The COVID-19 pandemic had a way of shifting the way we work seemingly overnight.
While the rumored “back-to-the-office” shift slowly appears to be happening, nearly two years later, some businesses have opted to altogether reinvent the way they work.
That’s exactly what Tampa-based staffing services and solutions firm Kforce has done with their move to the “office occasional” model. From the outside, the plan appeared extreme: Kforce announced it would sell its corporate headquarters in Ybor City early last year and leased the fifth floor of an office building in midtown Tampa. It was a major reduction in office space: from roughly 130,000 square feet to less than 23,000.
But that move really represented the hybrid model of working: With this new office-occasional model, an employee can work the majority of the time outside of the office, free of “chained-to-the-desk” mandates. The office could now be a gathering space for training, meetings or events, not necessarily for daily work.
The decision was set in motion almost as soon as the pandemic hit. Even that early on, it was clear to president and CEO Joseph Liberatore that something had to change.
“We turned the entire company remote in 24 hours,” Liberatore said. “What we immediately experienced was that our people were very receptive to figuring things out. Literally 30 days in, we could tell the where and how of work was going to change forever.
The company sent out pulse surveys to take the temperature of their employees — early on, roughly 80 percent said they were “very comfortable” working remotely and didn’t have a desire to return to the office, Liberatore said. Even though those early surveys were informed in part by the safety issues of in-person work with COVID-19, that appetite for remote work continued, driven in large part by employees who now wanted to retain their newfound work-life balance.
The numbers truly drove Kforce leaders to pursue office occasional. Employee productivity is up 30 percent from before the pandemic, according to Liberatore. In 2021, Kforce earned a record high of almost $1.6 billion in revenue. Those data points solidified to company leaders that remote work not only was possible — it was allowing their employees to thrive.
“I think we definitely earned it,” said Toni Helton, a senior IT recruiter at Kforce. “The numbers show that as a company we produced. This was something we didn’t know we wanted at the time, but we stepped up and we produced.”
Helton said that now, but she was initially a bit hesitant to go remote when the pandemic fhit. As an extrovert used to engaging work environments, she wondered how the shift to an isolated setup — her, a computer and a desk — would go.
But that fear quickly became unfounded — plus, there was no more fighting through the daily Oldsmar-to-Tampa commute or rushing to pick up her child on time.
“I perform better while I’m working and I perform better as a parent,” Helton said. “That quality of life as an employee and as a parent has made a major difference.”
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Still, a flexible work schedule does not mean one devoid of routine, according to Crystal Early, senior director of communications and recognition. She makes sure she wakes up early — before her children are awake — to get in some quiet thinking time and a chance to prepare for the day.
Helton’s version includes a home gym she created, including her Peloton and weight lifting equipment. She takes her lunch hour to use her garage gym.
In a 9-to-5 office world, finding moments to back away from the work day would have been almost impossible. In this new model, that no longer is the case. Liberatore sees this as ushering in a completely new era in our history — there was the agricultural era and the information era. Now, we’re in something completely different.
“Even when people are going to the office, it’s not going to be that traditional 8-to-5 grind,” Liberatore said. “It’s really giving people flexibility and choice and it’s really empowered through trust and technology.”
From a new-employee standpoint, the hybrid work model is a major draw, Early said. It works for her as well — she’s able to hire people from all over the country.
“It has been a huge selling point for Kforce,” Early said. “A lot of what I’ve heard throughout interviews talking to potential candidates is that they’re very interested in working remotely and the office-occasional work model that we have.”
Still, all of this can be tweaked and changed as Kforce finalizes things on the ground. Their new offices already are more dynamic, Liberatore said, likening the interiors to a “Starbucks feel.” But this is just the beginning.
“We’re going to continue to evolve,” Liberatore said. “This is going to be an ongoing effort to consistently refine and really automate more and more of our processes so that they are technology-friendly.”
Staffing services firm
Employee comments: “Everyone wants you to succeed in this job. No one leaves another hanging. The support has help me so much in my training. I am so happy to be apart of such an amazing company and team.”
“I do feel as though I am appreciated as an employee. I love the members of my team, and I love the work I do.”
“Kforce has a great culture that is focused on employees being the most important resource for the firm. The handling of the pandemic has proven it.”