Creating a Happy Remote Workforce

Daniel Turner, TCG

August 06, 2018

When I was growing up, my dad worked at home. He was a clinical psychologist whose office was in our house. While this meant my sisters and I sometimes had to tone down the ferocity when we were playing in the house during working hours, it also meant he often had time to spend with us between appointments. And when his work day ended, we weren’t waiting at the end of a long commute. He was there if we needed him.

This model spoke to me 24 years ago when I started to develop my company, TCG, providing information technology solutions and consulting services. I knew that it was possible to have a productive career doing something you love, at home, with time to devote to family. Fortunately, I was successful.

At TCG, we have created an almost-entirely remote workforce. Currently, 100 of our 144 employees telecommute; 41 work onsite for clients at least once a week, and only three are at client sites daily. Nobody comes into the TCG office except for meetings. As we have grown our workforce, we have also been growing innovative programs and incentives to ensure that our remote community stays both happy and connected to one another and to our purpose of improving the world around us in big and small ways every day. We want our employees to enjoy their work. They need to be happier working for us than working for anybody else or being stay-at-home parents. That’s the toughest competition!

Developing a culture that nurtures that level of happiness among telecommuting employees and prioritizes putting People First has been a long, complicated, trial-and-error process. It certainly hasn’t happened overnight. We have had to build the benefits and programming into our cost structure and adjust as necessary, and we constantly test what works and what doesn’t. But the positive results of our efforts have been incalculable. We currently have a five-star rating on Glassdoor.com; we were recently named to Inc.’s 2018 Best Workplaces list; and, we were on the Fortune list of Best Workplaces two years in a row. The awards are great, but, more important, there isn’t a single other IT contractor in D.C. on most of these lists.

And in case you think I’m a creative genius, know that I have stolen almost every idea I have from other innovators (or, as my wife says, I’ve “learned” from them). In the early days of this process, our executive team sat down and went through all the “best places to work” listings, noting benefits and perks that we thought were interesting. We created a spreadsheet with three columns—the first listed ideas we liked; the second gave an estimated cost of each; and the third noted how we could implement them given our business and philosophical reality. And then we implemented every feasible one.

I hear you panicking at the thought of the cost and effort of all this. But many of the programs and incentives that can make a big difference in employee recruitment and retention do not come with a big price tag, either in dollars or in time. Here are a few of the key steps we’ve taken at TCG that have netted big returns.

Rethink HR Structure: Vice President of Employee Happiness

It had always bothered me that HR has two priorities: defend the company against employees and make employees as happy as possible. One is caring; one is paranoid. Finding one sufficiently two-faced person is very tough! I decided we needed to separate these roles and develop a position entirely focused on employee happiness. Our Vice President of Employee Happiness is charged with getting to know all the employees, training employees, guiding careers, and making sure employees feel their salaries are reasonable. She is the employees’ representative on the executive team.

Small Steps—or Rides—Reap Big Rewards: Transportation Incentives That Align with Our Purpose

Even though most of our employees work from home, they still commute occasionally for client meetings, or they may work onsite for a client for a period of time. When they do, we help cover costs such that we incentivize non-car travel. We match costs on the Metro; we pay for Capital Bikeshare membership for any employee who wants it; and we pay for shoes twice each year for those who walk.

Employee Sprees: Charitable and Social Gatherings

Because most of our employees don’t connect around the water cooler or coffee maker each day, we provide opportunities for friendships to blossom through social and charitable activities. Employees are encouraged to come up with an idea for a “spree” each month, and we pay the cost of any idea that generates interest from more than six employees. Past sprees have ranged from an Ethiopian restaurant meal to scuba diving to an escape room outing to volunteer service for area nonprofits.

Listen...and Learn

We have created opportunities for employees to feel heard, which empowers them and keeps them invested in our purpose. For example, I spend four hours in an orientation with every new employee. Every two-to-three weeks, I go out to lunch with eight employees, which is a win-win: we all get lunch, and I have the opportunity to connect with our people and understand their concerns. And we created committees, open to all employees, to allow the employees to decide which health plans to offer and which 401(k) options to provide. (As an added advantage to us, getting the opportunity to be involved means employees never complain about the health plan or the 401(k).)

The result of these and other efforts to connect with and respond to our employees? TCG employees are happy. And when our employees are happy, our clients are happy. Recently, we won a contract with a client who had been using another firm for many years. When I asked what made them make the switch, they said, “When I deal with a TCG employee, they are generally happier than employees from other companies.” The fact is, people like to work with happy people.

Another key benefit of putting people first is the positive reviews generated by employees across surveys and ranking platforms. Potential employees typically look first at our ranking on Glassdoor.com and other employee satisfaction surveys when they consider our offer of employment, which means those five stars are invaluable. Our consistently high reviews mean that we now have people waiting for positions to become available at our company.

Daniel Turner is Founder and President of TCG, a Federal IT services industry leader, with a culture focused on delivering Positively Distinct™ solutions for programs of national importance.

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