Who pays for what? Companies manage the new cost of doing (hybrid) business
In the midst of managing a newly configured hybrid workforce at a full-service creative agency, Marcus Fischer, CEO of Carmichael Lynch, is learning woodworking so he can build a coffee table.
"It's below shop-class level, but when you've spent an entire day in front of a computer, it's nice to work with your hands," he said.
Fischer is taking advantage of a subscription to Skillshare that Carmichael Lynch — no. 27 on the Top Workplaces midsize list — purchased for its 331 employees. The platform offers an eclectic selection of video tutorials and courses focused on trying creative activities and initiating hobbies.
"During these past two years, home and work life have so blurred. Part of our responsibility is to show up for our people and extend some balance into their world," Fischer said.
In the pre-pandemic era when most workers made a daily trek to a defined space, the costs and expenses that companies shouldered were fairly well-defined. Sure, some offered more (and better) snacks and free coffee, but the cost of maintaining everything between the four walls was regarded as the responsibility of the employer.
Although many months have passed since workers were sent home to toil in their basements and dining rooms, many employers and their teams are still figuring out how to fairly manage the cost of doing business for hybrid and remote work.
Now running Carmichael Lynch mostly from a guest bedroom in his Minnetonka home instead of the agency's downtown Minneapolis digs, Fischer said he's proud that the agency has seen no drop in productivity despite the disruptions that unraveled expectations about where work is conducted.
"Ours is a business entirely based on our people. The better they are, the better the work product," he said. "But we miss each other. Those happy accidents of inspiration when people connect in the hall are hard to recreate when we're spread out."
Carmichael Lynch provides computers, upgraded software and videoconferencing packages and IT support for its far-flung team. The agency has allowed staff to retrieve their office chairs, with Fischer noting that "you miss that back support after a few hours in a kitchen chair." Newly hired remote workers get a $200 stipend for whatever they need to customize their home setup.
Acknowledging demands that surface on the domestic front, the agency also invested in family care benefits. It provides 10 days of backup care for employees' children or elders, or adults with special needs that they care for. Carmichael Lynch's team can also access a premium membership to Care.com, a service that connects to caregivers.
As a gesture of outreach, the agency has sent out several rounds of care packages, including branded company merchandise, food gift cards, small succulent plants for workspaces and items sourced from local small businesses.
With some longtime workers now relocated to outstate communities and some new recruits never moving to Minnesota at all, Fischer admits that Carmichael Lynch is still working on how to fairly reimburse workers who occupy space differently than in the past.
"We talk about building our culture as an investment and not an expense," he said. "Management books are all written in past tense. We have to figure this out as we go. As one of our clients said, this is the first pandemic for all of us."
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis writer.