Canadian online estate planning company Willful is making its remote-working policy permanent and allowing employees to work from anywhere they choose.
The employer reopened its Toronto office earlier this year, inviting staff to go in on a voluntary basis. However, the space was under-utilized and wasn’t worth the cost of keeping it open, says Erin Bury, Willful’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “When someone did go into the office, we joked that it was a $2,000 co-working day. We ended up subleasing the space . . . in May [and] we’ve been fully remote since.”
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Willful’s employees were located throughout the Greater Toronto Area, but when the crisis hit, some moved to other places, such as Windsor, Ont. Indeed, Bury and her husband, co-founder of the company, moved to Prince Edward County, Ont. during that time and they hired remote staff in Sackville, N.B. as well as Vancouver and Calgary.
To ensure the move to fully remote working is successful, Bury re-evaluated and adapted the company’s remote working policy across the board because it didn’t make sense to impose a regular workday in Eastern Standard Time. The company’s core hours policy requires employees to be online between noon and 4 p.m. EST, which is when all company-wide events, lunch and learns and team meetings are held.
“Outside of those hours, people can work whenever they want,” she says. “We have employees who will get up early and work and then take their kids to school, workout and come back online. Some people like working at night, after 7 p.m. The policy really just gives employees the autonomy to work in whatever schedule is conducive to them.”
Bury says employees are still expected to work a full workweek, but the organization isn’t prescriptive about how many hours that is. “If you work 35 hours and you get everything done — that’s great. We pay for people’s output, not for their time.”
Willful is also allowing staff to work from anywhere in the world, says Bury, noting she has also taken advantage of this perk by working while travelling with her husband and daughter in Europe. Since the biggest challenge during the trip was working in different time zones, she reminds employees to consider that factor when choosing a destination. “If you’re able to do your work from your home office, why not from another location? We’ve tried to be flexible and take a common-sense approach . . . to virtual work.”
Bury acknowledges many employers have a fear around giving autonomy to their employees because they’re worried they’re going to take advantage. “But if you create a culture of accountability with clear expectations and output, I don’t think you’ll have that issue because it’s very easy to see when someone isn’t pulling their weight. Part of this is just rejecting the way it’s always been.”
To ensure the work is still getting done and employees are on track to meet their goals, Willful uses a goal-setting operating system. “We create very clear company, team and individual goals so everyone knows if [someone isn’t] getting [their] work done.”
Remote working places the onus on the employee to set boundaries and manage their schedule, says Bury, noting while some workers may dislike this arrangement because they prefer to know how their day is structured, many others — especially Willful’s employees — love the autonomy to work when it suits them.
In addition, the organization has never had more job applicants because candidates are learning about its remote-working policy, which is exactly what workers are seeking, she adds. “I worry for companies that have very antiquated in-person, mandatory office policies that they’re just not going to have a solid pipeline of talent.”