BlogsCreating a Successful Remote Workforce

August 31, 2017, by Ryan Miller

I had the pleasure of speaking with Cynthia Baca, Human Resources Director at H Hendy Associates, about their remote workforce philosophy. She was kind enough to share why they did it and some reasons it’s been successful. I thought it would be beneficial for our audience of HR professionals to hear from a peer as to why you may want to consider something similar for your workforce.

Below is an edited transcription of our conversation.

Ryan Miller: What has utilizing a remote work force done for your organization?

Cynthia Baca: So it’s worked really, really well. I think that…one of the key things for someone to know when they’re working from home is that you have to have really good communication. And that’s what makes it work.

Ryan: So explain that a little bit. Is that tools that you’ve put into place? Is that just a lot of training on the front end? How do you lead somebody down that path? Because clearly everybody thinks in their head that they would just love to work from home, but actually getting that to take place has got to be a pretty big undertaking when you’re onboarding them.

Cynthia: Yeah, and it doesn’t always work for everyone. A lot of it has to do with personality types, too, but I think you can work around that if put in the right protocols. So one of the things that we talk to our employees that work remotely…we have two employees that work completely remotely because they’re in different states. We have one employee in Pennsylvania and we have one employee in Colorado that are out-of-state employees. (There are) a few factors. Number one, you’re right, the technology has to be there. So we set them up with a telephone at their home office so that they’re completely plugged in as far as the telephone goes. So, for instance, for me, if you called our main number, the receptionist would put you through to me, and you would have no idea that I’m at home. The call just comes directly to me. Also, if I need to speak to someone in the office, I just press their extension. I don’t have to call the main switch board. It’s just like I’m in the office.

Ryan: Wow, really!

Cynthia: If I want to speak to the employee at (extension number), I push (extension number). If he doesn’t answer and his DND (do not disturb) doesn’t tell me he’s out at a meeting, I can page him. I page him. “Hey, John, please dial extension (extension number).” John’s in the lunchroom, he dials (extension number), I let him know what I need.

Ryan: That’s pretty impressive.

Cynthia: Yeah, so technology is key as far as the communication goes. We’ve tried a variety of different types of technology but I’m really not the right person to talk to as far as the technology goes. I have a laptop and I log onto a computer at the office. So when the employees send me work… we have copiers that, if they send me red lines or anything like that, they just scan it to me and it comes right into my email, and…at home I pull it up on my second monitor and I can see, “Oh, they need me to go and do this or that or whatever.” And then I just do whatever they need me to do and I can print it to any printer in the office and just email them or call them and say, “Hey, it’s on printer number four.”

Ryan: Is there any frustration for you in lag time or do you feel like it takes a while for you to get into the computer and get going? Or, no, it feels like you’re sitting at your desk in the office.

Cynthia: It feels like I’m sitting at my desk in the office.

Ryan: That’s wonderful, so then I’m sure there is a lot of focus there on making sure you have the right technology in place, not just that it connects.

Cynthia: Yeah, and the only time we have an issue is if there’s an issue with the internet, either in the Newport Beach office or me personally. So you have to have really good internet connection. And that does happen sometimes. It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, my internet will go down at home. Maybe the whole block’s out for some reason.

Ryan: When you want to go to Disneyland for the day or something and the internet’s bad…

Cynthia: (laughing) Just all of a sudden. I don’t know what happened. I just don’t post those photos on social media.

Ryan: That is too funny. So, for you, that’s really got to make you…I mean it sounds like you love the company. Obviously, you’ve been there a long time. You went back to work there. As an employee, and maybe for some of your other employees that have commented in the same way, it’s got to be a big draw for wanting to stay there, versus just being recruited away by the next best thing, because you have that flexibility. Do you feel that way?

Cynthia: I think that…yes, I do. Because we even have…I don’t know if you saw on LinkedIn, but we’ve won “Best Places to Work in Orange County,” I want to say five years. We’ve just won for the first time “Top Places in Orange County,” which is another award for having a great place to work, or being a great place to work. So I think a lot of that is…I think one of the reasons our employees give us such high marks is because we are flexible. We have half-day Fridays, so if you work nine hours a day Monday through Thursday, on Friday you get off at noon.

Ryan: Is that year-round?

Cynthia: That’s year-round. But we’re not rigid, so if you’re… We have one employee who is an instructor. He teaches this software called Revit at one of the colleges, and so he really can’t participate in that because he can’t work nine hours a day because he has to go two days a week or three days a week to teach these classes. So for him, during school, when school’s in session, he works Monday through Friday, eight hours a day. I said to him when he started - which he’s not even been with us a year yet - when he started I said, “Well, just do eight hours a day Monday through Friday, and in the summer, when you don’t have to teach, then do it.” So I think we’re really flexible and I think that’s a big draw for our employees.

Ryan: So, if you had one downfall/pitfall in relation to that same kind of remote working environment, what do you think that would be?\

Cynthia: Well, I think the only pitfall we’ve seen and we’ve been able to correct is, like I said, the communication. So if you’re an employee that’s working remotely, you can’t just go outside and talk to your gardener for 30 minutes without letting the receptionist know that you have to step out for 30 minutes, without putting your “do not disturb” on or sending your team an email saying, “Hey, I’m not gonna be in the office from 11-11:30.” So that you don’t have three people calling you and they’re like, “Where is she? Where did she go?” And if you’re not really proactive in your communication, what happens is your team ends up losing trust because they call you and you’re not there. It’s different when you’re in the office. You can be away from your desk for an hour and people think differently.

Ryan: Because they know you’re somewhere in the office?

Cynthia: They know I’m somewhere in the office. But when they can’t see you and you’re working from home, you have to be able… Like, if I’m working on a deadline, say, with two managers in the office, I make sure I let them know, “Hey, I’m leaving for lunch now. I’ll be back at 1 pm.” Really, I think that’s one of the most important things.

Ryan: Interesting.  So when you… I’m kind of jumping around a little bit, but this just got me on this train of thought. So when you’re hiring, you talked a lot about personality, do you guys use any kind of assessment? Whether it’s StrengthsFinder, Kolbe, or Myers-Briggs, anything to kind of pick out some of those things or detect that ahead of time?

Cynthia: We have not really used them for that purpose, though I think probably what’s going to happen is the more we start to hire people that are just working from home, I think that that’s something that we will start to utilize. We actually just used StrengthsFinder… four months ago? But it wasn’t necessarily for that purpose. It wasn’t to vet out whether you would be good at working at home or not.

Ryan: That was just for personal development of employees?

Cynthia: Right.

Ryan: Yeah, we use it here as well. Actually, we technically do a three-interview process. At the end of that first interview, if we think we’re going to invite them back for a second, they take the StrengthsFinder. That way we get a little bit of an idea of some of their strengths for hiring. We also have a coach for every one of our employees and the coach is uses the StrengthsFinder for the employee’s development both personally and professionally.

Cynthia: That’s awesome.

Ryan: It’s been a great tool for us.

Cynthia: I just went to a seminar on StrengthsFinder not very long ago, and yeah, I think it’s a great tool. We have a five-hour interviewing process. We don’t hire anybody unless we’ve met with them for five hours. Not at once, but total.

Ryan: That’s pretty in-depth. But I mean…I used to work in the building industry so I’ve been very familiar with you guys as a brand for a long time, and so I know that you’ve always commanded kind of that upper echelon. So, I mean, that makes sense that you really want to make sure you’re getting the right people and the best people in there if you’re going to continue to produce the work that you guys have.

Ryan: Okay, and then my final question unless you have anything else you would recommend to an HR peer that was considering stepping into some sort of remote work environment. What are two or three things that you would recommend as “have to do’s” or “need to do’s” as they begin to step into that position?

Cynthia: For employee or employer?

Ryan: Employer. For somebody like you – I mean, our clients are typically Director of HR, VP of HR. So what would you recommend to them?

Cynthia: I would say, number one, that they would have to have, and I actually think this is really important, I think that they have to have the right technology. And unfortunately, I can’t speak to you as to what that is, but I know that if you don’t have the right technology, it will get frustrating really fast for both employer and employee. And then…and by technology I mean, the software, the hardware, including the telephone system. And then I would say, secondly, which I know is why I’ve been so successful at it, is the proactive communication is very important.

Ryan: It sounds like that’s really key for you guys.

Cynthia: And I think also, and I think this probably goes without saying, is you have to have someone who works well independently.

Ryan: Yeah, which is hard. I mean, you’ve alluded to it a little bit, but you’ve got to know because you could make a mistake and you could end up spending a lot of money on somebody that’s really unproductive.

Cynthia: You know, I did want to mention one other thing, too…it’s not as important as technology obviously, but I think another thing we really try to do with our remote employees, especially the ones that are out of state, is to bring them into the office at least once a year. Just because it’s very easy to feel disconnected and not part of the culture when you’re working in a different state. So I think it’s important to set up, within the organization set up some type of timeline, whether it be quarterly, whether it be every six months where that employee is coming in for, say, a week, and that way they actually get to meet… in person they get to meet whatever new employees have been hired. Really, it keeps them connected. When we have staff meetings, we try to remote our employees in so they can kind of hear it and see it through Skype or something like that. And then we’ll PDF the presentation to them, just try to keep them in the loop as much as possible. I don’t necessarily have that issue because I’m in once a week, but I know with our employees that are in other states…that’s our biggest struggle.

Ryan: Is keeping them engaged in the culture?

Cynthia: Yes, finding a way to keep them engaged in the culture and feeling like they’re part of the team.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s got to be really hard on both sides. You want to serve that well as a company, then the employees, too, they want to feel like they are part of something bigger than just banging out drawings and being on a keyboard all day.

Cynthia: Exactly.

Ryan: Well Cindy, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your time today and I commend the success you’ve had, not only with creating a successful remote working environment, but in having such a successful and prominent architecture firm in Orange County.

For more information on Cynthia Baca and H Hendy Associates, follow the links below.
Cynthia Baca LinkedIn
H Hendy Associates Website

If you have any questions about this interview or how Centennial helps companies provide the best human capital solutions for Southern California companies, feel free to contact Ryan Miller at (949) 520-1517 or rmiller@thecentennial.com.