Chernoff Newman, like businesses around the world, is emerging from more than three months of uncertainty and new experiences with many lessons learned and a few new routines.
From the day we first sent our staff to work remotely, our leadership agreed that frequent, open and transparent internal communication would be what helps our team succeed while working from home. We were, after all, making big decisions that were turning their work (and home) lives upside down.
From day one, we realized that we were a little more prepared than we thought. In order to be in sync with our offices in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida, we already relied heavily on Slack and virtual team meetings. And we embraced our new style of communication because we understood that many of our clients needed our help now, more than ever. Now, that’s not to say we didn’t have a few Zoom meetings with shots of ears or nostrils and we still hear “you’re on mute” at least once a call.
Our leadership team started each day with a call, followed by a detailed brief to the entire staff that, eventually, even included irrelevant trivia facts that I found interesting (lucky them!). We met weekly as an agency to discuss upcoming client needs and projects, and then again at the end of the week for a “no work allowed” happy hour to get our much-needed social time.
We knew that working from home and being in the midst of a pandemic had affected the physical way our team worked – but, more importantly, it takes a toll on your mental health. We checked in with each employee (despite how many heart attacks I gave as the president called them at home) and encouraged everyone to utilize our employee assistance program, which anonymously provides a professional to talk to. We created internal Slack channels for parents with young kids to share frustrations, and tips and tricks for working while parenting.
But now, as businesses begin to reopen, we are again tasked with finding our new normal. First, we listened. We did an internal (and anonymous) survey to staff to gauge their comfort levels interacting with clients and colleagues in public, wearing masks, our sanitation practices and how their childcare is being affected.
Our biggest takeaway? That we had a team that could trust each other and would step in to support their fellow team members. This meant we could have a more flexible schedule for the varying comfort levels and at-home situations.
Next, we listened to the professionals: WHO, CDC, webinars, health officials, attorneys and other agencies working through the same issues.
As a result, we developed a multi-phased plan that launched on June 1, allowing a small number of volunteer-only employees to return to the office. A few were pounding on the doors at 8 a.m. while others have settled nicely into their new routine from their dining room table office.
At the office, each desk has a bottle of hand sanitizer and a mask (both branded – because, after all, we are marketing specialists). All visitors and employees are asked to use the infrared thermometer upon entry and, by entering our office, each person is asserting that they feel fine and have exhibited no symptoms.
As the effects of COVID-19 progress or change, so will our plan. And, we will let each team member decide when the time is right for them to return to the office. But, for now, the office is still relatively quiet. There is no coffee brewed in our break room. We don’t celebrate birthdays, babies and weddings during team lunches. We don’t have a box of local veggies for the taking. And, there’s no creative brainstorming happening on the whiteboard in our common area.
But we know that we are coming out of this unique challenge for the better. What we’ve learned about our clients, team members and ability to get-it-done during unusual circumstances will only make us better down the road.