Business leaders are responsible for the success of their enterprises under all circumstances. In Minnesota that includes unpredictable weather, seasonally difficult commuting conditions, and now a growing, worldwide public health challenge in the form of the new strain of coronavirus. Businesses can expect disruptions, and it’s on leaders to be prepared.
A key response to containing the spread of the coronavirus is reducing human interaction. The Centers for Disease Control recommends what it calls “social distancing” as a prevention strategy. People are less vulnerable to encountering and sharing the virus when they’re not shaking hands, gathering for meetings or grasping common door handles. Not all workers need to congregate at the office every day.
This is a great time to learn about and implement an organizational remote work program. Call it remote work, telecommuting, virtual work or telework — the name doesn’t matter as long as it frees businesses to focus on deliverables. Remote workers gather virtually from scattered sites via laptops and phones, pulling together for the boss without the need for physical co-location.
Remote work isn’t all that new but has been robustly improved by better management practices and new communication tools. Secure remote access to company files can be maintained through a virtual private network (VPN). Stilted phone meetings have been banished: Teams now chat seamlessly and manage projects using platforms like Zoom and Slack. Armed with internet access, a smartphone and a camera-enabled laptop, most desk workers can function with a high level of human connection. Managers are free to track project results rather than police attendance.
Minneapolis companies have proved telecommuting works. Digital natives are creating truly flexible work environments, most notably in banking and technical firms. If you’re concerned that workers might take advantage of this “freedom,” think again. A solid remote work program ensures daily reporting of projects finished and tasks nailed.
Models of remote work policies and practices abound and can be implemented relatively quickly. Move Minneapolis is leading the remote work charge downtown and can guide you to expert consulting and other resources to launch your telework program. Businesses elsewhere in the region are served by Commuter Services, Move Minnesota and Anoka County’s Commute Solutions.
If the public health argument is somehow unconvincing, the sheer cost of providing a warm, dry, lit, daily space to what sometimes amounts to a group of desk jockeys should be enough to get most CFOs to pay attention to telework, not to mention the astonishing cost of providing or subsidizing employee parking, especially in downtown cores where real estate is better used for business. Remote work promotes undeniable bottom-line efficiencies.
Remote work will be an effective business strategy for Minnesota companies even after the coronavirus threat dissipates. Maybe not every day, because there’s value and outright pleasure in face-to-face teamwork and collegial handshakes. Still, teleworkers really produce when they are not distracted by the din of office chatter. They feel respected by their employers. And when that second or third day of school gets canceled by a snowstorm and your employees are scrambling to find child care, they’ll be glad your company had the foresight to make their commute irrelevant.
Mary Morse Marti is executive director of the nonprofit organization Move Minneapolis, a program of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. On Twitter: @MaryMorseMarti. For more information on remote-work resources, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.