Fully virtual or hybrid? Suburban business owners weigh in

Thanks to the pandemic a great number of small businesses, including many in the suburbs, have had to revisit their remote working policies that offer the kind of flexibility most employees desire today.

So how are area businesses dealing with this challenge? And what makes the most sense - a fully virtual or hybrid model?

Jeffrey Manga, who runs staffing company 6 Degrees in Schaumburg, has committed to a hybrid work environment and leaves the choice to his employees as to whether they want to work in his (much smaller) office or from home. However, he's definitely in favor of some face time.

"I believe flexibility is needed and is a very good idea," he said. "But I also think a fully remote situation creates distance and disables teamwork and sometimes make simple tasks tedious."

While Manga's company has embraced a hybrid work environment, Nicole Martin's consulting firm, HR Boost, is somewhere in between hybrid and fully virtual.

"We have reduced our 4,000-square-foot office to 600 square feet in Libertyville and now all of our employees are virtual and come in only for company events or all-hands meetings," she says.

Martin is happy the arrangement has not only benefitted employee morale but has also helped to reduce overhead.

It's not a hybrid model for Mundelein-based GreenMark Media. The public relations firm, based in Mundelein, has been all-in on remote working, with the office going fully virtual back in 2006.

"Remote working provides numerous client benefits," said Sue Markgraf, the company's founder and CEO. "With very little overhead and reduced expenses, fees are in line with the industry, and this provides flexibility. The only light bulbs our clients pay for are the creative kind."

Markgraf insists her virtual meetings are focused, and conversations are productive because they "have a purpose." She says "time is spent servicing clients, not on commuting or in unnecessary meetings" - and that her company's virtual workplace reduces energy costs and helps protect the environment.

Andrea Herran, who owns Focus HR in Barrington, is also a big fan of a fully virtual workplace.

"We have always been based remotely," she says. "The work we did with our clients pre-pandemic was more on-site. Since the pandemic they are comfortable with us working remote."

As a result of the pandemic, remote working and flexibility has become a highly requested benefit. And in this tight labor market, it's a benefit that business owners can't ignore. But whether it's right for your business depends on your company's culture.

Manga believes working in the office is important, particularly for younger workers, who can take advantage of the mentorship and guidance from older colleagues. He also believes it helps with a worker's career advancement.

"If an employee wants to be promoted and is at the staff level they could be passed over if they are not getting face time in the office," he said. "We are social beings and corporate America thrives on a team environment (in which) simple tasks and objectives are more efficiently obtained in a brief meeting of the minds as opposed to six Teams web meetings."

But there are many other managers, such as Martin, who say giving workers more autonomy is the best way to help a company grow - and attract great people.

"It begins with a fundamental belief that people come to work aiming to do good," she said. "If you create rules and red tape that restrict people's autonomy and ability to earn more, you are likely to find talent leaving."

So what's the best approach? In the end, like so many other things, it depends. Some employees work better from home. Others need people around them to be the most effective. It's all about balance. But what seems to be most important is involving your employees in the process.

"Ask your team what they prefer not only personally but work-wise as well," Herran said. "Take a look at your systems, work styles, collaboration needs, etc. Tailor it to the persons and teams. Your team can probably put together a very workable remote policy that you can approve instead of create."

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