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Catherine Toth Fox: Who needs an office when you can work from home?

It’s been two years and five months since I packed up a few things from my office — mostly a few note folders and a half-eaten bag of Hershey’s Kisses — and headed home to “remote work.”

Not that we really knew what that meant at the time – or how long we’d actually be working from home. (We had forecast two months and thought even that might have been an overestimate.)

And you would think that after a few years we would have figured out how to do this. And our employers too.

Many of us still walk away from makeshift home offices – cluttered dining tables, kitchen counters, unmade beds, or anywhere with free Wi-Fi – still struggling to manage our time and collaborate. with our colleagues, some of whom we’ve never met in real life.

And remember when we thought working from home meant more time with our families, more time for household chores, more time for healthy eating and exercising? A better work-life balance? Ha!

So what’s up?

I guess we – including our employers – haven’t fully embraced this reality of remote work. Many of us still ask our bosses when we will report to the office. We still haven’t figured out how to retrieve voicemail messages from our work phones. We refuse to pick up the mail piled up on our desks or clean out the fridge. (I hope someone has already.) We didn’t upgrade our Wi-Fi at home or back up our computers to an external hard drive. We still don’t have a printer.

We did not engage. And that may be because neither do our businesses.

According to a survey by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, about 42% of salaried employees in the private sector were working remotely in August. And of companies offering remote work, 65.7% said they would continue to do so post-pandemic.

Although the survey found that the benefits of working remotely included employee satisfaction and reduced operational costs, companies also cited many concerns, such as the difficulty of teamwork and difficulties in monitoring and to supervise remote workers. (We all have that co-worker who never seems to be able to do Zoom meetings at 10 a.m.)

The author has a nice setup in his home office. Catherine Toth Fox/Civil Beat

But how many of these companies actually create an environment that encourages working from home, that helps us build collaborative relationships with our colleagues? You can’t just assume that people know how to use new tools like Google Chat and Slack. You can’t assume that everyone has enough space for a home office. (A colleague of mine had to take meetings in the bathroom because he shared a studio with his girlfriend, who was also working from home.)

And you can’t expect workers to know how to manage their time. Stepping into a physical office space has created structure for many of us. We had to be at work at a certain time, we had a dedicated space to do our work, we had computers, ergonomic chairs, photocopiers and computer support. At home, it’s like “Naked and Afraid” – but without so many bugs.

But there are Hawaiian companies that are focused on providing that supportive environment for their remote workers, offering monthly stipends for office expenses or funding employee meetings to foster better collaboration. And they see positive results — growth, productivity, happy workers.

At the tech-based RVCM, only about 15 of its 120 employees work regularly in its Honolulu office — and on a volunteer basis. Prior to the pandemic, all staff worked in the office during normal business hours. Everything changed very quickly.

President Brett Kimura said the company built its remote work strategy based on a simple fact: everyone has different needs and situations. New employees receive a laptop of their choice and $1,000 to set up their workspace at home. They can buy what best suits their situation.

After their first year, all employees receive $500 a year to buy everything they need – office supplies, upgrades, new coffee machines – no questions asked.

The company has also improved its onboarding process, ensuring that employees are properly trained and comfortable. And he’s always looking for opportunities to create fun events — not “forced fun,” Kimura says — that foster employee relationships.

For example, he made his annual chicken nugget eating contest virtual during the pandemic – the winner gobbled up 69 nuggets in 60 minutes, with the company sending food via Uber Eats to anyone who wanted to participate – and supported employees who wanted to create an online auction with the proceeds to benefit local nonprofits over Thanksgiving.

He even sent his mainland workers (plus one!) to Hawaii, put them up in hotels, and had a few fun days for everyone. (Hawaiian workers will be able to fly to a mainland region next year.)

“What I’ve learned is that every employee is at a different stage in their career and going through a different situation,” Kimura says.

“In this environment, it’s our job as a member of the leadership team to make sure people are comfortable and have the right tools to succeed, and that’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. We take a lot of risks hiring people we’ve never met before, but they also take risks working for us.

He got me at chicken nuggets.

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