Pandemic Series: Part One
Our journey though COVID-19 has been an emotional roller coaster for us all, and we think it warrants some reflection. With that in mind, we’ll be sharing a four-part series detailing the ways our agency has changed as a result of the pandemic, starting with our everyday lives.
BEFORE THE LOCKDOWN
Work life has never looked “normal” at Simon/Myers. With a flexible office set-up consisting of a Wheaton office, a Chicago office, and a handful of employees who always work remotely, our structure has always been non-traditional. To accommodate the varied needs of our team members, we relied heavily on tools like Slack to stay connected and up to date. Still, transitioning to a fully remote workplace was a challenge for everyone, even those who were already remote.
TRANSITIONING TO WORK FROM HOME
Like everyone else, we had no idea that when we set up shop from our homes, our temporary offices would end up feeling pretty permanent. While we were accustomed to using digital tools to stay connected (thanks to our previously remote employees), there were plenty of processes we had to implement along the way to get everything running smoothly. For example, we’ve come to depend on project management tools like Asana and collaboration tools like Dropbox and Google Drive more than ever before.
We also took on the challenge of onboarding new employees virtually. This wouldn’t have been possible without all the barrier-breaking technology that’s at our fingertips in today’s workplace. We’ve relied on Zoom calls to stay face-to-face as much as possible, not just for work but for fun too, as evidenced by our monthly Zoom happy hours.
Additionally, we gave everyone a stipend to spruce up their home office. No one was prepared for working from home when we first went remote last March. Giving people the opportunity to buy a more comfortable chair, new monitor, or other office necessities helped ease the transition for everyone.
LIFE AT THE PRESENT
As we’ve settled into a rhythm with our work-from-home routines, we’ve found there are certain things we prefer over working from our offices. We’ve been able to spend more time with our spouses, partners, children and pets, and less time slogging through Chicago traffic. Even our employees who were already remote have been able to enjoy more day-to-day moments than they would have otherwise.
Of course, we’ve also been reminded of how important our health is, and we’ve prioritized it accordingly: Our new Wellness Policy allows us to take a wellness day (aka a mental health day) whenever we’re feeling unduly stressed or overwhelmed. No questions asked. Same for sick days. And they’re not counted as vacation time. While this policy was born from the pandemic, it’s one we intend to keep as we move ahead.
While the pandemic showed us that working from home is very doable and does have its advantages, we don’t see ourselves continuing an “all remote, all the time” work structure. In our industry, it just doesn’t make sense. Our agency craves the collaboration that can only happen when we work face-to-face and elbow-to-elbow. Important communication can happen with a look, body language, or a 30-second conversation. Connecting through a screen just isn’t the same.
Regardless, this past year provided plenty of lessons learned, including the realization that we should never take the importance of real human contact for granted.
One of the biggest obstacles brought on by the pandemic and remote working has been learning how to interview and onboard new hires in a fully virtual way. Finding the right fit for any position is difficult enough as it is, but doing it through a screen poses additional challenges.
Over the past year, being physically distant from each other has required changes in the way we communicate and stay connected. While this has been a challenge, it has also allowed us to re-consider not only how we communicate, but how we might improve, even beyond the pandemic.
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