March 13, 2021 / VOLUME NO. 148
Refueling the Generator

Has remote work gone from being an employee perk to being a burden?

Like most offices in New York, $164 million Piermont Bank sent its employees home to work when Covid-19 reared its ugly head last spring. Its executive team, including founder and CEO Wendy Cai-Lee, then spent two months deliberating how to bring them back.

They returned to the office in June — even though they knew their time together would be short due to another expected wave of the virus. The de novo bank’s space was built for a growing team — perfect for social distancing. They also invested in plexiglass and air filters. 

Cai-Lee says the time was worth it. “We got three solid months,” she says. “It was tremendously helpful across the board. We got things done; we got projects kicked off. People felt good.”

Piermont’s team returned to remote work three months later, but Cai-Lee decided to leave the office open to provide employees another place to go — a vacation from their homes, if you will. 

“[N]ot everybody’s equipped to work from home,” says Cai-Lee. Some have felt isolated. She encourages managers to foster real, human connections — swapping an email exchange for a phone call or virtual meeting. 

“Everyone needs to make that extra effort to be more human,” Cai-Lee says.

Gallup found that — compared to pre-pandemic times — employees who work from home all-day, every day, are now more prone to burn out than those who work in an office at least part-time. The environment has radically shifted. They may be balancing childcare and virtual schooling with their responsibilities at work. Plus, normal social interactions — from sharing a meal in a restaurant to running into friends in the hallway at the office — have been drastically curtailed.  

This can damage our health: Stressed workers are more likely to take sick time or visit the emergency room, and feel less confident about their performance, according to Gallup.
I love working remotely. I no longer spend an hour battling traffic every day. I save money by eating out less. When the weather’s nice, I work outside. Our pandemic puppy certainly appreciates the extra attention. 

But — introvert that I am — I miss my colleagues. I miss running into our readers at Bank Director’s conferences. And it’s harder to draw the line between work and home when your office is your home. 

I recently asked Thomas Richlovsky for his thoughts about remote work. Richlovsky is a former regional bank executive who’s now the lead director at $17.7 billion, Blairsville, Georgia-based United Community Banks. He admits the experience has worked out better for his bank than he would have expected, but he also likens remote work to an emergency generator.

“You’re fine, as long as you've got enough fuel in the generator,” Richlovsky says — the “fuel” being the camaraderie that teams build naturally through in-person interactions. 

“The generator’s going to need refueling eventually.”

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