As Seen in The Oklahoman: How Teams Can Succeed Without Always Sharing a Physical Workspace

By: Heath Clinton, Guest Columnist

Aug. 19, 2023

Many businesses and industries are struggling with a big question these days: Should employers require employees to be in the office full time?

When organizations decide the answer is yes, they often find resistance, and an exodus of high-quality talent willing to change jobs to protect their flexibility.

Some people see this as workers being weak or entitled. I have another view: High-performing employees want to feel trusted, and they don’t have to be in a cubicle 40 hours a week to earn that trust.

In our company, we’ve learned teams can succeed without sharing a physical workspace most days, and many people are more productive and happier when they don’t have to manage a commute.

With employees among multiple states, keeping everyone connected requires effort. We use Slack to communicate all day long, even with people in the next office — yes, some people still prefer to drive in. This constant communication improves our daily work and strengthens our culture.

Our office stays open with a plug-and-work model for folks who like dropping in to work, and who most commonly attend meetings in person. A favorite time to gather is at our monthly company meetings that draw a majority of the company. They are a great checkpoint that provides collaboration throughout the team.

Since we also have found that people form bonds differently when they share space, we continue to create additional opportunities to get together. Twice a year, we bring the entire company together for a two-day summit, including our holiday party with spouses and significant others. We embrace flexible work while understanding the power of connecting in person.

Yes, these trips are an expense; we see them as investments. The culture we build in just a few days pays dividends throughout the year. We learn more about each other, and we do better work when we are in our homes or favorite coffee shops.

This all matters because employers are fighting to retain top talent. The best technology talent in Oklahoma can find highly compensated positions across the country (literally in a day) if they aren’t satisfied with their local work environment.

My main takeaway from the last few years of change is simple: People want to feel trusted. When we say, “I know you will do your job and keep your team in the loop, wherever you are,” they feel valued. It’s basic human nature to stay where we are appreciated.

Success in this new model requires diligence in hiring, as well as clear, consistent expectations.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, and what works for one organization might not work for others in different industries. For us, autonomy wins — we treat everyone as an adult and that standard has delivered us to where we are today.

Leaders who trust their people — and who act thoughtfully in a changed environment — will be the new model for success.

Heath Clinton is the president and CEO of Phase 2.

Featured in The Oklahoman. For more about Phase 2’s company and culture, click here.