Catherine Toth Fox: Who Needs An Office When You Can Work From Home? - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

It’s been two years and five months since I packed up a few things from my office — mainly a few folders of notes and a half-eaten bag of Hershey’s Kisses — and headed home to “work remote.”

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Not that we really knew what that meant back then — or how long we would actually be working from home. (We had planned for two months and thought even that may have been an overestimation.)

And you would think, after a couple of years, we would have figured out how to do this. And our employers would have, too.

A lot of us are still slogging away from makeshift home offices — cluttered dining room tables, kitchen counters, unmade beds or anywhere with free Wi-Fi — still struggling to manage our time and collaborate with our co-workers, some of whom we’ve never met in real life.

And remember when we thought working from home meant more time with our families, more time for housework, more time to eat healthy and exercise? Better work-life balance? Hah!

So what is going on?

My guess is we — including our employers — haven’t fully committed to this remote-work reality. Many of us are still asking our bosses when we’ll be reporting back to the office. We still haven’t figured out how to retrieve voicemails from our work phones. We refuse to pick up the mail that’s stacked up on our desks or clean out the fridge. (Hopefully someone already did that.) We haven’t upgraded our Wi-Fi at home or backed up our computers to an external hard drive. We still don’t own a printer.

We haven’t committed. And maybe it’s because our companies haven’t, either.

According to a survey by the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, about 42% of private sector payroll employees were working remotely as of August. And of the companies offering remote work, 65.7% indicated they would continue to do so post-pandemic.

While the survey found the benefits of remote work included employee satisfaction and reduced operational costs, companies cited many concerns, too, like difficulty in teamwork and challenges monitoring and supervising remote workers. (We all have that one co-worker who can never seem to make Zoom meetings at 10 a.m.)

The author has a sweet setup at her home office. Catherine Toth Fox/Civil Beat

But how many of these companies are really creating an environment that supports working from home, that helps us create collaborative relationships with our co-workers? You can’t just assume people know how to use new tools like Google Chat and Slack. You can’t assume everyone has enough space for a home office. (One of my co-workers had to take meetings in the bathroom because he shared a studio apartment with his girlfriend, who also worked from home.)

And you can’t expect workers to know how to manage their time. Coming into a physical office space created a structure for many of us. We had to be at work at a certain time, we had a dedicated space to do our jobs, we had computers, ergonomic chairs, copy machines and IT support. At home, it’s like “Naked and Afraid” — but without so many insects.

But there are Hawaii companies that are focused on providing that supportive environment for their remote workers, offering monthly stipends for office expenses or funding employee get-togethers to foster improved collaboration. And they’re seeing positive results — growth, productivity, happy workers.

At the tech-based RVCM, only about 15 of its 120 employees are working regularly in its Honolulu office — and on a volunteer basis. Prior to the pandemic, the entire staff worked in the office during normal business hours. That all changed very quickly.

President Brett Kimura says the company came up with its remote work strategy based on a simple fact: Everyone has different needs and situations. New employees get a company-issued laptop of their choice and $1,000 to set up their workspaces at home. They can buy what makes the most sense for their situation.

After their first year, all employees receive $500 a year to buy whatever they need — office supplies, upgrades, new coffee machines — no questions asked.

The company also improved its onboarding process, ensuring employees are properly trained and comfortable. And it’s always looking for opportunities to create fun events — not “forced fun,” Kimura says — that fosters relationships among employees.

For example, it took its annual chicken nugget eating contest virtual during the pandemic — the winner wolfed 69 nuggets in 60 minutes, with the company sending food via Uber Eats to anyone who wanted to participate — and supported employees who wanted to create an online auction with proceeds benefiting local nonprofits during Thanksgiving.

It even flew in its mainland workers (plus one!) to Hawaii, put them up in hotels and organized a fun couple of days for everyone. (Hawaii workers will get to fly to a mainland locale next year.)

“What I’ve learned is that every employee is at a different point in their career and has a different situation,” Kimura says.

“In this environment, it’s our job as part of the leadership team to make sure people are comfortable and have the right tools to be successful, and that’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. We take a lot of risk hiring people we’ve never met before, but they’re taking a risk working for us, too.”

He had me at chicken nuggets.

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About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

The more people work from home lessens the traffic and saves money in smaller work spaces outside the home. They can monitor sick school children etc. etc. etc.!

Richard · 5 months ago

I've worked "at home," self-employed, or otherwise unsupervised for much of my 50 year career. I am self-propelled, self-driven, and don't need anyone checking on me to see whether my work is being done and that I am giving every minute I claim on my time card. Often my own work setup far surpasses anything provided for me at my official office, making me far more efficient when working remote. And shouldn't I be paid more for being more efficient, and completing any assigned work faster than expected? Why not? When self-employed, I charge the quoted and accepted price, no matter how fast or slow I complete the work. I can assure you, I rarely take longer than estimated to complete any task. Generally, I can complete any given task in a fraction of the allotted time, all without anyone looking over my shoulder to "manage" me.I absolutely thrive and outperform when teleworking.

zztype · 5 months ago

WAIT! We can't allow people to work from home! Who's gonna ride the SnailRail???

takoeye373 · 5 months ago

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