As health departments around the country advocate for self-isolation and social distancing, business cultures are being tested. Like so many other industries, the professional services world is scrambling to maintain a business-as-usual mentality while functioning in a work-from-home environment. Many firms are not ready for this dramatic shift.
Jaffe has been a virtual-based agency for over 30 years. We operate nationally from 15 states and have the work-from-home concept down. Given our years of experience in navigating a virtual environment, we wanted to provide a few tips to help your firm as it closes its doors and attempts to maintain the status quo remotely.
There are some important considerations firms must take into account to make the transition to working from home easier. For example, some firms still conduct business predominantly from desktop computers. Such firms must consider moving to laptops and tablets so employees can be mobile and agile without disruptions to business. Migrating to new devices will require the input of IT, HR and legal to review policies and procedures regarding accessibility and security.
Here are a few more areas to focus on as you work toward improving or establishing your firm’s work-from-home culture.
- Be sure that all laptops, tablets and mobile devices use the firm’s preferred software programs. This will ensure adherence to fonts and other brand standards.
- To address employee technical issues, set up an IT support desk, and train staff on best practices.
- Security is a top priority. Set up a VPN, and follow all security protocols as directed by your IT personnel, including protecting laptops with strong passwords and instructing staff not to let anyone at home use the company laptop.
- Make sure everyone has high-speed internet service and a good data plan with hot spots for backup WiFi access.
- Use collaboration and screen-sharing capabilities. There are a number of services for this purpose; coordinate with your IT department to identify what works best for your firm.
- Work with IT, HR and legal to establish protocols for backing up files to company servers.
Working from home might seem glamorous, but it takes a great deal of discipline to be successful. This quality of self-discipline is one of the biggest things we focus on when hiring at Jaffe. To aid your firm in this effort, we suggest setting goals and expectations with your employees, and monitoring productivity, accessibility and responsiveness. Also, encourage your employees to not change their work routines just because they are not in the office. Maintaining routine is extremely important in promoting productivity.
Here are some additional self-discipline tips we’ve learned from our own work-from-home experience.
- Get up at your normal time, do your morning routine, get your coffee and enjoy the new (and really short) commute!
- Get dressed every day! Maybe not necessarily in a suit, but also not in sweats or T-shirts.
- Communicate often with your peers, and use an instant messaging program like Microsoft Teams so you can collaborate and communicate in groups.
- Find a quiet place to work, but avoid your bedroom and the kitchen. Ideally, designate a room or space as your office, and make sure family members understand that you’re working and shouldn’t be disturbed unless something is urgent.
- Maintain a business-as-usual attitude. Trust me, this is hard, because distraction comes easily.
- It is very easy to let “home life” take over, whether it’s handling a load of laundry, running out for a quick trip to the pharmacy, having a neighbor visit, playing with the kids or pets, or monitoring personal finances. Schedule those for before- or after- work hours, to take advantage of gained time from losing the long commute.
- Mute is your savior! Background noise can negatively affect a conference call. Trust me, there will be disruptions (doorbells will ring, dogs will bark, babies will cry, etc.), and the last thing you want is for them to affect your client interactions.
- Control the phone. Either designate your cellphone as your work contact number, or tell family members not to answer the phone. You don’t want your adorable five-year-old to pick up an important colleague, boss or client call, or a family member forget to relay a work message. And if you don’t already have voice mail, call now to add it to your phone line.
In the past, your firm may have espoused a set of brand values and promoted a unique culture. Now, all that is being put to the test. The good news is that, once the pandemic begins to recede, firm leaders will have a much-clearer perspective about what values and cultural attributes they need to be relevant to employees, communities and clients in today’s unpredictable business landscape. For example, you may say your firm prides itself on supporting the local community, but if you are not working to contribute during this time of need, are you really living out that value? This is definitely a time for some serious self-reflection so you can ensure your firm’s identity resonates with what your firm actually does.
The current situation is also an opportunity for firms to test how they function in a virtual environment. There is a possibility, for a number of reasons, that remote working might become the new normal — or at least much more prevalent — after the pandemic recedes. Firm management can take this time to gauge how well their firm operates in this type of remote set up, identify gaps and devise solutions to diminish business disruptions as much as possible.
To monitor performance and processes, management should assemble a committee with representatives from throughout the firm, including leaders from HR, marketing, IT and practice groups. This committee should then identify key performance indicators that provide a picture of how well the firm is operating in the virtual environment. A system of measurements should be established to gauge whether these performance indicators reflect success or a need for improvement. Data should be reviewed as a team, and adjustments to policies and processes should be made accordingly to improve work continuity.
Welcome to 2020
It’s a brand-new world. The situation with the coronavirus is not a fire drill, and your firm has just revealed how current (or lagging) it is in today’s business environment. Now is the time for communications, technology, collaboration and behaviors to come together to ensure productivity doesn’t take a dip. What firm leaders learn from this and how they use this information to improve their firm’s culture and technology are critical for success during these — and future — uncertain times.