Leaving the Lease. A Case Study in an all Work from Home Company – GrayHair Software
Many companies have switched to a hybrid work environment with some days in the office and others work from home (WFH). But what if your company went a step further and switched to 100% WFH? How would you protect the culture? What technologies would you need? How would it affect business results?
GrayHair Software is the leading consumer and provider of postal service data. Originally Philadelphia based but now with virtual HQ in Florida, GrayHair Software recently took plunge to 100% WFH, and with positive financial and customer satisfaction results. The move took some careful planning but, according to COO Jeff Hummel, it paid off in reduced turnover, strengthened culture and improved productivity. The change was as much about company culture as anything else. And Predictive Index played a part.
Hummel recently shared with PI Midlantic some tips and best practices for moving to all WFH.
The motivation for moving to all virtual was in part the COVID pandemic, but it started prior to the pandemic when GrayHair had a few remote employees and WFH was a recruiting tool. They had the technology and etiquette in place to support remote workers. After the pandemic, the trend widened when some employees moved from Philadelphia, and WFH expanded to include them. A virtual event called “Community” featured departmental business updates but expanded to include some games and fun. A culture evolved around video interaction that included happy hours with games like Scategories, and in late October, wearing Halloween costumes, which even customers adopted.
“When it came time to renew our office lease, it became very easy for us to say, ‘let’s not do this,’ “said Hummel. In one Community meeting, lease renewal was put to a vote. Forty three of 45 employees voted not to renew the lease. To ease the transition, the company helped employees with necessary home office equipment.
Obstacles abounded but were overcome. GrayHair, a software company with banking and insurance clients, rolled out iron clad security including virtual desktop with VPN and two layers of multi factor authentication. “It’s a little overboard, but we wanted to prove to our clients their data is secure,” said Hummel. For more protection, they added weekly penetration testing and quarterly audits, and monthly security training for employees.
Other technologies were adapted including the Google Workspace, including Meet for video, and Slack. “Slack is our office,” said Hummel. A high degree of automation was added to Slack including automatic Google Meet scheduling, calendaring, security updates and training, amongst other integrations that improve teamwork.
Another obstacle was replacing human interaction. “The physical in person get together was missing,” said Hummel. To replace that, the first annual all hands meeting at a Florida resort is scheduled for next month. In between the annual get together GrayHair also has local meetups and gets the management team together from time to time. For the Annual All Hands, the tentative agenda included one afternoon of business reviews, which Hummel scratched. “This is going to be all fun,” said Hummel. All but two employees are expected to attend.
GrayHair went all virtual in March 2020 and Hummel says its working well. Employee sentiment is tracked by an employee Net Promoter Score which is in the 70s. A Bamboo software employee engagement survey generates quarterly action plans to address employee concerns. There is no desire to move back to the office.
WFH models save real estate costs, but those savings can be crushed if productivity tanks. What has been GrayHair’s experience with productivity? “We have higher than normal business volume with about half of the people we had two years ago,” said Hummel. A major factor was a shift in culture from siloed departmental competition to harmony and teamwork between teams.
There have been some surprises. “A few employees just don’t engage, and we will continue to work on why for them. It’s about figuring out what works for the individual too”. Also, the company owner changed philosophically and embraced a new culture of remote work with enhanced teamwork and communication.
The business impact has been significant. The company is now more financially secure than ever. Customer NPS scores increased from the 60s to the 80s. “Customers are astonished at how we take care of them,” said Hummel. “We have embraced the adage that if you treat your employees like gold, they will treat customers like gold.”
Hummel advises executives considering a move to all WFH should read Neil Doshi’s book, Primed to Perform – How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation. “Let your employees have fun and they will create a great customer experience.” He also advises using Predictive Index. “PI helps us to hire the right people and teaches people to work with each other. PI created a way for teams to see how they could work with each other better. It taught us how to be self-aware and combine strengths especially the Design tools,” said Hummel. PI is a must-have for any GrayHair manager. They work with their teams and review strengths, weaknesses and opportunities and the tool plays a major part of that.
He also advised executives to “Listen to your people. They won’t always give feedback face to face so get creative on how you get feedback and when you get that feedback, act on it immediately,” said Hummel. “The biggest problem companies have is trust. Having the flexibility of remote work is a whole new world. Working 8 hours a day isn’t the goal”. The result is clients are happy and productivity is higher. He doubts they will ever go back.