I’m typing this from a small, 50 acre farm in Cottage Grove, OR – there are rolling vistas, hiking trails, and a herd of chickens just outside the door. It’s the perfect place to recharge after a whirlwind two week work trip, visiting colleagues and clients in San Francisco, and attending the Nonprofit Technology Conference (#19NTC) in Portland. I’m not on vacation though! I’m taking advantage of PTKO’s flexible remote work environment, and squeezing in a visit to friends at their lovely home during this work trip.
This reality would have been impossible to imagine when I first reported to work after college, at a bone-cold office with rows and rows of identical, beige cubicles. Now I’m lucky to work for an organization where most of my colleagues work almost exclusively from home. They love the flexibility that comes from remote work – and so do I.
That said, another part of what I loved about these last few weeks has been the in-person connections: with my colleagues Stefan and Nate in San Francisco, with clients at the conference, and with peers who are doing interesting things at organizations all over the world. I deepened bonds over food and drink, coffee breaks, shared Lyft rides – even karaoke and roller derby! All things that wouldn’t have been possible in a purely virtual environment.
The balance of these two things is one of Parsons TKO’s distinctive strengths – a hybrid remote workplace that distributes staff across multiple locations while sustaining a strong culture through a regional, hub-based model. While remote work options are increasingly common these days, this hybrid model is unique in my experience. We find it gives us a number of useful advantages in a competitive talent marketplace.
How does our hybrid, hub-based model work?
Plenty of tech-friendly small businesses engage developers and freelancers from around the globe. However, we’ve made a slightly different choice. The vast majority of our staff lives and works from one of three hub locations: Washington DC, North Carolina, and the Bay Area. In each of these hubs, team members get to choose whether they want to work from a home office, a co-working space, or a combination of the two. We are completely agnostic about their preference, and give financial and logistical support for all arrangements.
In practice, we’ve found that most team members want to work from home. Indeed, we used to rent a shared office space in Greensboro, NC, but let go of our lease after employees told us they almost never reported for duty there! Nearly all of meetings between team members happen virtually, and we make constant use of digital collaboration tools (e.g. Slack, Zoom, and Google Docs).
What are the advantages of this model?
Even though we all work remotely at least part of the time, our organization still finds it useful to center around a limited number of geographic regions. This approach has some important benefits.
- It’s easier to facilitate the in-person connections that are so important for a positive work culture. Science says that remote arrangements are most effective when you create strong connections and a sense of community among staff. Geographic proximity among our virtual employees makes this an easier lift for us – even our employees who are not in one of our hubs typically share a time zone, or are just a couple hours away. This makes it easier and cheaper to facilitate periodic meet-ups to help strengthen relationships.
- There’s less of a need for office space. This saves us and our clients money. Also, co-working spaces give us the flexibility to quickly scale our physical presence up or down as needed.
- Different hubs serve different organizational needs. In our instance, we distribute staff between cities with a strong client presence (i.e. DC and SF), and an area with a talented labor force and somewhat lower cost of living (i.e. North Carolina). This stations our executives where they’re most useful to clients, and helps us deliver cost-effective services for our partners, most of whom are non-profits.
- It strengthens the engagement and productivity of our workforce. The potential benefits of remote work arrangements are well documented. Anecdotally, team members tell us they enjoy a happier work life, and have improved work-life balance, compared to their time with prior employers. All of this is only further enhanced by the fact that we have also forged in-person connections across the team.
Our model might not work for every organization. You need to have trust in your employees, and focus relentlessly on building a culture where everyone feels a part of something bigger than themselves. But happily we’ve found our hybrid model to be a winning one for both team members and clients.