An open letter for entrepreneurs, business owners, CEOs, Presidents, and Key Executives. 

UpLIFT Issue No. 5 Theme: Trend of Work-From-Home and Remote Work is Cementing; Many workers don't want to return to the office; What to do...

In this issue discover:

Covid19 Data Snapshot and what it means for business.... the market is lower for longer; and we need continued vigilance; pivoting, surviving, and thriving.

Remote work is becoming embraced and cemented into our society... and what this means for work, the work place, and your company culture.

An action plan for businesses seeking to increase culture and engagement for remote workers.

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Covid19 Snapshot

According to the Johns Hopkins Research Center, the worldwide case count is 31,759,233 cases and assigned deaths to Covid19 of 973,904. It is widely suspected and reported that cases and deaths attributable to Covid19 are grossly undercounted for political reasons. In times like these it's good to remember that the case counts of the 1918 pandemic were also grossly undercounted until some five years after the pandemic for similar reasons.

Of curiosity, the NY Times reports the beginning of a potential next wave of Covid19 showing up in the USA. Now nearly nine months into the Covid19 Pandemic, there are 6.9 million reported cases and 101,573 deaths (as of 9/23/20) in the USA, and . NY Times reports, that there were "at least 942 new coronavirus deaths and 37,293 new cases were reported in the United States on Sept. 22. Over the past week, there have been an average of 41,490 cases per day, an increase of 13 percent from the average two weeks earlier."

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The chart below shows the current county by county rates of Covid19 and one can see that while spread has slowed in early epicenters of NY, WA, and California, that the mid-west and south are particular hotspots at this time. 

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And just out today, in the Washington Post, researchers in Houston are reporting that samples collected of Covid19 samples of population testing showed their second wave of Covid19 (in June/July) had already mutated into a different entity, giving this virus more resilience and changeability presumably making a single vaccine more challenging. There was already a public health perception that the public would need at least two doses of vaccine for Covid19, and now with these new findings we might need altered doses or additional does as researchers play cat and mouse with the disease. 

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Additionally, with the resurgence of Covid19 waves and fears in Europe and the UK, there is a greater likelihood of economic challenges ahead, before a vaccine is widely available. The good news is that vaccine research is progressing and several teams of researchers are completing their phase 3 trials and the world remains hopeful that a viable vaccine will emerge. But just not yet. We will need to be vigilant for longer, preparing for a potentially hard fall and winter, with the promise of a vaccine for widespread use later in 2021... if we are lucky.  I'll keep this post optimistic and let's all pull for the best possible outcome and that a vaccine emerges soon and it works.

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Remote Work... is it here to stay?

So on to the primary theme of this issue.... remote work is being adopted rapidly and is cementing in our culture and employee mindsets. What does this mean for the future of work?

Remote work muse 1a

Observations and Outlook for the World of Remote Work

Prior to the Covid19 pandemic there was an increasingly voiced interest by employees to have more flexible work arrangements. Frequently requested flexible work options include flextime, telecommuting, compressed work week (e.g., four 10-hour shifts instead), shared jobs, and early-start or shifted work patterns to avoid traffic congestion, or even 9 or 10 month contracts. A 2019 study of 8,500 workers by Flexjobs, found that 20% of workers interviewed had a daily commute of greater than 3 hours; and 37% commuted for 1-2 hours daily. That's crazy making for the employees and highly inefficient for the employers.

Employees have adapted to working from home, and many more now are not wanting to return to the workplace, but rather have flexible jobs that enable them to contribute and have higher levels of quality of life. This trend has accelerted during this pandemic. Consider that an earlier survey (2018) of Flexjobs of 7,300 workers found that 16% of workers were looking for new jobs because of workplace inflexibility issues, and 80% of workers said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options. In the survey, 52% of workers said they had attempted to negotiate flexible work arrangements with their employers. And 25% percent of workers said they would take a 10-20% pay cut in exchange for flexible work arrangements. 

Is it any wonder now with Covid19 pandemic conditions, where many employees have been forced to work from home, that so many of these same employees don't want to return to their old offices again?! And most interestingly, remote employees share that they are working more, getting more work done, and living healthier lives working from home; and the data shows they are indeed more productive from home. The perception that employees are more productive working from home has found some grounding in the research.

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Recently Bloomberg reported about a recent study by Harvard and New York University economists found that people working from home spend on average 48 additional minutes connected to work. And more interesting, meetings are shorter online, employees tend to participate in more meetings or 'huddles' and they are writing and responding to more email. The increase in worker productivity is pronounced. Analysis of VPN data for remote workers shows that in this lock-down environment that workers are actually working more, logging into computers at late night hours, doing more emails. 

Similarly, a Stanford study fo 16,000 employees found a 13% increase in productivity by working remotely. 

The ability of workers to work from anywhere (they have a high-speed broadband connection) has opened up new possibilities for more affordable housing, lower cost living, and new changes in the fact of work.  Many companies have announced that they are significantly changing their work models to allow employees to work from home through the pandemic, and there is a large number of companies that are exploring whether employers need to come back full-time to the workplace at all?  Interviews with top business leaders are confirming that many employers are looking to abandon, down-size, or relocate their offices when their commercial leases expire.

Learning that they can be effective workers from home, many workers are moving from the urban cities to 'Zoom" towns, where they can live more affordably, lead better lifestyles, and this is having a huge impact on real estate and population relocation. In a recent FlexJobs survey of 8,500 workers, 27% of workers indicated that they are planning to move. There is also a trend for millennials to buy their first homes, typically a single detached home, and for affordability this typically means the suburbs or adjacent lower cost counties. Those getting closer to retirement are also buying homes in areas they think they might want to retire. Accessible broadband, work-from-home options, and low interest rates are making these lifestyle and relocation switches possible. Employee mobility is fast changing the landscape of work.

So what is not working now in an era of remote work? Yes, workers are getting more done, but some are reporting getting more stressed, a feeling of overwhelming meetings with little time for follow-up employees are expressing feeling zoomed out.... let's call them "Zoom Zombies" or "Zoombies" for short.  Some employees are having difficulties segmenting their days, and former company cultures of connectedness are taking a beating. Physical and mental health of workers is a concern as more sedentary lifestyles (not getting out to exercise) and workers feeling 'cooped-up'' inside for Covid19 safety reasons increases anxiety and localized health issues. Communication is also an issue, as more meetings, and shorter meetings, do not equate to or replace the 'water cooler' chats, the camaraderie of teams, and the connectedness that working from a place seemed to provide.

Another alarming trend for employers, with employees out of the office and working from home, there are cracks beginning to show in lower levels of reported employee connectedness, collaboration, and engagement with the companies, and this will undoubtedly impact employee retention if not abated.  Word on the street is that more employees are searching for new work, new relationships, and new settings, and the old strategy of 'people stay for their friends' is challenged, as these relationships are breaking down too.

Strategic Elements of an Engaged Remote Workforce

With remote workers, it is vital that although our workers are remote, that they do not feel remote to us. Business owners and employers are encouraged to strengthen culture, engagement, and connectedness for remote workers.

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Here are 5 C's of engagement for connecting remote workers you might want to ponder and implement in your own way.

1 Communications. Technology can help you keep the virtual sandbox of your company alive and conversational. Video conferencing tools like Zoom, go-to-meeting, webex, and many others are helpful to make visual connections. Collaboration tools like Teams, Teamwork, Slack, Pronto, Jira, Asana, Trello, can help companies stay connected and work on shared projects. Even the Google suite with shared sheets, forms, and docs can increase collaboration. Beyond meeting, its important to have agendas for meeting and encourage a higher degree of pre-work and preparation for meetings on all sides: meeting organizers and attendees.

2 Connection. Make sure that you have virtual meet-ups, huddles, and online-meetings where everyone has their video turned on; allowing video to be turned off in meetings allows employees to physically and mentally check out. Consider rearranging or altering your meeting agendas to take time for connection, check-in's etc. Technically, you might consider adding additional content cameras like a document camera, virtual whiteboard, or Owl Pro can add value to your meeting and bring more collaboration in your discussions. Also ensure that your remote worker's home offices are equipped for success; fast broadband, dual monitors, work surfaces (standing and sitting work surfaces), good audio microphones and sound proofing adjustments where necessary to block out sounds of dogs, etc.

3 Culture. Be intentional with the culture you want, and reinforce the values of your company, even while working from home. Celebrate the culture norms that make your company special. Send out company swag and messages that communicate that though your employees may be working remote, they are not remote to you.  Videos from the your leaders can be helpful to reinforce messages, and guide the narrative you most want to project. Celebrate successes.

4 Creativity. Use engaging strategies to keep meetings interesting such as zoom rooms (smaller break out rooms), polls, humor, short videos, and questions to peak interest and mindshare. You can add fun, food, and games by mixing this up with after hour socials, happy hours, dinners, lunches, etc.

5 Caring. Caring is a beautiful expression of empathy and compassion in the workplace. Increase your contact, your one-to-one interviews, and your huddles to increase caring, trust, and communication.  Encourage acts of kindness. Take interest in your employees, be concerned for their health and general welfare, and support them in their needs, not just a work. You might also check into some of these fun and caring activities to help teams connect at work or after work. Consider a remote meetup for lunch or dinner perhaps sending GrubHub coupons for meals, or an IPA mixer for "Wine Down" where you send a bottle of craft or wine to your employees, to be shared together online. You can play games together online, nurture each other online, arrange for team huddles, smaller triads, and one-to-ones to keep the connection real. 

Remember, in the end, creating and sustaining corporate culture and engagement is vital to retaining your workforce whether remote or back at the office. Some of the top reasons people look to leave their jobs is lack of connection, friends that leave the workplace, and employer inflexibility.

Intentional Steps

  • Make sure your employees are fully set up to work effectively remotely
  • Establish guidelines for remote work place best practices
  • Take a survey or pulse of how your remote workers are feeling, thinking, and experiencing remote work
  • Implement the the Five C's of Engagement for Remote Workers
    • Communications
    • Connection
    • Culture
    • Creativity
    • Caring

Leadership Quotes

What we are talking about above is 'caring' and nurturing your remote workforces in an intentional way.  This reminds me of themes from our 'culture seminars' wherein we encourage CEOs and executives to identify and set an intentional culture. For if you don't create an intentional culture, then your culture is what you tolerate. What are you tolerating? How is that working for you? Would not an intentional culture be best? Make it so.

"Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur." - David Cummings, Co-founder, Pardot

"Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion." - Brian Chesky, Co-Founder and CEO, AirBnb

"It is not part of a true culture to tame tigers, any more than it is to make sheep ferocious." - Henry David Thoreau

"There's no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated." - Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group

Laughter as Medicine

"It's true: laughter is strong medicine. It draws people together in ways that trigger healthy physical and emotional changes in the body. Laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and protects you from the damaging effects of stress." (HelpGuide.org)

So here's 50 funny clean jokes for any situation, provided by Sarah Crowe.  There were several that truly made me laugh, and if you like puns, you can laugh right along with me on these gems with quips such as:

"I used to be addicted to not showering. Luckily, I've been clean for five years."

"People think "icy" is the easiest word to spell. Come to think of it, I see why."

"My teachers told me I'd never amount to much because I procrastinate so much. I told them, "Just you wait!""

"What did the green grape say to the purple grape? "Breathe, man! Breathe!"

"A man walks into a library and asks the librarian for books about paranoia. She whispers, "They're right behind you!"

Please remember to enjoy some good humor and rejuvenate your spirits.

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May you find the opportunity in front of you, remembering like the proverb, “The obstacle is the path.” Be agile, creative, and courageous in these times of crisis. By doing so, you will reach a little higher to become the leader your company needs at this time. Being good, doing good, and being good for something is all we can ask of our ourselves as leaders at this time. Keep your chin up and move forward. And remember, like Oscar Wilde said so wonderfully, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” 

Until next time… remember to focus on your remote workers, encourage connectedness, and feelings of attachment  with your team and company.

As always, if I can be of assistance to you in any way, please reach out to me.

Best regards,

Severin

Severin Sorensen, M.Phil.
President & CEO
ePraxis LLC
PO Box 980068
Park City, UT 84098
435-655-5111
sev@epraxis.com
www.epraxis.com

Additional resources:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-03/the-pandemic-workday-is-48-minutes-longer-and-has-more-meetings

https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/companies-switching-remote-work-long-term/

https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/flexible-work-critical-retention.aspx

https://zapier.com/blog/remote-work-challenges/

https://snacknation.com/blog/remote-work-culture/

https://inside.6q.io/how-to-grow-a-positive-company-culture-with-a-remote-team/

https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/10-ideas-to-keep-a-great-company-culture-while-working-remotely.html