The Atlanta CEO Council’s (ACEO) mission is to connect CEOs to capital, customers, talent, and each other. We execute this through memberships and 14 annual events. We are directly affected by the COVID-19 environment, but that hasn’t stopped our CEOs from gathering, helping, and inspiring.
Monday nights, at the time we normally hold our dinners, Ingrid Miller, COO at Rural Sourcing Inc., led a discussion on corporate reasons for reopening. This article is an account of that conversation, highlighting several reasons companies are reopening their offices.
Atlanta-based Rural Sourcing, Inc. leverages untapped technology and talent in mid-size cities across the country to provide solutions for Fortune 1000 clients. Their agile teams build, deploy, and support mission-critical software for pharmaceutical, healthcare, high-tech, insurance, and consumer-retail goods industries. Atlanta CEO Council is thankful to recognize Rural Sourcing, Inc. as a Founding Company Member.
As COO of Rural Sourcing, Inc., Ingrid Miller oversees 600 employees, manages client relationships, and ensures the scalability and reliability of RSI’s process. Ingrid is acutely aware of how working remotely, combined with the state of the world, impacts the productivity, well-being, and morale of her colleagues. Given her position, Ingrid leads the conversation on the need for reopening office spaces.
Needs for Reopening
Rural Sourcing, Inc. had business continuity plans, but never conducted a full scale office-closing until the pandemic. The transition was smooth because of the digital nature of RSI’s work. “Despite the easy transition to remote working,” Ingrid says, “RSI is ready to reopen for several reasons.” RSI’s desire to reopen is not based on a lack of revenue, but rather, the needs of the employees. Meeting attendees added to the conversation by expressing their needs for reopening.
Mental health is a critical factor in RSI’s desire to reopen because isolation isn’t easy for some of its employees that live on their own. “We want to be responsive and open our offices, so people can leave the house and see their peers,” says Ingrid. The COO, sets the scene for the stress her employees are feeling. “We’ve been dealing with this pandemic, and now we have the stress of George Floyd’s death,” she explains. Ingrid continues, “some employees are hurt, upset, and scared. As leaders, we need to address this the best we can.”
Bradley Kirkland, CEO of Stone Soup Tech Solutions, echoed Ingrid’s concern. He advises a small company working in New York, and noticed the stress of working from home, combined with the effort of trying to build a virtual office culture, dismantled the 5-member team. “Funding isn’t the issue. Mental health and not having an outlet away from home is the issue,” he concludes.
Ingrid brings up a common result of people working remotely. “Some colleagues find it hard to be productive from home because they are caring for children and family members,” she explains. Peter Baron, CEO of Carabiner Communications, and his team have been working remotely for 15 years, but he’s also noticed a drop in productivity since the pandemic. Like Ingrid, he explains this dip in productivity is a result of employees taking care of children or working alongside spouses.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, employees are working longer hours at home. This seems great for productivity, but it’s contributing to an increased risk of mental and physical health problems. “We’ve noticed people are taking less PTO since they’ve started working from home,” says Ingrid. To address this, they’re having conversations with employees to encourage time off, to listen to what’s going on in their lives, and to connect them with their EAP. They are also offering training modules on how to balance work from home as well as how to collaborate and build professional relationships virtually.
Jeff Hodges, CFO of Pindrop, voiced similar observations, but he is searching for better metrics to accurately measure and monitor productivity. “We were originally thinking we’d open up next year, but leadership suggests productivity might fall if everyone works remotely for too long,” Jeff explains.
Ingrid voices a need for in-person meetings for clients and prospects. “One day, we’re going to have to get back on the plane and meet with our current and prospective clients,” she says. In the same vein, some employees want to return to the office, so they can collaborate with colleagues in person. Adwait Joshi CEO of DataSeers, says the majority of his team wanted to return to the office for this reason. Despite the PPE and distancing guidelines, his team is back in the office and operating as usual.
There are some steps in the onboarding process that cannot be done virtually, but RSI is trying hard to facilitate important conversations between Jr. and Sr. employees, to ensure development among their greener employees. Reopening their offices would make it easier to fully integrate new members into the team.
Though many companies would like to reopen their offices, they recognize a serious need for making adjustments to the workplace to create a safe environment for their employees. Part two of this article series will discuss how some companies are planning to reopen their offices.
See this article on LinkedIn.