From Hip to Home: Company Known for its Cutting-edge Work Goes Remote Control | Business Observer


It is difficult to determine exactly when it became acceptable to slack off at work. Most would probably say it was in the 1990s, under the Clinton administration, when ping-pong tables, gyms, and bars started popping up in offices.

It was the era of the Internet boom, when companies were trying to attract the best and brightest employees from the competition. The culture of the stuffy office, where everyone was attached and where severity was the tradition, has become outdated. It has been replaced by relaxed and fun, collaborative workspaces and an informal approach to management.

Despite the naysayers, executives said, and continue to say, that employees are more engaged in this environment and work longer when the workplace offers a few extra bells and whistles and promotes a healthy dose of things that make better life. (The Facebook, Apple, and Google campuses are just three examples.)

Well, now as the pandemic emerges, another systemic shift in the way people work and interact in an office environment is changing. Companies are adapting to remote work, claiming that employees can be just as productive working from home as they are in a formal office.

St. Petersburg’s Squaremouth is one such company.

The new office

The travel insurance comparison company, founded in 2003, decided to walk away altogether, putting aside plans to build a new, cooler office space in a 23,000-square-foot converted church after employees voted to work from home permanently. In doing so, Squaremouth becomes an interesting case study of how office life has evolved over the years and how, as young workers drawn to trendy spaces mature in their personal and professional lives, work changes to new.

“Today’s employee cares less about a cool office and likes that flexibility, working from home or the hybrid approach,” says Megan Moncrief, Marketing Director of Squaremouth. “So that’s where we’re going in the future.”

Squaremouth is far from alone in moving to a work-from-home model. In Tampa Bay alone, the advertising agency ChappellRoberts decided to keep employees working from home, as did Kforce, the publicly traded recruitment company. Other companies in the region, such as Venice-based beverage maker Tervis, have also found success with remote politics, work from home, and trendy hybrid politics. “Our team members have proven to be efficient and productive working from home,” Tervis President Rogan Donelly said last year in what has become a rallying cry for many companies.

And nationwide, companies say remote working has improved the lives of their employees without disrupting daily workflow.

On another side, a study found that working from home makes it harder for employees to be innovative and productive. The study was published in September in the scientific journal Nature Human Behavior. He studied data collected from more than 61,000 Microsoft employees in the first six months of 2020.

What the researchers found was that enterprise-wide remote working “made the worker collaboration network more static and siled, with fewer bridges between disparate parties.” The study found that the time employees spent with “intergroup connections” decreased by about 25%.

The researchers also found that immediate personal interactions decreased while there was an increase in asynchronous communications, which occur over a long period of time. “Together,” the study found, “these effects can make it more difficult for employees to acquire and share new information on the network.”

The old office

Squaremouth, until the pandemic struck, worked in a high-end office on 2nd Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg.

Moncrief, who has worked for the company for eight years, says the desk was bright and airy, “not like you’re in a cubicle staring at three gray walls.” because it has created an atmosphere conducive to conversation, interaction and, therefore, innovation.

A nearly three-minute video on the company’s website shows life in the office, with employees in t-shirts grabbing draft beers and on a company boat ride. They sit in swivel chairs and talk business with a pool table and the waterfront in the background.

Moncrief says, and it is repeated in the video, that employees have unlimited paid time off, that everything is transparent and democratic, including the granting of salary increases, and that people are encouraged to make mistakes because it means they are successful.

“When you love everyone you work with and are sitting down talking to each other, it’s a great day,” she says.

This approach has served Squaremouth well. Before the pandemic, the company had recorded a three-year revenue growth rate of 164% and typically made up to 500 sales per day. Sales in the year before the crisis exceeded $ 41 million. With the profits came the distinctions. In May, Inc. Magazine named the company one of America’s Best Workplaces for the fifth consecutive year.

As 2020 approached, things were looking good. The company bought the 60-year-old church on Central Avenue in 2018 for $ 1.8 million. The 23,000 square foot building was being renovated to create a space that brought together all the functionality of the office while adding a host of hipster-like amenities – fire hydrants, rope bridges and a climbing wall among them. .

Then the pandemic struck. Things have changed.

The office of tomorrow

Like so many other companies, in March 2020, Squaremouth sent its employees home. The transition was not too big, says Moncrief. The company’s call center and developers in Indiana were already working remotely while administration, marketing, management and designers worked from St. Pete’s office.

The office remained partially open for employees who wanted to enter.

What has happened since the start of the shift is that employees have found they enjoy working from home, even those who were reluctant at first. The employees ultimately voted to keep the change permanent. Moncrief attributes this to the fact that more and more employees are having young families and enjoying the work-life balance that working from home (sometimes) offers.

But employees also found that despite the technology and the ability to do the job, they missed the interaction.

FILE: Squaremouth bought a church on Central Avenue to renovate it into a cool new office.

So what Squaremouth is doing to make up for this loss is to open up the office for meetings, work sessions, and functions, allowing employees to get the face-to-face time they need while still allowing them to do the heavy lifting. Work at home.

The company employs 33 people, 10 of whom work close enough to need to travel to the office.

“We can be as productive as ever, but it’s not the same as just walking through someone’s desk or overhearing conversations,” says Moncrief. “We’re such an open and collaborative group that we kind of missed out on those intangibles of being all together. “

It will take a bit of time to figure out what all of this will end up looking like and working.

The lease for the downtown space expires in December, and the company will rent the Industrious coworking space in St. Petersburg month to month. The company sold the church during the pandemic for $ 1.9 million.

There is no plan yet for how many days they will be in the office or even what that will look like. Moncrief says they will “see what works for everyone, but keep that flexibility first.”

“We have a space available, but we just have to figure out how we’re going to use it. “


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