Working remotely, successfully

After a month of quarantine under the pall of COVID-19, corporate leaders can take an objective look at how their companies are faring remotely.

What makes working remotely successful? Companies that invested in the ability for teams to work remotely prior to this pandemic have an edge. Perhaps they already had in place a designated, ongoing channel of communication from leadership to the workforce, via email at least but preferably on audio or video platforms. The last thing a company wants is for its offsite staff to feel disengaged, or worse, ignored. Employees should feel that the company cares about them, especially at this time of heightened uncertainty.

Data sharing is essential, as is goal setting and a regular, structured method of communication. In my own companies, I am finding that productivity from the C-suite to midlevel management has improved since early March, when we first implemented steps to work remotely. It took time to find the rhythm of working from home. Now, I see my employees working longer hours and being more productive.

As part of our remote structure, I implemented a twice-daily standup meeting, and encourage employees to start with a morning agenda and update each other throughout the day, which I find dramatically increases productivity. We end the week with a wrapup and go over the following week’s priorities.

During client meetings, employees should turn on video so that clients can see that they are engaged throughout the meeting. Looking presentable, even a little polished, for video meetings is crucial — employees should dress as if they are at the office.

As an aside, I advise employees to make themselves invaluable. Showing initiative, asking for extra work or projects, and of course submitting high-quality work in a timely manner will reflect well should there come a time that employers must make difficult decisions about layoffs.

Working successfully from home requires discipline. Employees should create a quiet space where they can work each day, as opposed to moving from room to room which can be distracting and disruptive. Their routine should include set hours, fresh air and exercise, and plenty of sleep, along with regular breaks to avoid eyestrain by staring at a screen too long and to maintain a clear head. A work-life balance to reduce stress is essential.

Still, we as a society should be wary of the downside of working from home: its negative psychological effect. We are social beings, and working remotely, if we aren’t used to it — especially for those of us who live alone — can be difficult and detrimental emotionally.  

There are other, unexpected negative consequences of this crisis; one is that many businesses will discover that, in reality, they can succeed through working remotely. This success is a double-edged sword, meaning that if a business can thrive with employees working offsite, then commercial real estate suffers. When companies no longer require brick-and-mortar locations, a local domino effect ensues. Ancillary businesses, from cafés to gyms to print shops around the commercial office environment, will subsequently close. The ripples will be felt through many other industries, including construction, transportation, energy, and retail.

Many families already are under great financial strain. In my own companies, I have implemented a policy to address financial security and am providing a benefit to my employees who are ill from the virus — something I urge other corporations to consider.

Most importantly, leadership should take social isolation seriously and not attempt to circumvent state mandates by requiring that nonessential workers leave home, or by having employees return to work too early. Our employees are our most important asset, and we must protect them, along with our local emergency responders and health practitioners, to the best of our ability.

Jim White, PhD, is chairman and CEO of Post Harvest Technologies Inc. and Growers Ice Company Inc., founder and CEO of PHT Opportunity Fund LP, and founder and president of JL White International LLC. His newest book is a rallying cry to investors — Opportunity Investing: How to Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds — and launched March 31, 2020.

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