How To Thrive With an In-Person Team

Eight years ago, I started OpinionRoute almost as a zig to my industry’s zag. While competitors went toward automation-at-all-costs models, I set up a company that presented a return to traditional best practices coupled with great technology.

In 2021, we are repeating history with a new zig. As many companies scramble to a remote-worker bandwagon, we pivoted to hiring in-person talent from a robust Cleveland talent pool.

In the last few months, we created or relocated a dozen roles back to our downtown headquarters, making us two-thirds in-person/in-office overall.

Here’s what we did to make this possible:

1. Introduced a new mental health initiative

COVID reinforced for many Americans a real need for balanced priorities. Our employee base spans various lifestyles — young professionals exploring a new city, new parents (of both babies and pets), seasoned CYO coaches, and more. Too often, companies expect work always to supersede life. That’s not us, and that’s not what the broader Cleveland and Midwest cultures want either.

We created a program that includes four work-from-home days per month, one dedicated mental health day each month (as a PTO add-on), and introduced a new Employee Assistance Program (EAP). In effect, we offer a promise of a defined workplace supported by various tools and time to help each employee care for themselves, their families, and their communities.

2. Reviewed and adapted compensation

One of the compelling things about our region is the incredible cost-of-living value it offers, and this needs to be optimized with livable wages.

Mid-year, we instituted a $50,000 entry-level salary for all full-time employees in the company. We feel that this compensation will attract bright young minds who want to enjoy life while also contributing to a company that invests in them.

3. Commit to employee experience

Earlier this year, we set our annual plan around four key objectives for 2021. One goal was to “Make Employees’ Lives Easier.” I believe happy employees lead to happy customers.

Because we wanted to take massive action here, we allocated one-third of our technology development time to improvements that would directly save work for our employees. We paired these upgrades with employee recognition and knowledge center platforms.

Here’s why I did this:

The work-from-home movement is often perceived as employee “demands” and as a power play. To me, it always felt more like employees wanted to be treated as whole people. That aligns with our core values, but we realized we had to be more intentional and tangible with our expressions of this value.

Here’s how it’s going:

The early returns are great. We recharged our growth, seeing a 40% spike in services compared to the same time last year. Monthly SaaS subscription revenue jumped more than 500%. Our recruitment efforts attracted some exciting new hires amid a positive cultural renaissance. We onboard quickly, staff makes an impact faster, and we have a better product for clients.

Focusing on areas that matter, especially to young professionals, can foster more traditional approaches and still thrive in a modern world. Jumping on the bandwagon may be the easy way to stay afloat, but when “everyone else is doing it,” standing out as exceptional becomes a challenge.

Do not be afraid of the zig.

McCarron is the CEO and founder of Cleveland-based OpinionRoute.

Originally published in Crains Cleveland on October 17, 2021.

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