Written by: Luana Scanlan, PRIME Consultants, Owner
The phrase, ‘I work from home’ used to conjure pictures of a coupon clipping mom at her kitchen table, scissors in hand surrounded by newspapers and color-coded envelope files. Or Papa up at the crack of dawn weeding the taro patch. In reality, prior to COVID-19, only 7% of Americans enjoyed the luxury of working from home (Pew Research Center). However, since the pandemic, nationwide surveys conducted by Stanford researcher, Nicholas Bloom, reveal that 42% of the U.S. labor force is now working from home full-time. Thanks to worldwide efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 and its mutations, physical lockdowns or stay-at-home orders are the norm.
In preparation for the inevitable first case of COVID-19 in American Samoa, the Alliance began modified remote-work protocols in mid-2020. The Alliance’s work is inherently people focused: stakeholder meetings, community workshops, team planning conferences are all part of the Alliance team’s normal workday. Engaging people is the most effective method for reaching the Alliance’s target audiences.
The new remote-work protocol allows team members to work from home at least four days per week with a weekly in-person check-in, practicing physical distancing, at the Alliance office. In-person meetings are replaced with Zoom calls and increased email usage. The office itself is physically modified to house ‘pods’ of individuals who work together most often. For example, the office manager and executive director work from partitioned workspaces separated from the rest of the office by a door. The media manager and her assistant are partitioned in another section. And finally, a safety glass partition and locked door were installed at the front entrance. While these modifications enhance physical safety and encourage physical distancing practices, they also create a sense of ‘social’ distancing that may not encourage the type of interaction team members are used to or sustain a team mindset. It can negatively affect morale and combined with other issues going on within the home, may create a negative work culture.
A quick scan of the internet resulted in the following Four Tips for creating a Positive Work Culture while working from home. Notably, the Alliance’s team implemented all these ideas in the office prior to COVID-19 – the key is to successfully implement them virtually.
Tip #1: Encourage virtual social hours – lunchroom, ‘meet the pets’, game day, etc.
Alliance team members regularly ate lunch together in the office common area. Most days someone cooked lunch in the office kitchen, and sometimes they even shared breakfast. On these occasions they shared stories, gave each other feedback, and yes, talked about work.
Tip #2: Create a weekly ‘work-to-do’ communication mechanism – project updates, a ‘feel good’ forum where everyone can post positive things, resources, request help on projects, etc.
Tip #3: Celebrate and acknowledge team members virtually.
Tip #4: Recreate office traditions in virtual formats. Prior to COVID the Alliance held quarterly ‘Me Day’ sessions. The activities were focused on improving wellness among team members and the work team as a unit. It was a time for personal expression, decompression, and focusing on ‘Me’. Virtual painting sessions, cooking meals (i.e., guess what I’m cooking!), reciting favorite poetry.
Ultimately, these Tips encourage taking the positive aspects of the workplace into the virtual workspace. It is important to note that the Alliance equipped each team member with the technology needed to work effectively at home, including internet access and workspace equipment. Now that’s using your COVID-19 funding appropriately!
Written by staff of the Alliance