Many of us are now working from home. Recently, there has been a multitude of webinars, blogs, and articles on topics ranging from whether we should or shouldn’t continue to do so after the pandemics ceases, how to work from home, videoconferencing tips, etc.
I have been working from home near San Diego, CA for over 20 years. ABS is headquartered in Wilmington, DE. I have done so because it is my preference. The current situation, however, has forced this on many of us. Should we continue to do so after the pandemic?
Even 20 years ago, the technology to permit employees to work outside of their corporate offices existed. Today, it is easier than ever before. Every aspect of ABS’ business operations, from accounting to client contacts, is available in real time on a secure cloud-based database. It is even easier to access this information remotely than it is to walk down a hallway. Videoconferencing is routine. This has led us, and many others to question if it is necessary for many of us to return to offices once the pandemic is over.
The answer, like most issues, is not one size fits all situations. However, there are a few questions that should be addressed:
- Can employees accomplish their key job functions remotely?
- Are all the tools to accomplish their tasks easily available at home?
- Will they or the company remain on task by not being at headquarters?
- What impact will working remotely have on the company’s culture?
- How does it impact the employee's home life?
There are clearly some jobs that cannot be done at home. Production and shipping are obvious examples. However, having remote sales or IT staff is common. The tools for remote offices, such as computers, printers, and video conferencing capabilities are readily available. The transfer of essential information is routine with a comprehensive IT system and appropriate SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures).
While our systems track and communicate nearly all essential information across the company, there are many spontaneous interactions that may be missed. Training new employees remotely is an issue that we at ABS are currently addressing. Many standardized tasks can be learned remotely. It may also be possible for new staff to shadow experienced staff with videoconferencing. We are still dealing with how to make this more effective.
We are continuing to discuss how we maintain and improve our culture under current conditions and if we should move towards more remote working. We have regular meetings to share information and foster interpersonal communications and there are short monthly company-wide updates on finances and current projects. We also have regular optional group or team virtual lunches, breakfasts, and games to foster getting to know one another. So far, much of this has been a good experience. We will continue to experiment and work together to find what may be even better and more rewarding path forward.
Lastly, working from home affects the dynamics of one’s personal life and these changes should not be taken lightly. Even though you may be working from home, home is still home. If it's possible, creating a separate office area from other areas of the home is useful in mitigating distractions and optimizing productivity. Likewise, it is possible for you to be available virtually throughout much of the day and evening, but it is not advisable to do so. I enjoy what I do and often may not follow this advice, but I do not expect our staff to always be available. That should be a choice and not a default setting. For example, I may send an email in the evening or on the weekend, but I do not expect, or even want, an immediate response. Emergencies are extremely rare and constant staff availability should not be expected. 6 AM to midnight is adequate. As the lines between where one works and lives continue to blur, it is important to protect and value each.