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Remote Control
Maximizing employee efficiency when out of the office.

by Julie Shannon
If someone told us early on in the pandemic that we would still be working remotely in August, we’d probably laugh or shrug it off. Yet here we are, just like many other professionals who are still working from home except for essential workers, and we may be doing so for the foreseeable future.
Now that we’re five months into this not-so-new situation anymore, we talked to various companies to see how the transition to remote work has been for their employees and the challenges they’ve faced and overcome.
Companies like WSFS Bank were well prepared. “More than 1,000 of our associates had laptops and other equipment to support moving their office to their homes. We also had Microsoft Teams in place to conduct video conferencing meetings, which helped us quickly pivot and not experience any service disruption for our customers. Associates who resided in rural areas who did not have WiFi in place were assisted to establish reliable internet connections for their computers,” says Cindy Crompton Barone, SHRM-CP, SVP, human capital management. 
William Penn Bank was also in good shape from the beginning as it had infrastructure in place for people to work from home.
“People that were not used to being able to work remotely had a learning curve, but we were able to shift quickly and in a positive direction because we had an excellent infrastructure in place and a pandemic plan in place,” says Jill Ross, executive vice president, William Penn Bank. “We also have a wonderful team that works tirelessly and they even increased their efforts during this challenging time.”
RLS Logistics is considered an essential business, but a good portion of its employees don’t work in an office environment and have been coming to work this entire time. Lori Cogit, vice president of human resources, says the remainder of the workforce—about 70 percent—went remote and has adjusted quickly from “early hurdles” after IT ensured everyone was set up properly.
“A lot of the people at the time didn’t have laptops, only desktops, so we had to juggle and make quick movements,” she says. “Once we got past that, it was a matter of putting protocol and guidelines in place to have people understand what is expected of them. In all likelihood, some have never worked from home before. It was really a matter of educating those who haven’t worked from home on what the expectations were. They are expected to be at their desk at a certain time, expected to take normal breaks at certain times; those things don’t change just because you are working remotely.”
The biggest challenge posed to WSFS was understanding the CDC requirements and mandates, especially since the bank conducts business in different states. Crompton Barone says new protocols helped with the transition.
“We quickly outlined protocols and with existing work-from-home practices in place were able to seamlessly transition to a predominantly work-from-home status,” she says. “What we gained from the experience was our capability to adapt to remote and virtual concepts and to continue initiatives such as interviewing, hiring and onboarding new associates.”
RLS Logistics, too, relied on technology. In its case, it was mostly in the absence of in-person meetings. “We started quickly developing meetings through [Microsoft] Teams format and Zoom to increase communication to remove any of the challenges that come along with remote workforce,” Cogit says. “We increased those formats so we didn't have those struggles where normally people could yell over cubicles or walk down the hall.”
Ross says the biggest challenge William Penn Bank experienced was not having face-to-face interaction with anyone, especially its new team members after completing two mergers in May.
“We had many exciting team-building events planned that needed to be postponed or moved to Zoom,” she says. “That being said I feel that even though we have not been able to connect in person, we have forged deeper and more meaningful relationships with our team and customers through frequent communication, a common bond and need for empathy. Those relationships, as well as more efficient and streamlined processes, have been the biggest benefit.”
As the school year approaches, there’s another challenge on companies’ plates—how to manage employees working from home if their kids are doing school remotely.
“It is tough,” Cogit says. “We’ve been working on that recently. Although we’re anxious to get employees back to the offices, we’re accommodating those who aren’t able to because of that. We’ll have them working from home during those times when kids are schooling virtually and when and if kids have a hybrid where they return to school for a few days, we’ll have them  come to the office on those days and work from home on days they are doing virtually.”

Virtual Assistance 
Angela Gibbons used to take work home with her often from her previous job, work she could easily complete. The writing was on the wall, and she started her business, Angie’s At Your Service Virtual Assistance. She and her staff complete many administrative tasks for companies from her home—executive assistance, data entry, employee management and onboarding to name a few. She says all of this work that in-house employees typically do, can be done at home, especially during a time like this pandemic.
“I don’t believe virtual work will take over in-house work because there’s always a need for at least someone to be in an office and person-to-person interaction is important, but a lot of administrative tasks can be done remotely,” she says.
Morrison says it’s a win-win for companies like hers because the work is subcontracted. “Companies don’t have to worry about supplying them with certain supplies, and they are only paying the hours they are contracting,” she says.
With more businesses reopening and as more are on a tighter budget and are limited to a certain number of people in the office, Gibbons has received more calls as of late.
“With businesses pushing forward, I have gotten a lot of phone calls from companies who still have a limit on how many you can have in the office and those who are looking for someone who is experienced and able to work from home,” she says.
Despite the many challenges companies have faced the past few months, Ross has found a silver lining to this unique time.
“There have been many positives from this experience and this challenge has made us stronger and more efficient,” she says. “Working remotely, for me, has allowed for a decrease in ‘noise’ and a greater sense of clarity and the ability to focus on the global operations and future growth strategy of the bank.”

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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 10, Issue 8 (August 2020).

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