By Dr. Geoff Smart
DENVER–I can smell vomit on my dress shirt as I write this essay.
Back to that in a minute.
A counterpoint is urgently needed to “We’re Kidding Ourselves That Workers Perform Well From Home.” [nytimes.com]
First, congratulations to Mr. Zavitsanos and his 89 colleagues at Houston-based Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing for powering through COVID, avoiding lay-offs, and achieving their best year, while resourcefully finding ways to work in person (e.g. plastic shields, etc.) during the pandemic. And hats off for paying out big bonuses as the firm performed above everyone’s expectations.
The heart of your story is that your colleagues returned to the office during COVID, and you attribute their presence in the office to the success the firm experienced. Founder to founder, I respect what you and your team went through, and applaud your success. It became clear that “ambitious lawyers at firms like ours simply couldn’t thrive in a virtual setting.” That’s true for your firm. But I fear that your case might scare off leaders who are considering a more flexible work arrangement for their workforces.
I offer an alternative experience to consider. There is a professional services firm which has embraced flexible and remote work before, during, and after COVID, and has achieved a similarly high level of success.
ghSMART is a management consulting firm I founded in 1995. One hundred percent of us have worked remotely since day one. Perhaps this was because as we were being founded, businesses began to embrace new technologies like mobile phones and email, which made remote work possible. Yes, we see each other and our clients in person from time to time. But we have no offices. We have 135 full-time colleagues in 12 cities in the U.S. and Europe. Everybody works from home.
We do not wonder if ambitious professionals can function with remote and flexible work.
We too achieved record revenue and profits in 2020, completing a 10-year average annual revenue growth of 21% and profit growth of 24%. We too, paid out large planned and unplanned bonuses to our colleagues last year. Client satisfaction metrics reached all-time highs. Our clients are boards and CEOs of some of the largest companies in the world, as well as private equity investors of the largest funds, not-for-profit leaders of the most impactful foundations, and government leaders.
Can a remote firm build a successful culture? In 2020, ghSMART won an award for being the #1 best management consulting firm to work for, out of over 100,000 firms, in overall employee satisfaction, according to Vault. And that’s for the second year in a row. ghSMART also has a Glassdoor culture rating of 4.9 out of 5.0, which is #1 in our industry compared with other major consulting firms.
Can a remote firm attract the best and brightest? ghSMART has on its team four New York Times bestselling authors, two Rhodes Scholars, and many of our colleagues have performed at the top of their peer groups at places like Bain, McKinsey, the Military, Goldman Sachs, and Google prior to joining ghSMART.
At 3:01pm today, I reached a natural break point in my workday.
Did I have to find a reason to linger and look busy in the office? No.
Did I have a 90-minute commute home? No. I was already home.
By giving our people (and myself) the freedom to work wherever, however they want, we avoid what Harvard Professor Ashley Whillans calls “time poverty.”
My wife and I were both planning to take our 1-year-old daughter to the doctor’s office today. But at 3:02pm, my wife told me that our dog went into cardiac arrest. Barney is fine, he recovered. But since my wife was stuck at the vet, and I was home, it was my pleasure to take our daughter to the doctor myself. I swept my giggling baby in my arms, put her in the car, and we were at the doctor’s office by 3:15pm.
As we pulled into the parking lot at the doctor’s office, my baby’s giggles had turned into a volcanic spit-up. I parked, snatched her out of her car seat with one hand, attempted to gracefully open the glove box with the other hand, and grabbed a handful of napkins to mop us both clean as I walked her into the doctor’s office.
At the moment I’m writing this piece (8:14pm), I still have my baby’s spit-up on my shirt! But I could not wait another moment to respond to Mr. Zavitsanos’ essay because the whole issue of remote work deserves another viewpoint.
It is certainly possible in a remote model to attract and retain top talent, to build a winning culture, to deliver impactful products and services to customers, and to achieve attractive financial performance.
And do you know what? I don’t even mind the state of my shirt. It makes me think about the importance of being an involved parent. Not having to choose between “work” and “life” but finding a way, through flexibility and remote work, to live one integrated life.
I’m not here to say that flexible and remote work is appropriate for all types of organizations.
But for the leaders of those organizations who are considering flexible and remote work, I say give it a chance. It means giving employees the freedom to avoid long commutes, excessive meetings, and the pressure to “look busy.” To offer increased choice means to allow people to do valuable work anytime and anywhere, which also allows them to be there for the people who matter most, to have more time to exercise and be healthy, and have time to volunteer and make a broader impact in their communities.
It’s how I choose to work and live. And I don’t think I’m the only one who values the freedom and flexibility that come with remote work.
Dr. Geoff Smart is Chairman & Founder of leadership advisory firm ghSMART, which exists to help leaders amplify their positive impact on the world.
In 2021, Vault named ghSMART the #1 best consulting firm to work for in overall colleague satisfaction (as well as client interaction and challenge). ghSMART has published four bestselling leadership books: Who: The A Method for Hiring (by Smart and Street, #1 globally in the category of “hiring”), Leadocracy: Hiring More Great Leaders (Like You) into Government (by Smart), Power Score (by Smart, Street, and Foster), and The CEO Next Door (by Botelho and Powell).