Workforce

Allowing Employees to Work From Home Positions Contractors for Success Amid COVID-19

The work-from-home model—or some hybrid form of it—will likely be one of the major positive changes to emerge from this crisis. However, it will only be successful for companies that truly value their employees and can demonstrate trust in them, while equipping them for success.
By Brian Kappele
August 19, 2020
Topics
Workforce

COVID-19 has presented architecture, engineering and construction companies with an enormous challenge: transitioning a traditional industry long reliant on personal relationships and in-person connections to a remote, digital environment.

Stellar—a Jacksonville, Florida-based firm focused on design, engineering, construction and mechanical services—tackled the move to remote work head-on and decided last month to shift the majority of its employees permanently to a full-time work-from-home model, becoming one of the first in the industry to make such a change on a large scale.

Starting this fall, the majority of Stellar employees will work from a consistent home office location while maintaining a regular work schedule during traditional office hours. Its corporate office will continue to operate as a resource for employees, partners and clients. The office will also remain open for those who prefer to work in a traditional work environment—with social distancing measures in place, of course.

Providing stability during a tumultuous time

As the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic was realized in March, Stellar’s leadership team wanted to give employees a sense of stability and a safe way to continue working without putting themselves, their families or their coworkers at risk.

In a few days, the company developed and implemented work-from-home protocols, with the ability to adjust on the fly as issues arose. Notably, its office-based workforce transitioned to a work-from-home environment in just three days, ensuring no significant business interruptions occurred with current or future projects.

The company has long used tech platforms such as Procore, Salesforce and BIM 360, among others, in its day-to-day work. With the shift to work from home, Stellar began using Zoom, Microsoft Teams and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) more frequently to keep team members connected and maintain its “new normal” operations. The company also incorporated the use of Microsoft Power BI and other new IT initiatives to track productivity as well as manage security and confidentiality concerns associated with a remote workforce.

Advantages to the work-from-home model

Once Stellar made the shift to working from home, leadership began realizing numerous (and some surprising) benefits.

First, it found that time spent in a virtual meeting is time efficiently spent. The scheduled, time-constrained nature means attendees have to be fully prepared ahead of time and fully engaged during the meeting. Plus, attendees aren’t driving to and from a physical location, reducing travel time as well as the company’s carbon footprint.

Another advantage to the work-from-home model is the ability to hire from anywhere without requiring potential employees to relocate, opening the company up to new talent that may have been apprehensive to uproot their families. Now, it can offer prospective employees something not possible to do before: a career opportunity with a leading global company from anywhere in the world.

We can also better staff teams around clients’ locations. As an international company with projects all over the world, the work-from-home model allows Stellar to more effectively hire employees in close proximity with certain customers.

Flexibility and communication are keys to success

While the advantages have been numerous, there have been a few challenges that required creativity and flexibility to overcome. Stellar found working from home requires a higher level of discipline, engagement and accountability at all levels in the organization to not just manage, but lead teams to success.

At the start of the pandemic, to comply with interstate and international travel restrictions while keeping tabs on ongoing projects, staff members from different departments were deployed to document site visits for projects in their respective regions.

Since field construction work can’t be done remotely, new safety measures were implemented to maintain social distancing on the job without delaying project schedules. To stay ahead of potential labor shortages and supply interruptions, front line managers are encouraged to stay in constant communication with their direct reports.

Additionally, the onboarding process had to be modified to accommodate remote hires and ensure we maintain the same level of engagement and focus on our unique culture.

A temporary “new normal” or just the inevitable future?

While the United States struggles to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases, the future remains uncertain for many. However, the pandemic is ushering in a new way of thinking and doing business.

The work-from-home model—or some hybrid form of it—will likely be one of the major positive changes to emerge from this crisis. However, this model will only be successful for companies that truly value their employees and can demonstrate trust in them, while equipping them for success.

by Brian Kappele
Brian Kappele is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Stellar, a fully integrated firm focused on design, engineering, construction and mechanical services worldwide. He can be reached at (904) 899-9230 or bkappele@stellar.net. For more information on Stellar, visit stellar.net.

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