To return to normal or to find a new one? That seems to be the question.
When it comes to the way we work, some have no interest in getting back to the way things were pre-pandemic. Others are eager to return.
According to a Harris Poll survey conducted in May, 40% of Americans said they preferred to work from home full time, 35% sought a home-office hybrid work environment, and 25% wanted to go back to the office full-time.
For company executives, they set their sights on this week being a kind of soft deadline for the return to normalcy, wanting their workforces back in office by Labor Day.
At Firefli, we’ve spent more than a decade intentionally fostering a trusting culture that is flexible and adaptable. We’ve grown out of startup mode working out of basements and into a multi-level, downtown office, and as we’ve grown, we’ve always seen the value in investing in an office environment that allows us to collaborate internally and with our clients — together, in person.
Then COVID hit and for 15 months we worked remotely and efficiently from the safety and comfort of our own homes. Like many other companies experienced, we had seasoned employees make life changes during that time that required relocation. We also had new hires move into town. The transition of having team members in different time zones and onboarding while remote presented challenges, but we made the intentional decision to view this as a positive new normal that strengthened our continued success in our region as well as in new markets.
That kind of intentional decision-making has been at the core of our strategy to navigate leading during COVID-19, and it’s a strategy that has been with us since our very first new hire.
At Firefli, we’re very intentional — maybe more so than anything else — about building a people-first culture. And when we say people first, we mean the whole person, not just who people are in a professional setting. When our colleagues needed to move to Austin, Texas or Richmond, Virginia for personal reasons, we listened to those reasons and took them to heart.
The bigger picture is caring for our teammates and what they need as individuals, not just what we need from them.
We like to think that because of this intentional people-first culture, our people feel genuinely and holistically cared for at our company, which in turn sparks dedication. So, when we reached a 100% vaccination rate among our team earlier this summer and were ready to transition back into our office space, we weren’t surprised to find that even those who had moved, wanted to make the commute — by both plane and by car — to celebrate the moment, in person, with the team.
Together for the first time in 15 months, we were finally positioned to have an in-person discussion about the state of the company in a COVID-19 world. Even with its challenges, we could celebrate 2020 as a record year for our company and we took the time to reflect on why that was the case.
Nature vs. Nurture
Some of our success was due to the nature of the times. COVID and its quarantining, almost overnight, eliminated face-to-face operations, ushering in a digital transformation that required businesses to pay more attention to their digital infrastructure. What was once an optional tool for business, suddenly became necessity. As a digital strategy agency, we were perfectly positioned.
Yet there’s no playbook for an international pandemic. Sure, we were in the right industry for what this crisis was requiring of businesses. But like all business leaders, we were navigating the unknown. But because we were already prioritizing nurturing a flexible and adaptable culture, we were strategically prepared to navigate it. There was never any panic about how our team would respond. Thankfully, we were never forced to put our business on the back burner while internally scrambling to manage the pivot to remote work.
Internally, we had no crisis. Instead, we were in our usual mode, thinking proactively about our clients’ needs and what the moment meant for them, and how we could support them.
It was this ability to stay client-focused that was at the crux of a home run year.
The nature of COVID-19 and the necessity of supporting businesses who were making the transition to digital operations may have tossed us a curveball, but we were prepared to take the swing, well before the pandemic hit.
COVID-19 validated our company’s values and why we prioritize them.
What COVID Has Confirmed for Firefli
Trust is a Must. You must genuinely trust your people. When you give someone the space (and we don’t mean a physical one) to own their own work — they tend to solve problems because they want to, not because they are being micromanaged through it. We find that’s where the really good work happens.
Our people know we trust them to get the job done, no matter where they are.
Trust Requires Self-Starters. At our company, we intentionally hire self-starters because they want to take on more and they jump at the opportunity to problem-solve. That’s clutch when big and unexpected problems arise (i.e., a global pandemic).
Responsible Growth. There’s no magic number when it comes to team size. What’s more important is to understand growth and its intimate connection with the direction the company is moving.
For us, slow and steady wins the race. We tread lightly with intentional and deliberate hiring practices. When we do hire (and we are), we’re very selective in our search for self-starters. We know one person can be a game-changer, so it must be a good fit.
As much as we try to anticipate any future curveballs that may come our way, there’s always going to be a limit to what we can realistically plan for. We’re currently watching and preparing for what the Delta variant might mean for our company and our clients, but we’ll never be able to eliminate that element of the unknown.
What we can control is our continued commitment to investing in our team and our trust in them, both on the daily and in the long term. It’s because of that investment that we can always trust that we’ll get through the next crisis together — remotely, in-person, or yes, even both.