The Evolution of the “Office” Post-COVID-19
Updated: May 22, 2020
The term “office” no longer carries the same meaning for employees of The Garrett Companies based in Greenwood, Indiana. On May 14, 2020, company leaders informed employees via video conference that while the office was re-opening the following week, it now is viewed as an asset, and not a required destination. No one is expected or required to report to the office …permanently.
In March 2020, operations of business organizations across the United States were jolted into a new reality as state and local governments instituted restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. Ahead of any requirements for offices to close, The Garrett Companies took a proactive approach; they found themselves positioned well for a remote operational structure, having already implemented technology platforms to support communications and jobsite supervision. So, when the workforce based at the corporate headquarters in Greenwood, Indiana just outside Indianapolis was dispersed to set up shop from their homes on March 15th, company leadership was confident in their temporary plan. “Our systems are set up to accommodate every single HQ Team Member to work remotely,” Matt Griffin, Chief Operating Officer wrote to the workforce in an email dated March 15, 2020, “but we must work remotely with the same approach and mindset that we bring to the office.” Griffin knew the team would keep the company running during the office shutdown, but he was blown away by the tenacity and grit each person demonstrated, catapulting the company to achieve remarkable accomplishments, which led to the evolvement of a new “office” culture.
While managing a remote workforce, President & C.E.O. Eric Garrett began to observe and receive feedback about a shift in the connectivity of his teams. While a large majority of employees were based out of the corporate headquarters in Greenwood, a growing segment of the workforce was already operating in satellite locations across the United States. As a real estate developer, constructor and manager with assets in 7 states, frontline managers and regional supervisors were based across the country in Florida, Colorado, and other areas. When Eric began conducting weekly video conferences with the entire team one time per week, and Microsoft Teams became the standard for all scheduled, employees in satellite markets suddenly became equally connected; many receiving more “facetime” with their corporate office counterparts than ever before.
With new tools, procedures, and resources put into place to support the new structure, the team soon discovered new ways to connect, new efficiencies in communication, and new methods of sharing data. When the company stopped trying to replicate working from a central office, and embraced a remote mindset, a true workforce transformation began to occur. The tools that enabled such include:
A fast-tracked implementation of a new company intranet was launched within weeks of the office shutdown. This employee only portal includes a resource library, online learning courses, digital policy & procedure manuals, and a competitive continuing education “leaderboard.” This intranet (powered by Edge2Learn) made it possible to keep current team members engaged, onboard new employees to support the company’s growth, and centralize information for everyone.
Drone Deploy technology, which was already being utilized at a selection of construction sites, was fully integrated into construction operations at every jobsite. Construction Superintendents, Project Managers, and Project Engineers were trained and provided with resources to monitor all aspects of their jobsites, and online programs allowed for imagery, measurements, and progress reports to be shared with all project stakeholders on a frequent basis.
Residential locations had already been piloting Pynwheel self-guided tour technology, and the company had already invested in Matterport equipment to capture and publish 360-degree virtual tours. As leasing centers began to close to the public, leasing activity was not placed on pause for Garrett Residential communities. New procedures were quickly put into practice and remaining deployments were made to ensure that every location could continue to help customers find a new home, but in a way that eliminated person-to-person interactions at the site.
As a result of the adaptive spirit and unwavering focus demonstrated by Garrett employees, incredible returns continued to flow from the Garrett project pipeline. The company successfully completed a record-breaking disposition of a real estate asset, which generated profits for partners and investors. Due to the proactive approach and frequent communications Garrett Co provided to their investors, 2 new properties were put under contract, and 2 new land closings / construction starts occurred. The residential management arm of the company dramatically increased in reach by launching two new lease up campaigns in Colorado and Indiana, and by acquiring management of a stabilized asset in Texas. The workforce grew by hiring 20 new team members between March 15th and May 15th, and in addition the 2020 Internship program moved ahead as originally planned with the largest class of participants to date. Construction supervisors, with simple yet effective jobsite management changes, were able to keep work moving ahead, which kept delivery schedules on track. “We haven’t missed a beat,” explained Garrett, when asked about the company’s progress during COVID. “Hat’s off to the entire team for keeping this company alive and thriving.”
As municipalities began to loosen restrictions and allow businesses to reopen, Griffin sought feedback from team members in different departments and roles. “My first instinct was to adopt a similar strategy to other businesses and phase our opening on a schedule toward an eventual return to exactly where we were before COVID-19.” After hearing from several team members about the increase in connectivity, and the bonds of trust that have been strengthened, Griffin introduced a phased strategy towards a new workplace guideline on a video conference via Microsoft Teams on May 14th. Griffin praised the team by stating, “With foresight, and a little luck, we have been able to navigate these weeks with success, and positive energy. During these weeks we have discovered new efficiencies across all teams. Contrary to what many would expect, this new work style has connected us in ways we never expected.” Griffin shared details on new protocol that would be implemented, some temporary, some permanent to help limit spread of illness. But what employees were pleasantly surprised to hear was a new plan for use of office space. All HQ reporting staff are no longer required, or expected, to be physically in the HQ building from 8 am to 5 pm. Individuals are free to use the office as an asset in any way needed to accomplish their missions. It is to be used as much, or as little, as needed.
Garrett Companies leaders think the implications of this mindset shift will bring new opportunities and efficiency at every level. It will allow individuals yet another tool to better balance their lives, and the ability to adapt a working style that best suits them. This move will also enable us to recruit team members in any market and will give our local team members the ability to relocate as well.
As The Garrett Companies creates their “new normal,” many outsiders may ask if the company can sustain long term productivity with a remote workforce. Griffin displays complete confidence and trust in his team that they will adopt a strategy that is the appropriate fit for each individual. He urged teams to remember, “This mindset will take the same discipline that we have all displayed during the past few weeks. It is your individual responsibility to meet your goals and accomplish your work. Note that when you are not physically seeing your team, your results will speak the loudest.” In addition, the company has no plans to sway from some of the perks that come with being present at the corporate headquarters. Anna Larson, Communications Manager shared, “We will still have Yoga on Thursdays. We will still have Haircuts, Massages, Oil Changes, Cook-offs, and Summer Fridays on a regular basis. Employees can still work out in our gym, and we will eventually be able to gather for special activities in our Collaborative space. We won't stop doing any of the things that we know our employees appreciate (yes – we will still do our annual full team ski retreat!). However, we are now giving them the flexibility to choose to be in the office for these activities, and to choose to work remotely when it makes more sense for them."