Flexing in February: a borderless approach to client service

February 28, 2019

One of the things I love about working at Ketchum is our borderless approach to client service. It aligns with our “no boundaries” philosophy and means that many of us can not only work across disciplines and industries, but also geographies. On any given day I can field early morning emails from European colleagues and respond later in the day in real-time to a new business inquiry from the West Coast. One major benefit of working in a borderless environment is being given the ability to work how and where I work best; to be flexible. Whether it’s on a train, at my kitchen table, or in my friend’s backyard in Tampa (if NYC is being slammed by a blizzard – true story). If I can do the work, I can make it work.

This February at Ketchum we were encouraged to lean into flexibility. There were a number of activities, including a contest in which employees who posted  about “#HowIFlexatKetchum” were acknowledged and eligible for prizes throughout the organization.

Always being on the grid is the new reality for all of us information workers, but with the ubiquity of network availability and a toolbox of productivity and communications applications, working “smarter, not harder” has never been easier. The atavistic mindset around working virtually, especially working from home, has been actively eradicated in many organizations due to a very rapid, very recent shift in the requirements of the modern workforce. Some experts have predicted that by 2020 more than 1.3 billion people will be working virtually on project teams which can be cross-functional, cross-cultural, and cross-generational in makeup.

A recent report by IWG (a Swiss WeWork competitor) stated that roughly 70 percent of people around the world work away from the office at least once every week, and as many as 53 percent do so for at least half the week. We used to call this telecommuting, which to me sounds like “phoning it in,” but today such an old-school term really doesn’t do justice to the level of productivity that remote workers can achieve by having their own custom and comfortable working environment.

Many companies are adopting this new model and are even setting goals to have their employees work a certain percentage of their time virtually. States and municipalities are taking advantage of this trend and seeking to grow their workforce by incentivizing virtual employees to relocate. Vermont, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma are among states who are actively pitching workers to bring their skillsets, and their jobs, to these locales.  But this paradigm shift doesn’t exactly mean that the corporate office will be converted into a self-storage facility or a mini mall. As tribal people we’ll always feel the need to work very closely together, and sometimes that means within earshot or view of each other, you know, physically. There’s no doubting that many work-related tasks and activities are best done in person. When we round-table, I ask the team to sit at the round table in my work area. Presentations, brainstorms and strategy sessions also seem to work best when we get together IRL.

But for more workers to become truly flexible, companies will need to exhibit the organizational will to impel this cultural shift in how work gets done. Which is why I was pleased to hear, during a recent internal webinar regarding Virtual Team Collaboration, that Ketchum has adopted the management philosophy of trust being assumed, not earned when supervising virtual employees. Meaning that you don’t have to feel that your every move needs to be reported back to the mothership. And that our co-located and virtual employees already receive many of the same perks that their office-bound colleagues do, like receiving a supplemental gift card when there’s a special lunch at the office or being sent a birthday card from their colleagues via snail mail. After all, a “virtual” team is a real team comprised of real people who appreciate these inclusive gestures.

There’s a growing trend to appear on webcam when attending virtual meetings instead of just calling in. While this has the potential to make some people uncomfortable or “camera shy,” there’s no denying that it’s a different and more intimate dynamic when you can see somebody’s face. One study found that 87% of remote employees feel more connected to their team and processes when using video conferencing – just try to avoid the really awkward on-camera moments.

By now it’s likely that your organization has published a list of policies, best practices and standards that govern flexibility, and we’ll all need to ensure that we abide by the rules to do it successfully. For the most part, these actions and behaviors are fairly basic. We must learn the soft skill of actively listening and always be respectful of others’ time by exhibiting good meeting hygiene, as well as only using software and services that follow our company’s (and our clients’) compliance guidelines. Basically, we need to demonstrate the same amount of attention and care to client work and data as we would when in the (real) office, which really isn’t a lot to ask.

It’s always beneficial to stay ahead of the curve and master the skills of the future, and the future is flexibility. Lean in.

Jim Fennelly is an Executive Digital Producer in New York.