One of the great pleasures of being onsite during the Inside Self-Storage World Expo each year is reuniting with my immediate and extended ISS colleagues. The nucleus of the brand is a small, diligent team that keeps the media side of the business churning, which then expands for the planning and execution of the tradeshow. The latter is an all-hands-on-deck affair that even includes participation from peripheral divisions within our organization as well as vital vendor partners.
With most of the core team working remotely across multiple states throughout the year, it’s a treat to come together in person for the show. Though we’re in regular communication 12 months out of the year via email and Teams, it’s difficult to duplicate the immediacy of being face to face as well as the unique energy and camaraderie that comes with human interaction.
Telecommuting was part of our model prior to COVID-19, so the work dynamic hasn’t changed much through the pandemic. I suspect that isn’t true for many self-storage operators who quickly adopted aspects of remote working to fight through pandemic-induced disruptions and have since stayed the course. As more operators leverage the efficiencies of technology, team dynamics are changing alongside new roles, duties and responsibilities.
In many cases, facility managers have shifted from singular onsite roles to become centralized call centers and/or oversee multiple properties across a small, local footprint. Automation offers tremendous customer conveniences and allows operators to cut costs and run lean, but it’s critical owners and staff stay diligent in maintaining a team atmosphere.
Having worked remotely for much of the last 20 years, I can tell you that while there are tremendous benefits from the flexibility, it takes adjustment. Working alone can create a silo mentality that without the reinforcement and contact from a group dynamic can feed on itself. For some, it can be disorienting or even alienating.
Existing staffs that have pivoted to a remote environment have the luxury of knowing each other’s personalities and work habits. This is helpful, particularly when the bulk of communication suddenly comes via the written word vs. phone calls or in-person conversations. Email is fantastic, but it’s also largely void of tone and tenor, which means messaging can easily be misinterpreted by recipients who are trying to hear vocal inflections in what they’re reading.
This is true for those who know each other, so imagine how much more difficult it is for new remote hires who don’t have past interpersonal experiences with co-workers and superiors to lean on. For many self-storage operators going forward, I suspect that changes to onboarding/orientation will be among the biggest challenges brought by the increased adoption of virtual working models.
Getting new employees off on the right foot and effectively assimilating them into your work culture are key aspects to long-term success and staff satisfaction. This also holds true for the value of initial and ongoing training, which is why continuing to foster teamwork is essential to staff morale, productivity and retention when shifting remotely or launching as a virtual operation.
I have no doubt that technology will continue to evolve and ultimately aid in helping owners and staff bridge the disconnects that can accompany remote work, but in the meantime, it makes sense to leverage modern collaborative tools where possible and commit to measures that bring staff members together.
There is great benefit from working with other team members to solve problems or complete projects. There is real value in hearing each other’s voices and occasionally seeing faces via tools like Teams and Zoom. While remote staff require organizational trust to work independently, maintaining regular touchpoints is key to keeping the connective tissue healthy, building team chemistry and moving all together in the same direction, with common purpose.
That’s what makes those times when you do meet in person special. There is something extra galvanizing when you come together after a long time apart. Heck, it might even help make a site audit feel celebratory rather than invasive.
You don’t have to work in a physical office to work well cohesively, but none of it is possible without a commitment to teamwork.