When we formed our company, we were a remote company by need: orders were shipped from Greg’s basement, we all did the majority of work from home, and we met in person a few times each week to meet or collaborate. When we moved into our warehouse in 2008, we decided on a rotating schedule that still allowed each of us to work some from home. I think this was the key moment in time that set us up to have a flexible work environment today.
Looking back, I think that there were two reasons why we didn’t just settle on a traditional 9-5 schedule. The first reason is that we had gotten used to working independently from home with a flexible schedule, and didn’t want to give it up. The second, more practical reason, was that the warehouse at that time was a very uncomfortable place to work. The heating was horrible, and the internet connectivity was even worse. It got the job done as a warehouse, but it was a lousy office. And it pretty much stayed that way until our 2017 expansion.
Our hybrid and flexible scheduling has been passed down to eligible employees (really, anyone whose job isn’t solely in the warehouse). It’s a part of our culture, but it’s not just the schedule, it’s everything that comes with it. I touched on this last year when I wrote Good Remote Work Habits Start in the Office. By us not being there every day, we’re not able to micromanage. Everyone on our team has the autonomy to do their jobs, and hopefully feels empowered to make the decisions necessary to accomplish their tasks.
When I hear about companies struggling with their “back to work plan” – with employees wanting to stay home all of the time, and managers wanting a full return to the office – I think both sides are missing the reality that most offices in the future are going to end up being a hybrid. Employees aren’t going to give up the flexibility of working from home when the weather stinks or their kid is home sick. But meeting in person is still extraordinarily valuable. Just because you can work remotely 100% of the time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.
I recently adjusted my weekly office schedule to work on a project in person with my business partner Mike. It certainly could be done remotely, but the in-person collaboration is so much better. Fully remote companies need to do a lot of things to make up for that. Even if you save money by getting rid of the office, you’re still investing in things like quarterly in-person meetups and some sort of online “water cooler talk” like Zoom lunches or an internal forum. To me, it feels like you have to put in a lot of effort to replace what comes so naturally in an office environment. It just probably doesn’t need to be 5 days/week from 9 AM to 5 PM. For us, the sweet spot is 1-2 days/week, strategically scheduled to ensure that you get meeting and collaborative time with the right people.
When COVID struck, you could say that we were lucky to have a lot of this in place. And, to a certain extent, we were. We certainly never foresaw a multi-year global pandemic. But I think it is fair to say that by instilling strong systems and a strong culture, one that maybe is a few steps ahead of where most of corporate America is, we positioned ourselves well to deal with the crazy scenarios that the future might throw at us.