Page 24 - BusinessWest August 3, 2020
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                 ents. “But I don’t think we’ll go back to 100% on site.”
Elaborating, he explained that “the model of having everyone show up at 9 o’clock and work all day until 5, then go home, I think it’s really been proven that it doesn’t need to be that way. Yes, we need to have people available, and we can’t have somebody that decides, ‘I want to enjoy my day, so I’ll start the workday at 5 p.m. and work till
1 a.m.’ — although some of the 20-somethings might like that; me, I need to be in bed by 9.”
But while it’s true that employees need to be
“The model of having everyone show up at 9 o’clock and work
all day until 5, then go home, I think it’s really been proven that it doesn’t need to be that way.”
available to field phone calls and take appoint- ments during core work hours, he went on, it may not be necessary to have everyone working in the same place at the same time.
“I think our ideas about what is a regular work- place have completely changed,” Leary went on, and it wasn’t sending everyone home in March that shifted those ideas; it was how long the stay- at-home trend has lasted.
“If everyone went home, and two weeks later they were back in the office, we wouldn’t be hav- ing this conversation,” he noted. “But we’ve prov- en in four months that people can work at home, work efficiently at home, and accept working at home.”
These three companies — a supermarket chain, a bank, and an accounting firm — all have totally different business models and customer needs, yet they’re all saying the same thing when it comes to the workplace of the future, and spe- cifically whether remote work is here to stay: nothing is set in stone, but it’s a conversation worth having.
Shifting on the Fly
Shifting to remote appointments back in March was a smooth process, Leary said, partly because all the clients were working remotely, too.
“That part of it was not overly challenging,” he added. “And we had stress-tested our internal sys- tems about a month earlier as good practice, just to see how we were doing. We did some modifica- tions, so system-wide, we were in good shape. We
had been using voice over internet for the phones, so when someone called at the office, it could ring at the house. So we were good there.”
The company did need to work through some quality-control issues, however, especially since the team was being physi- cally separated during the heart of tax-preparation season.
“That, to me, was the biggest challenge,” he said. “Most people are accustomed to doing that in face-to-face settings, but we did it with every- one at home. We devel- oped some protocols for how that would work.”
The firm created a schedule for individuals to come to the office to pick up packages, scan documents, and send them to the right people.
Patrick Leary says a shift to more permanent work-at-home options will require an investment in technology.
      “Then there was the whole PPP thing, work- ing with virtually all our business clients, show- ing them how to apply for it, and making sure they knew they rules, which were evolving almost daily,” Leary recalled. “We had a core group stay- ing really closely involved and on top of the regulations, and we did a couple of webinars for clients.”
Then there was COVID-19 itself. “We were helping clients through their issues with business being called off — what do they do for cash flow?” he went on. “But the biggest challenge for me was that it all occurred during our busiest time.”
Banking customers were dealing with some
of the same issues, as well as their usual needs, and PeoplesBank leaders were quick to make sure employees were set up to work at home.
“In a matter of two weeks, we assigned some- thing like 150 Chromebooks and issued VPN access to all office items,” Roberts said, noting that about 170 people who work in the office were sent home to work. Some, who could not get the access they needed for whatever reason, were paid until the issues were resolved, and they began working from home as well.
These days, the main office is about 25% occu- pied, with most still working totally from home and others coming into the office one or two days a week. Like Leary, Roberts said discussions have
already taken place regarding what the past four months mean for the future of remote work.
“There are definitely limitations, if we’re going to pursue it is a work type,” she said. “We’re going to need technology that ensures full access and takes care of the little things you experience when you’re at home instead of the office, like system slowdowns and delays.”
In short, if PeoplesBank is going to expand remote work in perpetuity — and not just because a pandemic has forced much of the work world home — it needs to the same experience from a work standpoint. “We’ve highlighted things that can be better. But for the most part, it’s been pretty seamless.”
Leary said the current situation has opened his eyes to internet infrastructure needs in the community, especially in places like the hilltowns, which can run into slow speeds and spotty cell service. “If this becomes the new norm, we can’t have someone working in their house who can’t connect to the outside world efficiently.”
Remote Learning
For a company like Big Y — which, between its supermarkets, convenience stores, and gas sta- tions, is a 24/7 operation — flexible work options on the customer-
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 24 AUGUST 3, 2020
support side make sense, Galat said.
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