As the pandemic continues to require office shutdowns and work-at-home mandates, the business community is entering a unique phase of what everyone has been referring to as the “new normal”—transitioning from wondering when we’ll all go back to the office, to giving serious consideration as to whether any of us will ever do so. I think we all need to be open to the latter, and can tell you from experience that accepting the possibility of never going back will be your first step in addressing this uncertainty with your leadership teams, and ultimately your entire employee base.
Being an Enterprise Video technology company, our team at Qumu has a distinct advantage in this regard. Our own technology has been a wonderful replacement for in-person meetings, live events and business-related travel. But that said, as a leader I know all too well that technology cannot solve everything. So today, I’ll focus more on the people side and share a few things that I’ve learned, hoping it will help other business leaders grappling with these same challenges.
Ask the team how they’re doing—and keep asking. I’ve learned from experience that you regularly need to ask your teams how it’s going, even when it appears to be going well. For example, in addition to video discussions with local teams, we conducted an anonymous survey to find out how the Qumu folks felt about work-from-home and whether we were doing enough to support them. We found that:
- The majority of our employees benefit from a significant savings of commuting time, which they now spend with their families and non-work interests. As you would expect, most of those individuals feel more productive working from home as well. And luckily, these individuals felt supported by the organization.
- Some of our employees simply do not prefer to work from home. These employees miss the office environment, the camaraderie, an occasional change of scenery and in some cases travel—and getting out of the house allows them to better focus on their work. But importantly, these individuals also felt supported.
Give guidance that clarifies. As a leader and a former first responder, I take COVID very seriously. But because everyone sees it differently, the team needs as much clarity as possible on policies and expectations. As a company, Qumu gives guidance on safe practices and our position on working remotely. We reinforce it through our leadership conversations and put a focus on keeping our employees and their families safe. We make it clear that while our decisions are based on local official recommendations, if an employee is able to work from home they absolutely should.
Meet uncertainty with commitment. Some of our employees, particularly those living alone, have already relocated to be near relatives and family members, some for their own safety and mental health, and some to help those family members. As a result, we let everyone know that we will not be returning to the office any sooner than 6 months from now—and even when we do, no employee will be required to return to their local office if not safe and practical for them. This helps them make not only short-term decisions, but also the longer-term and more financially impactful decisions surrounding housing, children, primary schools, colleges and long-term transportation.
Create virtual gatherings and surprises that keep the team connected. At Qumu we hold regular regional happy hours and all-hands coffee breaks. We also set up virtual trivia games (with cash prizes!), a beverage mixology lesson, and send surprise snack boxes to employees across the globe. I’m amazed at how smart, clever and interesting this team is, and I have to admit I’m personally getting to know individuals across the globe in casual, fun settings that I don’t always get in ‘real’ life—even when I’m in the office.
Help employees create their own productive space. A few weeks ago we decided as an executive team to grant employees a work-at-home stipend, so they could improve their home office in terms of both productivity and ergonomics. And we didn’t load them down with red tape and paperwork to put that money to work. We simply provided some guidelines, deposited the money directly into their bank accounts, and let them make their own choices.
Accepting the possibility that many may never go back to a traditional office setting has helped me as a leader meet this uncertainty head on. And embracing new ways of distributing information that allow me to communicate clearly, with confidence and in a timely manner as an important step that I recommend all of you take. In a recent Gallup poll, I read that five in ten workers don’t want to work in an office anymore. If that number pushes to six, seven or even eight, is your business ready make the transition to full virtual work? If not, I would suggest that you need to be.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you have questions about improving your ability to connect with your team in the new normal, either complete our Contact Us Form, or you can request a one-on-one meeting with me directly using the new Book Time with TJ functionality on our website. Take care.