It’s a snowy, blustery day in Wisconsin and drivers are cautiously inching their way into work. But not everyone is driving into PAi in De Pere, today. Some staffers will login and work from home.
But it isn’t just weather that’s keeping employees away. The 401(k) administration company has 17 employees who always work remotely, logging in from home offices in places like Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and New Jersey.
The company, which has just over 140 employees, officially launched its telework initiative in 2010 and began actively recruiting workers from outside the area.
(Read more about PAi and the business benefits of remote work.)
But deciding to initiate remote workforce recruiting wasn’t an overnight decision for PAi. Shelly Gagen, PAi’s director of organizational development, and two other team members attended a remote work conference to learn how other companies had done it. They walked away from that event with a lot of ideas and a checklist of thing to think about—everything from necessary behaviors for remote workers, to training, home office set up, IT infrastructure and security, and maintaining company culture.
To make sure they got started on the right foot, PAi put together a cross-functional team including representatives in finance, customer care, HR, training, and IT. After the initial rollout, the company surveyed remote employees and got additional feedback for program improvements. Now the launch team meets every other month to monitor and review the remote work program.
One of the initial hurdles was internet connectivity. “It’s probably been the biggest stumbling block for us,” Gagen said, “the kind of connections people have, the speed of those connections, and reliability.”
Today remote employees convene at PAi at least twice a year for training, and that is an area of future concern. “Right now it’s feasible for people to come in for training and reengage with the team,” said Gagen. “But later, that may not be as cost effective.”
To that end, the company is exploring virtual training environments, chat rooms or other tools so remote employees can still interact. “Those are some of the things we’re considering as we continue to build this workforce strategy,” said Gagen. “How do we get to 100 remotes and not have to fly everyone in?”
Gagen said managers at PAi are already working hard at cracking that culture nut. “They have regularly scheduled one-on-ones, and most have pictures around so folks don’t forget what [the remote employees] look like.”
For example, the company recently had a sports theme day, and remote workers were encouraged to send in pictures of themselves in their favorite team gear. And PAi hosts an annual pancake breakfast which leaders personally deliver to employee desks. Remote employees were sent a $5 McDonald’s gift card, so they could be treated to breakfast too.
Gagen says managing those expectations is one of her concerns. “There’s crazy weather outside today, so we’re bringing pizza in. I really hope the remotes aren’t like ‘Where’s my pizza?’” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘It took me 45 minutes to drive 15 miles into work today and you didn’t have to pull out of your garage.’ There’s a benefit to working remotely that folks on-site don’t necessarily experience.”
The issue, she says, is finding that balance. “I don’t want them to feel left out, but they are not going to engage in everything going on inside these walls.
In all, culture is something Gagen says she will continue to keep an eye on. “It’s a unique place to work,” she says. “I really hope remote workers still get that sense—that they still experience some of the magic that is PAi.”
For now, she says, they’re doing fine. “It’s what can we do as we grow to make sure that magic doesn’t get lost.”
By Jaime Leick
LMW Content Editor