Last updated on July 2nd, 2020 at 04:35 pm
Although our company – like many – had a generous remote workplace policy, everything changed in a heartbeat. Many associates were previously taking advantage of the flexibility to take a day per week or several per month to work from a home office, but we were not prepared for the abrupt all-or-nothing circumstances precipitated by COVID-19.
At first the adoption (and risks) of technology-enabled communication, eliminating “management by walking around,” and trepidation about productivity consumed my thoughts. But to my pleasant surprise, our organization stepped up to accept the challenge and responded with enthusiasm and vigor. Admittedly, that’s how the Hamacher Resource Group team has always responded to adversity. Whether running a satellite company in England from our Milwaukee-area offices, overcoming perilous industry consolidation, adjusting to retail supply chain challenges caused by the recession of 2008, or embracing a new business opportunity or challenge by sailing unchartered waters, we’ve always adjusted and prevailed.
What did surprise me, however, are three unexpected discoveries that emerged from the work-from-home (WFH) state of affairs.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on occasional disruptions to our team’s workday (children, cats, dogs, deliveries, and doorbells). On the other hand, meetings start on time. Topics are covered without much deviation. Discussions during video conferences are centric and generally have avoided unnecessary follow-on meetings to rehash the same topics. Individuals are prepared for the call with whatever information they are able to pull together from their remote location…and decisions are often made on the spot.
I like the focus. I like the preparation. And, even if we are to return to a modified work-from-office environment, we have all learned how to stay on topic!
Video conferencing is not quite the same as a face-to-face meeting and the elimination of handshakes and high fives is difficult, yet connections are still happening each day. When you are invited into someone’s home or you invite them into yours, the conversation shifts, and the connections are more genuine. Gone are the large conference tables, swivel-back chairs, and full-wall video monitors; welcome instead dining room tables, counter-height island stools, sofas, and deck furniture. It quickly became apparent that office surroundings and meeting rooms don’t foster connections. Rather eye contact, vulnerabilities, and a shared desire to achieve something during a conference call is what matters.
Connections run the gamut from highly-intense financial reviews and sales forecasting to deeply-personal and honest exchanges about feelings, family, and health. From all facets of the company: owner’s group, senior management, front-line managers, and full- and part-time associates, these ongoing connections matter most.
When examining the benefits associated with telecommuting and remote workplaces, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention savings. This comes in two forms: money and time. Financially, we’re seeing savings in many areas: office supply budget; cost of coffee, beverages, and celebration food; electricity; and travel and tradeshow expense. Time-wise, eliminating the time it takes to commute to the office (mine is immeasurably less…I simply have to travel from the kitchen to my ad hoc corner office space – saving time and fuel expenses) increases the “productive” hours in my day to make the workday more efficient.
Nobody knows with certainty what the future “normal” workplace will be. I have my bets placed on increased use of technology for meetings, less non-essential travel, and associates making use of more frequent work-from-home schedules.
Our company’s mission statement is quite simple: “To serve as a trusted resource to our customers, our community, and our coworkers.” We have definitely demonstrated resourcefulness during these unprecedented circumstances and have remained committed to our mission.
The surprisingly unexpected benefits from WFH have far outweighed any concerns that may have been initially felt. My day still begins with a cup of coffee with one of our business development managers (this is done virtually as our days begin), the VP of operations still “beeps” at me when her day begins (not from her car at my office window at 7 a.m., but instead through my new window to the world), and I dress each day for work looking forward to connecting via my computer camera and enjoying a productive conversation with a colleague, prospect, or customer.
Dave Wendland is vice president of strategic relations for Pewaukee-based Hamacher Resource Group, Inc.