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Culture, Productivity, and Risk: Adjustments in a Work-From-Home World

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Man working from home has distractions from music, conversations and pets
June 2, 2020

Widespread working from home hit everyone in Q1 and appears to be here to stay. What sort of impact will that have on financial teams now and after the public health crisis is over? As businesses adjust to accommodate remote work, which of those adjustments are temporary—and which will be permanent? 

Steve Soter, Sr. Director of Product Marketing, recently addressed those questions and more in a roundtable discussion with Workiva accounting, risk, and finance experts, including Ernest Anunciacion, April Brady, Dominick Fatibene, and David Thande. Here are the takeaways. 

Stepping away from “bodies in seats”

First, the group acknowledged that the changes related to COVID-19 have been unprecedented, forcing a total reversal of traditional business thinking. But David says businesses should look for a silver lining long term. “I think ‘bodies in seats’ is still the norm,” he says. “Debunking that will be something I hope will come out positive from this particular situation we are in.”

A recent poll shows that more than half of Americans would like to continue to primarily work from home even after restrictions are lifted. A full three-quarters want the option to do so occasionally, meaning a return to normalcy (whenever that happens) will not be a return to the office. Meeting that demand requires businesses to adjust. 

“It comes down to people, process, and technology,” Dominick says. The businesses that will come out of this stronger are “organizations that set the right structure for establishing the right process for virtual collaboration, investing in the right tools, and really making it a priority for the people to support their business, be productive, and ensure continuity while they work from home.”

The WFH acronym has become standard these days. To make the most of it, the panel focuses on an old acronym with a new meaning: CPR. Not the emergency resuscitation procedure (though the conversation should help you breathe easier), but three things the group agrees businesses need to adjust to thrive during a shutdown—culture, productivity, and risk. 

A culture of empathy

A company’s success starts with its culture. That’s even more true during a crisis. The current moment calls for flexibility, empathy, and understanding. And, April says, challenging preconceived notions. 

“We’re in a world we never imagined,” she says. “One of the misconceptions for why companies don’t do things more efficiently from a remote workplace standpoint is that they sometimes mistakenly associate a work-from-home employee with someone who is just sitting around, watching their children, or doing things that they shouldn’t be doing, and that is so completely untrue. I am able to get so much more work done by having a remote work situation, and most people I know who work remotely work more hours than half of their peers.” 

Steve agrees, saying “I know my days are starting a little bit earlier, they’re finishing later, but my interruptions in between are increasing—whether I need to get a breath of fresh air or to help the kids with some homework.”

“It’s up to the culture of the company to accommodate for that and to be understanding,” says Ernest, who has worked from home during his entire Workiva tenure. ”As long as the work is being done, that’s what’s most important and companies need to have that flexibility.”

It’s also about normalizing remote behavior and all its idiosyncrasies. Employees on video calls with Steve, April, or Ernest may enjoy a cameo by their children or pets. Background sounds find ways of interrupting conversations. And that's to say nothing of poor internet connectivity. 

Workiva has established a culture that recognizes that while working from home adds comfort, it does lack polish—and that’s ok. This starts with Workiva CEO Marty Vanderploeg’s weekly all-company addresses, which are streamed live from his patio where birds and children often make guest appearances. The group says that Marty’s unabashed, good-natured acceptance of these interruptions sets a tone for the rest of the company, which team leaders should adopt as well. 

Productivity gets a new address

Still, those WFH issues represent a threat to productivity unless remote workers take steps to correct them. April suggests blocking your calendar off. “You have to be really protective if you have your own deadlines,” she says. “So, make sure that you’re blocking off the time that’s there, so you aren’t in meeting after meeting after meeting.”

“Be comfortable with the video element, it’s what bridges the gap,” says David, adding that video conferencing is necessary for re-creating an office environment in your home. Ernest thinks that talking with your team avoids creating house-, condo-, and apartment-shaped silos. “Be cognizant and deliberate about having touchpoints with your teams,” he says, urging workers to maintain the standups that they had before quarantine and keep one-on-ones with leadership.

“I prefer to have the video on no matter what the discussion is,” Dominick says. “You have a much more interactive session when you’re doing that.” He also mentions that there are tools created for this moment including, naturally, the Workiva platform. His team has been using the platform for everything from forecasts to presentations to idea sessions. “Tools like this are what make it possible to work collaboratively and maintain continuity,” he concludes.

No reward without risk

Lastly, the group discussed risk, which presents unique challenges when working from home.

David recommends that organizations focus on two areas: fraud and data security. “We can’t work without the data we need, so if you are a traditional organization that had data via a shared network, now you are getting it through public networks,” he says. “They are not new but they become more heightened in this environment.” 

“Do a rationalization of certain controls,” Ernest says, by looking at processes that were relatively easy to do in an office (like getting signatures for a request) and assessing if they can be even easier and more efficient, with fewer steps, while working remotely.

“The current environment has shed light on how unsustainable certain old processes and tools can be for teams,” April says. “This is an opportunity to think through and have a hard look at what processes can be improved by going for more virtual, more efficient processes and solutions.”

Check out the panel’s complete conversation here

As Workiva continues to navigate the new normal, we want to share our insights with you. Check out our handbook for the new normal for more resources on how to thrive (and not just survive) during this time. 

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