COVID-19 is dominating the news cycle and our daily conversations. Having coasted through H1N1 and other viral outbreaks we’re inclined to compare this to, this one feels different. The mortality rate for some of our most cherished loved ones in the elderly “bracket” alone is reason enough to take this seriously. For their sake.
My foremost and primary concerns at this stage (and in no particular order) are the health, safety and security of our ProFromGo team, friends and family. For the purpose of this post I’m sharing what ProFromGo will be doing as a business. Additionally, I tossed in some practical advice to my business owner friends and clients who haven’t had to deal with remote collaboration in hopes it is helpful.
At times like these it is important not to panic, but it would be reckless not to be prepared.
“Social distancing” is the new buzz word.
Working “remote” is nothing new for us. In fact, I’d go so far to say we’re pretty darn good at it. We currently have a team of 8 W-2 employees and about another half dozen high-use subcontractors who are like extended family. We're well accustomed to remaining effective while not being in one another's line of sight.
Today is no different.
I’m confident it will have nearly negligible and almost unnoticeable adjustment from our clients’ perspective.
Granted, our social responsibility is not quite the same as some of my prior occupations as a military and law enforcement veteran. But we still have a very important mission at hand. I am certain that many of our small business owner clients will be looking to us for some direction and leadership when it comes to the adjustments we will likely face over the next few weeks as people everywhere start to hunker down. Our school district has closed until March 30th. Childcare during the next few weeks alone poses a real and serious challenge for many businesses to address as some of their employees literally can't come to work.
Our team is ready and up to the task. We're here to help.
Office Optional, Effective Immediately
I’m somewhere in the middle in terms of the “ignore versus panic” spectrum, but taking inventory on everyone’s various concerns.
Effective immediately and until further notice, coming into our office located in Pittsburgh’s Southside has been made optional for all employees. During this time, we’ll have multiple daily check in video conferences and continue to work away like any other work day. We are available and fully OPEN for business although our Southside office will likely be empty.
If you had a scheduled event or meeting with us please be mindful of the current situation and know we will be happy to schedule a video conference with you in lieu of an in person meeting. Many times we find meeting via video conference can actually have some advantages, especially when it comes to reviewing web pages or content on a screen (more info on our upcoming workshops/events and what we'll be doing instead below).
Working from Home Doesn't Mean "Laying Back," It Means We're Stepping Up
We realize now more than EVER that it is paramount that we ensure our clients are well taken care of as many businesses start to assess how they can move forward while scrambling to adjust to prospects, customers, and staff limiting their own in-person meetings and contact as much as possible. Whether you like it or not, agree or disagree, the number of people planning to promptly start to change their daily behaviors is likely to have an impact on all of us.
When people work remote and stay close to home, it is only natural to conclude internet usage is going to spike. Whether it is to do business, stream Frozen 2 for the umpteenth time, or… some of those “other” things soooommmmmee people do on the internet…
We’re likely going to be spending way more time on our phones, in video conferences, and at the keyboard. Now is a good time to plan and bargain for projects that can be handled by you and your team members remotely as well. This is a great time to be strategic and identify opportunities for planning-related projects and “knowledge work” wherever possible.
What should you start to think about for your team to work on during this time?
Not all businesses can fare the same as people limit their travel and contact with one another. Restaurants, travel and entertainment, and manufacturers that need people out on the shop floor surely will have a larger challenge ahead. But look to your inner entrepreneur for a moment and ask yourself, while everyone else is pulling back or making decisions based on fear, what can we do to use this time effectively? What can team members who usually come into our office or place of business possibly do from home?
I'm taking this situation seriously considering our next moves will not only impact the folks in our office and their families, but also our clients who in total employ thousands upon thousands of local Pittsburgh'ers. I found this Tweet (thanks to a beautiful nurse practitioner I happen to be married to) actually explains the situation in an easy to digest way even a dope like me can understand:
Lots of science-y folks are posting this graph. But if there is one thing I have learned from being on the internet, it is this:
Data/graphs: Not compelling to many.
Kitties: Compelling to many.
— Anne Marie Darling (@amdar1ing) March 11, 2020
We are taking massive action by keeping our children home and canceling school, avoiding large groups, and attempting to slow this thing down a bit for one reason and one reason only: so those in the COVID-19 high risk brackets (elderly or those with underlying health issues), or people with unrelated medical emergencies can get the help they’ll need.
Those who are the least concerned about "Coronavirus" likely have the least to worry about. If you take care of a parent or grandparent who is in the high-risk elderly category, you simply cannot ignore the situation. The mortality rate for seniors is scary high. Italy has been impacted arguably the hardest of any country so far. I've seen many posts from my distant Italian cousins from across the pond (thanks to the Facebook translation option) that have been a bit eye-opening.
I don't want to see that make its way over here so let's remain productive and do what we can to help "CATTEN" that curve for a little bit.
What We Have Done So Far, and Will Continue to Do:
- Southside Office is now optional: Coming to the office or meeting in-person is now completely optional to our employees. If you have regular meetings with them I'm certain they will proceed via Zoom.
- Limiting travel: We’re limiting travel to only what is absolutely critical.
- Avoiding large groups of people: We won't be attending any events with large groups of people until further notice. If you were planning on seeing us at the upcoming "Great Gathering at Southpointe" event hosted by PBX next week, we will still be a participating sponsor. The event was tentatively pushed back to July 2020.
- Using Common Sense: This whole situation, like anything will likely cool down with time. In the interim, we'll keep germs in mind a bit more than usual as we make our day to day work plans. If anyone has to tell you to wash your hands regularly or cough into your sleeve one more time, we're all doomed.
- Virtual Events: We had multiple in-person trainings, workshops and seminars planned for the next several weeks with several dozen registrants signed up to participate. We’re going to be sticking to the schedule and all of our upcoming events will be offered virtually.
In Case It's Helpful: Here Are Some of the Tools We Use Daily to Facilitate Remote Work
Many of the tools and softwares we use are going to be helpful to companies new to remote work arrangements.
Here is a quick rundown of what has worked for us, most of the items in this list are tools we’ve used very effectively for several years:
G Suite (by Google) - G Suite is a cloud based suite of productivity tools that have basically become household names. You can rebrand Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive and some of the other handy products that work great for distributed teams for business purposes. Simply put, my *@profromgo.com email address is powered by Gmail. Office 365 (by Microsoft) is a similar alternative. This is not typically a fast or easy switchover if you're using on-premise Exchange servers or something of the sort, but maybe now would be a good time to visit a project like this?
Slack - A lot of my friends and clients tell me routinely they don’t “get” the point of Slack and hypothesize that it would be a productivity vacuum or yet another way to say you missed something through the fault of technology. I’ve found it to be the complete opposite. How many meetings should have been an email? How many emails should have been a one-liner on Slack? Just because it works for us doesn’t mean it would work for you but if you ever wanted a better way to handle what I would basically equivocate to text messaging inside your organization, give Slack a closer look. My favorite thing about Slack is how helpful it can be when I am on another call or walking into a meeting where calling someone just takes too long to send out a quick thought or question. I am on conference calls for a major part of every single day. If I'm on the phone or in-person with a customer -- it is easy to shoot a Slack message to a team member to enlist help or get an update on something without interrupting the flow of my other conversation.
Zoom - While Slack does have Internet calling and even video/screenshare capabilities, it is a cumbersome process to utilize Slack to virtually meet with people outside your organization (like our awesome customers or prospects). This is where Zoom comes in. Zoom is a fast-growing video conferencing and screenshare tool that we utilize numerous times every single day. It is cost effective and easy to use. Highly recommend!
HubSpot - Having a central location to manage sales opportunities, customer and prospect contact information, marketing campaigns, and even support tickets that all of our team members can access from anywhere is extremely helpful. Of course, we are a Platinum HubSpot Solutions Partner but I will plug it shamelessly because I believe in it and have seen firsthand the transformation it has created for some of our clients. If you think managing sales initiatives is going to get harder because you're having less in-person sales meetings these next few weeks this *might* be a possible solution. I’ll be the FIRST to tell you HubSpot is not a fit for every organization - I’m not saying go buy it today, I’m saying consider it highly if you need a better way to streamline sales processes, keep customer information and communications organized, and ensure your team knows what is going on with opportunities, contacts and customers at a time where we're physically more disconnected than usual.
Teamwork.com - This is the internal project management and customer support tool that we use. If you plan on increasing the number of projects and tasks you will need to keep tabs on for planning and strategy projects, or even sales and marketing projects, give Teamwork products a look. We have found it to be the best project management software for our agency the past several years after previously bumbling through numerous project management software alternatives.
I understand that every business and every person is different. This is what ProFromGo will be doing. If you’re not taking steps like this, we’re not judging. But, please respect our employees’ decisions in instances where they may prefer a virtual meeting to in-person and keep in mind - no one has all the answers right now. In time, I’m certain this too shall pass.
If you have questions about how we work effectively while remote now or in general feel free to post them via comments below or get in touch. We're here to help in any way possible.