Like most people, our team is working from home this week and the foreseeable future. It’s a big change from how we typically work, and it has come with challenges. But honestly, it’s also been encouraging to know that we can continue to do our work remotely. It just takes a little more planning and a lot more communication.

How long all of this will go on is still unclear. What is clear is that the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are heavily impacting the way we work and will have a lasting impact on how we work in the future.

Working from home means a new set of rules.

Working from home means we’ve had to institute new protocols in order to maintain a high level of consistency in work schedule, productivity, collaboration, and quality communication. From over-communicating via instant messaging and emails, to more consistent team check-ins to make sure answers are being shared and obstacles overcome. We’ve tried to maintain normal work hours but also understand that flexibility and empathy are required in order to navigate our new work environments. Some of us have offices where we can work in relative quiet, while others are working at kitchen tables trying to simultaneously entertain kids.

We’ve also started relying more on web-based tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Bluebeam Studio to allow collaboration on projects and allow for face-to-face meetings. It takes a concerted effort to make sure you have everyone present when you need decisions made or just to communicate in a timely manner.

Staying connected to our organization and work.

The biggest challenge at hand is staying connected. Not necessarily about work-related items, but personally to each other and to our organizations. Leadership must work extra hard to make sure employees feel connected and have a sense of purpose. This week, Progressive AE had its first virtual town hall. Everyone called in separately, and the comments and banter in the chatbox started to come in fast. Everyone was so excited to see colleagues they hadn’t talked with in a couple of days. It was a great way to connect and a nice check-in as an organization.

By nature, we are social beings that thrive on these little connections and interactions that happen throughout a typical day. These touchpoints are important to our company culture and what helps make people passionate about where they work. It’s been interesting to see how quickly things like virtual meetings, coffee check-ins, and virtual happy hours have become important.

Brad Thomas, president and CEO of Progressive AE, talks at the firm’s first completely virtual town hall on Thursday, March 26.

Looking to the future.

The looming question in front of us is what impact will this have on the workplace once we’re ready to return to the office? If we all master virtual meetings, stay productive and enjoy a more flexible schedule, will we want to return to the office at all? And if so, how will the workplace need to change in order to meet the new needs and expectations of employees?

The answer lies in our need for connections. While we may now have the right tools and protocols in place to work remotely, we know there is value in in-person connections and building personal relationships. That’s not to say the newly adapted protocols won’t push an organization to make some adaptations. Personally, we’re finding value of putting everyone on equal footing during cross-office meetings. Instead of having one or two people who are remote and may feel disconnected from the bigger group, if everyone jumps on a Zoom call, we’re all able to connect equally. But we recognize that video meetings won’t be enough as a long-term strategy to build a sense of purpose amongst an organization. We will all miss the typical banter/small-talk that comes by building deep relationships.

The center of any thriving brand is the operational culture, so when the time to reunite in person comes, and it will, let’s celebrate our coworkers, and make camaraderie a business strategy!

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