development, but I certainly have, and it wasn’t good. I know when most people think of online training, they see it as something that’s very boring alone. Like it’s just going to be module to module, and that’s that.”
Going online allowed The EA Institute to engage organisations overseas and conduct training sessions in a virtual environment, even though it was not their traditional business. Eventually, Amanda’s gamble paid off; they managed to significantly increase their market size, just within over one year.
“We’re in the stage now of trying to manage that, because we have strong live elements in the way that we train. Although it’s online, there are some self-paced elements, some face-to-face elements, but the rest is virtual. It certainly does allow us to reach a lot more people in a way that we are still having the same impact, if not better. Now we’ve got a pilot program happening in the Caribbean, the U.S., and the U.K., and it’s super exciting. It’s been unreal.”
CreativeCubes: Future-proofing a business
For Tobi, CreativeCubes was lucky to be in the right place at the time of the pandemic: half online, half in the office.
Despite the nature of their business, which is providing workspaces for companies, part of their business had already been running through the cloud. This made the transition a lot smoother than some of their contemporaries. In a sense, they were not prepared, but well-structured for something like COVID to happen.
Tobi’s company had employed a flexible working approach long before there was any drastic need for it. Connectivity, Tobi says, has been a real game changer for small companies and big companies alike, making operations more efficient and more accessible. And the same is true for their clients.
“I think a lot of people have now moved their infrastructure to the cloud. Going home or being in lockdown really hasn’t stunted businesses that are already on the cloud. Technology has allowed employers to realize that, ‘you know what? I don’t need desks for 500 people. I can give them a 10% private office or co-working space and rotate 20 people through. Some people will come in, some people won’t. So long as they’re connected, I feel like the business is operating.”
Keeping the Culture Alive
As we continue to navigate the realities of flexible working arrangements, leaders are pressed to ensure that they’re keeping the entire team in good health and engaged, whilst preserving the company culture albeit virtually. Amanda says their company thrives on promoting a culture of fun, and that they’re constantly thinking about ways to embrace that characteristic within their teams to keep them engaged.
More than that, Amanda says this approach creates a sense of openness and transparency within the team that creates results in a holistic manner. Creating a culture of transparency and having people actually talk to each other keeps everyone on track and gives the team a sense of purpose. This rings more true than ever over the past 18 months wherein communication has been slightly stifled, Amanda said.
“What really helps engage and motivate your team is constantly bringing possibility to the conversations that you’re having. And what I mean by that is talking about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Why are we doing this? What’s the purpose behind this? If people don’t know why they’re doing something, they will not do it with purpose or conviction. It’s purely compliance. I think purpose really creates that strong engagement within your team.”
Amanda runs a company in the training and development business, while Tobi runs a company in the real estate business. Both companies are founded upon in-person meetings and face-to-face human interaction. But despite that, both of them had not only managed to survive, but also thrive during this crazy period.
Perhaps it’s simply because both leaders were in the right place at the right time. But for better or for worse, the pandemic has taught us two things. One, that the future of work is mobile. And two, you can either fight it, or embrace the change and look for new opportunities that come along with it. It’s up to you to make the right decision.