In June 2021, AMS determined that it would become a “location flexible” company. We would maintain an office in downtown Washington DC, but employees would have the option of working from the office or from a location of their choice (primarily the home office), and employees would not be required to live in the metro Washington DC area. Our employees welcomed this decision and certainty at that point in the pandemic, particularly as new variants of COVID-19 began to surge, and many companies were waffling in their decisions about whether or not to remain remote or bring employees back to the office.
As background, AMS had been working 100% remotely since March 2020. AMS had established a fully virtually work platform with all systems (phone, email, filing, HR and financial) in the cloud. The company provided employees laptops, monitors, docking stations, and other job specific accessories for their home offices. To keep us connected, we had scheduled weekly staff meetings, developed a strong calendar of virtual social activities, and maximized use of chat messaging, for both teamwork and social interactions (“the watercooler chat”).
At the end of 2021, we undertook a survey of our 34 employees to determine how employees were responding to the location flexible workplace, what was working well and what opportunities existed to ensure long-term sustainable success. We conducted eight focus group discussions with AMS employees, and received written feedback from some, unable to participate in a focus group.
Our findings were extremely encouraging, reinforcing that AMS had made the correct decision six months earlier: employees were overwhelmingly pleased with the flexibility of being able to work from their location of choice. The focus groups were also useful in identifying needed tweaks: logistical adjustments and strengthening of support for employees and employee development.
Our employees identified many reasons for enjoying the location flexible work environment. Working from home enables employees to save commuting expenses, to have more flexibility in their daily schedule without long commutes, and to have more flexibility with childcare, medical appointments, and other personal commitments. On a larger scale, employees were pleased the decision created a more equitable, transparent environment.
All survey participants had high praise for the AMS social task force which had brought to the company wonderful events such as Family Feud, sports brackets, team walking challenges, and pizza lunch (delivered to your home). The social task force had excelled in offering opportunities to connect virtually.
The focus group format of the survey encouraged employees to be thoughtful and reflective on opportunities to ensure sustained success of AMS’ location flexible environment. Some areas that were highlighted as requiring further thought and attention included: a sense of missing out on the informal conversations that used to happen in the office, where staff could seek the advice or opinions of their colleagues; a lack of clarity around the updated travel policy and policies around ordering home office supplies; and considerations around work/life balance, including expectations on responding to emails/messages after work hours.
The AMS leadership team is receptive to this feedback and has included in its 2022 strategy specific tactics to address employee feedback and concerns, including training and updating policies and procedures. AMS Leadership and employees recognize they have embarked on a new journey which is changing the culture of AMS. Great care is needed to sustain that change and ensure a positive workplace environment moving forward, which serves both AMS clients and employee growth.