COVID-19 shelter-at-home policies force employers to rethink remote working ideas

May 18-24, 2020

by Daily Record Staff 


Nearly two weeks after COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders sent home millions of workers to contain the spread of the highly contagious virus, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Tuesday (May 12) told many company employees they can now work remotely permanently after the threat of the pandemic goes away.


That decision by the San Francisco-based social media giant with more than 5,000 employees strewn across the globe could be a workplace game-changer, according to several workplace experts and human resource executives. Others HR experts, however, believe that COVID-19’s stay-at-home and social distancing policies had already caused many employers across the nation to reconsider their outdated workplace philosophies.


“Pre-COVID-19, organizations largely operated in-person by default,” said Kai Andrews and Erik Steffensen, principals at Seattle-based Point B Workforce Experience. “COVID-19 has forced a short-term default to remote operation and created new capabilities and challenges for workers and leaders. 


“Companies that can capitalize on this shock and combine these two ways of working into a balanced operating model that fits their culture will thrive in the next normal,” explained the West Coast workplace consultants.


Alex Konanykhin, co-founder and CEO of New York City startup TransparentBusiness, called “home the new work headquarters” and new reality for millions of employees around the country following the pandemic. Even as companies begin to get the green light to open their doors, many may find that it is more convenient and cost-efficient to keep employees working from home. 


“We have created the idea system that is helping companies around the world to be able to streamline their work-from-home efforts,” says. “We are helping companies to embrace the idea of continuing teleworking and showing them the benefits, which include that it helps people to be more efficient and it can save the company tons of money.”


Moe Vela, chief transparency office at the Wall Street telework consulting firm, said he was not surprised to more employers are turning to home offices to improve worker life balance and productivity.  In his view, remote work provides companies and employees a wide variety of benefits that they would normally never experience.


Vela told the Daily Record that TransparentBusiness’ clients cite more productive meetings and attendance, improved work culture and accountability as some of the key benefits of developing remote and virtual offices. Another obvious financial payback is lower office overhead.


“Companies now realize that expenses like commercial real estate are not a needed expense while leveraging a remote workforce,” said Vela. “Some companies may reduce the number of office locations or stop them all together as a result of coronavirus.


According to a May 7 survey of 167 small and medium-sized business (SMB)by ActivTrak Inc., more than 98% of respondents now have a remote workforce, a 43% increase since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. With many employees now working from home, companies surveyed rank productivity as the top concern of both employers and employees. 


Mirroring those same productivity concerns, 86% of respondents ranked output tools as the most important technologies for supporting a remote workforce, followed by conferencing applications and live chat tools. The survey captured input from a wide range of SMBs, with the largest numbers in Software/Services (14%), Construction/Engineering (11%), and Other (10%) categories, and ranging in size from 51-250 (34%), 11-50 (25%), and 1-10 (19%) employees.


“The speed and scale with which teams have had to convert to a remote workforce has been truly impressive, and in many ways, I think companies have been surprised to see how well they’ve been able to do so,” said Rita Selvaggi, CEO of ActivTrak. “We’re already hearing from customers that many of them plan to shift some employees to working remotely on a permanent basis …”


Locally, Little Rock-based Southwest Power Pool held online meetings recently to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. Barbara Sugg, who became SPP’s president and CEO on April 1, said employees at the power grid operator for a large swatch of Southwest U.S. will return to the office in a phased approach and only once certain milestones are met, including a 14-day downward trajectory of positive cases in Arkansas. 


Sugg added that SPP, which has more than 600 employees headquarter at the regional transmission organization’s headquarter in Little Rock, has proven its ability to provide excellent service even while most of its employees work remotely and would exercise an abundance of caution in transitioning back to normal operations.


“I’ve been very impressed with our employees’ resilience and dedication while we work remotely,” Sugg said. “I’m pleased to report no one on our team has tested positive (for COVID-19). We’re optimistic we won’t have to sequester our real-time operators but are prepared for that possibility.”


SPP spokesperson Derek Wingfield said “nearly all of the grid operator’s employees have been working remotely since March 17 with the exception of those whose jobs require them to be on-site, like real-time operations staff who monitor the grid from our control room.” Most won’t return to work in June under COVID-19 restrictions and CDC guidelines. 


Meanwhile, as the number of isolated workers continues to rise and employers consider hybrid reopening strategies that includes some workers onsite and others at home, the need for more communication tools, technology solutions, computer security, and other desktop systems to make the remote office more productive.


From March 15 to April 15 (post-shelter), more than 300 SMBs from ActivTrak’s customer base spent 82% more time in remote communication tools such as Zoom, Skype, RingCentral, and Slack, compared to the prior 30-day period (pre-shelter). When looking at collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, LogMeIn and Trello, that figure jumps to 94%.


According to Citrix Systems Inc., the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based digital workplace platform that provides workplace tool to most Fortune 500 companies and over 100 million users, said one of the major issues that companies face is setting the employee’s workplace desktop at home. In the past, providing employees with access to their desktops from remote locations used to be optional, but now it is a requirement to keep employees productive and businesses operating during the COVID-19 crisis.


Faced with shelter in place and work from home mandates, many organizations rushed to arm employees with Virtual Private Network solutions (VPN) that allow them to connect to corporate systems. But another recent survey of more than 2,000 U.S. employees who work remote found that VPN-based remote work approaches resulted in “slow performance” and “lack of access to all the apps needed to get work done.” And further research has uncovered security and privacy concerns.


To provide a more secure and reliable alternative, Citrix is now offering remote desktop solutions from the cloud to enable organizations of all sizes to deliver a familiar virtual desktop and workplace experience to safely access all the apps, information and resources they need to perform at their best while working remotely.


“Businesses that rush solutions to accommodate remote work face security risks, questionable impact to productivity, and unknown network issues,” said Mark Bowker, senior analyst for Citrix’s Enterprise Strategy Group. “As companies work through addressing any shortcomings, now is an ideal time to consider VDI and other digital workspace technologies that can deliver a secure and productive experience for employees who are working from home.”


Despites on the positives regarding home offices and remote workplaces, new research released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which has over 300,000 HR and business executive members in 165 countries, sheds light on how the coronavirus is also disrupting the he American workplace. The survey by the nation’s largest and most influential workplace trade group polled more than 2,200 human resource professionals to understand the top challenges employers are facing and examine the actions they are taking to adapt.


Here are some of the top challenges, including:

• Seventy-one percent of employers are struggling to adjust to remote work.

• Sixty-five percent of employers say maintaining employee morale has been a challenge.

• More than 1/3 of employers are facing difficulties with:

• - Company culture

• - Employee productivity

• - Leave regulations


Even as employers struggle with new challenges, many have had to close or change to stay solvent. The coronavirus has prompted 40% of employers to shut down certain aspects of the business, and 83% to adjust business practices. Of those:

Half are no longer hiring: 

• Thirty-one percent have laid workers off, while 15% have permanently cut headcount with no intent to rehire.

• Thirty-eight percent have decreased employee hours and 19% have reduced pay rates.

• Fourteen percent have hired more employees, while 10% are considering it.

• Thirty-two percent are offering additional paid leave for employees, while another 18 percent are considering it.


“Business is not as usual,” said SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr. “Markets are down, companies are closed, and millions are working from home. It’s a time of change, challenge, and uncertainty. But it’s also impermanent—it will pass. The economy will recover, business will bounce back and, soon enough, workers will return to work.”


Taylor continued: “While I believe in the resilience of the U.S. economy, it will not rebound on its own. This new data underscores the importance of the public and private sectors collaborating to repair our damaged economy. And it’s going to take business and HR leaders on the front lines of workplaces to be strong, innovative, and agile as we all fearlessly face this hardship together.”   



  • SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr.
    SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr.