Doing Business in a Post-Pandemic World

How is your company continuing operations despite Covid-19?

Ryan E. Day

April 2, 2020

Although Covid-19 shelter-in-home edicts usually use the terms “essential” and “nonessential,” most business owners think of doing business as essential for survival. Many organizations don’t have the resources to temporarily suspend business. They must find new ways to get it done.

In a Think with Google article, Gina Shilavi outlines ways people are dealing with the new, albeit temporary, reality of social distancing within a business context. “From troubleshooting poor internet connections to equipment hacks to sharing creative ways for remote team collaboration, [Youtube content creator’s] advice is resonating [with viewers],” she says. “In the past week alone, searches for 'telecommuting' in the U.S. reached an all-time high on Google and YouTube, with no sign of slowing down.”

Remote teams and work from home (WFH)

Even two months ago, remote teams and virtual organizations were not cutting-edge, but neither were they the norm. This new threat of infection is forcing companies into a choice of either adapting to remote work or suspending operations.

The conversation with a co-worker that may have happened as you walked down the hall, or you just popped into their cubicle—with Covid-19 that all evaporated overnight.
—Brian Buck, CEO of Scotwork North America

“Virtual [business] is not new, but it has a new context now,” says Brian Buck, CEO Scotwork North America. “A few months ago, the legacy of virtual communications would conjure things like emails, e-learning, webinars, boring conference calls—a lot of baggage comes with the terminology. It’s not a place that many organizations have invested very much time or money developing a skillset.”

The truth is we already use communications technology that is virtual, e.g., phone calls, emails, and video conference calls. But now there is a much greater pressure to do everything virtually and even the most mundane interactions must be rethought.

“The conversation with a co-worker that may have happened as you walked down the hall, or you just popped into their cubicle—with Covid-19 that all evaporated overnight,” says Buck. “We may be accustomed to doing work virtually with our external [stakeholders] like vendors and clients, but now we have to do that internally as well. We have to be mindful of how we internally produce [agreements] with external suppliers because any modifications to those agreements must be resolved. If we’re not adept at resolving them virtually, the ramifications could exist well after this quarantine crises has abated.”

As Covid-19 spreads and shelter-in-place orders become more commonplace, companies are moving quickly to empower their teams to work from home.

“Range has always been a remote-first company, and our product helps teams stay connected across locations,” observes Jennifer Dennard, COO and co-founder of Range. “We have a front-row seat to seeing how our customers and other companies are learning to adapt. We see most companies going through a few phases:

Initial sprint: “Managers, leaders, and HR rush to create initial solutions and help the team get set up with the right tools, e.g., purchasing a company-wide Zoom license. At this stage, leaders are often thinking through the lens of how to continue business as normal but be remote. That often means that, for the first few weeks of transitioning to WFH and remote, the team is in a lot of remote meetings and really trying to keep their workday ;normal.' As the timeline starts to get extended and it’s unclear when companies will return to being co-located, leaders and teams start to think about how to adjust their overall processes to better match people’s current work situations.

New processes: “As teams start to settle in, we see leaders start to focus on setting up new ways of working, like:
• Teams are creating 'how we work' documents outlining all the processes for the team. This might include expected working hours (e.g., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) to help identify when teams can collaborate; communication norms (e.g., Slack for urgent questions, email for everything else); and other new processes for the team. We’ve also seen teams do this on a teammate level as well, letting each teammate share their working hours and priorities, so other folks have context on what they’re doing with work and outside of work (like caring for family members).
• They’re shifting more communication to be written and asynchronous. Teams are learning that being on video calls for eight hours a day is exhausting and often doesn’t work with folks whose kids are home from school right now. They’re instead shifting to sharing more written updates on work. Using our own product, our team shares a written daily check-in first thing to let folks know they’re working and what they’re planning to do today. We see a lot of teams doing this (even who don’t use Range) as a way to help the team stay on track while working from home and have context on others’ work.
• They’re establishing specific ways to feel connected and feel like a team. In person, teams have a lot of informal opportunities to renew belonging cues like over lunch or chatting while you get coffee. In the absence of these moments, we see teams intentionally crafting interactions that encourage vulnerability. For instance, our team answers a team-building question every morning as part of our check-in. We see lots of teams doing this at the beginning of meetings or other moments to try to encourage nonwork talk. We also see teams taking a half-hour after a team meeting to just connect—grab coffee or a beer and chat with your co-workers over video. Our team recently started a take on MTV Cribs where we take turns giving tours of our homes to the rest of the team.”

Takeaway tips

Apparently, much of the technology organizations have been using with external stakeholders is sufficient for internal communications as well.

We must be aware of the extra layer of emotional stress when dealing with internal communications. Although our soft skills are important in handling external conflict, they’re even more critical in solving internal conflict.
—Brian Buck, CEO of Scotwork North America

At Quality Digest, we have been a remote team for nearly two years, so at least we are not dealing with transitioning during a crisis. Being a relatively small team, we are well served by a combination of G-Suite, Zoom, Trello, Discord, and the good old cell phone.

I think the single biggest contributor to our success as a remote company is our dedication to communication and accessibility. It is rare that any one of us cannot be quickly contacted via text, phone, chat, or video conference.

Speaking of text and chat; never underestimate the power of the emoji to communicate clearly. A smiley face is awfully handy to keep a comment on the humorous side of sarcasm. And the “Oh!” face can keep a comment on the comic side of accusation.

Another aspect of virtual work is the nuanced difference between communications with internal vs. external stakeholders.

“External conflicts are sometimes easier to deal with,” notes Buck. “For instance, if a supplier consistently fails to perform [due to Covid-19-related shutdowns], you can theoretically find a different supplier. When it comes to internal stakeholders, you can’t so easily replace colleagues you’ve been working with for years. We must be aware of the extra layer of emotional stress when dealing with internal communications. Although our soft skills are important in handling external conflict, they’re even more critical in solving internal conflict.”

Silver linings?

Although emergencies and catastrophes can precipitate incalculable stress and pain, they also have a unique way of bringing positive adaptations to the fore.

At the end of this moment in history, we will be better.
—Brian Buck, CEO of Scotwork North America

“Many of the companies we work with are starting to view the silver lining of this situation,” says Dennard. “They can see the creation of an opportunity to experiment with asynchronous communication and more intentional ways of working.”

“At the end of this moment in history, we will be better,” declares Buck. “First of all, the importance of having a business continuity plan will become normal business parlance. Also, the entire world has been forced to rethink what it means to work virtually vs. in person. The result will be a collective experience that helps organizations discard negative biases against the WFH model.

“There’s a whole litany of inaccurate concepts about WFH. The whole world is finding out it’s not that easy to carve out a dedicated workspace in your home environment that is distraction free. To separate yourself from your family, friends, roommates, and pets in order to work productively. And also be responsible for initiating all the day-to-day personal health strides critical for your own longevity.”

In parting, I’ll leave you with a work-from-home BBC broadcast which hilariously illustrates the lighter side of the WFH model:

About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is Quality Digest’s senior editor for solution-based reporting, which brings together those seeking business improvement solutions and solution providers. Day has spent the last decade researching and interviewing top business leaders and continuous improvement experts at companies like Sakor, Ford, Merchandize Liquidators, Olympus, 3D Systems, Hexagon, Intertek, InfinityQS, Johnson Controls, FARO, and Eckel Industries. Most of his reporting is done with the help of his 20-lb tabby cat at his side.