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#WFH: Too Much Technology & No Plan for Communications! Meet Neal


When I interviewed Neal in early April 2020, for Neal working from home was nothing new. Neal is a consultant who has been working from home for a long time. “Twenty-five years ago I literally took my hat off and I was done in the corporate world. I find that the independence of working from home and the freedom of doing what I need to do, when I need to do it, fits my personality exactly. It takes a certain discipline in your life to be more productive. What this crazy coronavirus has done is shut down my social life. I enjoy having lunch with colleagues and meeting for business deals. But I don’t think I would ever want to go back inside the corporate office permanently, not ever again.”

Neal works with clients in many different industries and channels. When asked about his clients, and whether they were ready for this, the first example he gave was a well-established construction firm in Northern California. He said, “I had a genuinely nice conversation with the CEO who put everything on hold. The construction business was hit hard. They were not prepared for this. Everyone, everywhere wants construction back up and running as soon as possible, even the governor.”
Neal did come up with a plan and introduced his clients to Microsoft Teams where they could meet, and they began talking daily. To keep the social connections going they developed game nights where they played poker. When Neal asked them, they indicated they planned on keeping those poker nights going even after the pandemic ended because it brought people together. Neal said the construction company did a good job of adapting, working with what they had and keeping up the people-to-people connections that are so critical to business success. They thought talking daily with Microsoft Teams brought a more personalized perspective to their workforce than they had ever had before. This small construction firm seemed to adapt well and quickly.

It was not the same experience he had with larger enterprises. With them, there seemed to be a sense of anxiety, of wanting to go back to “normal” even though normal was not working all that well. It was what they knew, and it was comfortable. Some people are not working, some are working harder than they ever have. It’s the familiarity of coming down the hall to talk to the boss or a colleague or HR that they miss. These folks are not happy at all. But when Neal asked the question, “Do you think there will be changes within the organization after this is over?” The response he got was, “No, we want to go right back to where we were before this happened.” Neal thinks it will take at least one if not more than one more incident to get older, larger companies to change.

Throwing new technology at companies in an attempt to initiate change has not worked. People say the technology is confusing, “I do not know how to use it, I do not know how to get to it. Zoom is not the answer, nor is any other piece of technology.” Some businesses have not adapted well at all. The people Neal talked to indicated the challenge was not organizing themselves, but the mass of confusion they had to deal with inside the organization. It is not so much that these folks do not want to change, it is about the inexperience within the organization of how to make change happen. People are stuck. They ask: “Do I react? Am I proactive? And if I volunteer is it going to fall right back on me?” This is a classic reaction from an organization that is large, structured and governed by process and procedure when asked to make a big change in how they do things. They just can’t make it happen.

Neal finds that when he works from home having a consistent schedule helps. Neal started categorizing his time on a calendar so he could see where he is spending his time. He keeps a regular schedule where he gets up at 4:30 AM and is in the “office” by 7 AM. He tries to keep up the discipline of setting himself up like he was “going to the office” every day.

In Neal’s opinion, most companies are not ready for the remote workplace. “You have to understand what your business is and that not everything can be done remotely. But the big stumbling block is defining your tasks and knowing what can be done remotely. The workplace mentality says if any of it must be done in the office, it all has to be done there.” Human Resources is often distanced from the workforce. HR is usually centralized and detached. In the few cases that HR is positioned in the regional organization, it would be possible for them to act as a change agent and support the remote workplace. Usually though, it is centralized and removed.

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