Friday is National Work From Home Day. Here’s how local employees are working from home. | SteamboatToday.com
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Friday is National Work From Home Day. Here’s how local employees are working from home.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Friday is National Work From Home Day and what a relevant National Work From Home Day it will be.

To commemorate this “holiday,” Explore Steamboat checked in with locals across the Yampa Valley who, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have made the transition to working from home or managing others working from home for the past two months.

These organizations were all originally structured around the concept of the in-person office, so the process of transitioning employees to work remotely was a major, and sometimes, jarring one. 

Technology

The first hurdle for many organizations to clear was technology: ensuring employees had sufficient, secure equipment and systems at home.

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In mid- to late March, property management company Resort Group transitioned its reservations, accounting, marketing and other administrative employees to remote work. 

“All of a sudden, you’ve got 30 different workplaces,” said Resort Group Vice President of Business Development Joe Cashen. “We needed to make sure team members had the capabilities to work effectively at each one.” 

The company’s information technology department had to figure out as quickly as possible how to get off-site employees secure access to servers and systems, reorganize the multilayered company phone system, as well as configure and deploy computers to employees who needed them.

“I’m pretty amazed by how everyone rolled with it,” Cashen said. “Solutions-oriented thinking really came to the surface.”

Big Agnes was dealing with a similar transition for its 31 temporarily-remote employees. The company’s IT and operations teams’ work on the phone system took place largely after normal business hours in an effort to disrupt as few incoming calls as possible.

“I don’t think we missed any calls,” Director of Employee Engagement Karen Goedert said. “As difficult and cumbersome a task as (transitioning employees to remote work) was, I feel like we did it without missing a beat.”

Marketing Director Garett Mariano sends kudos — remotely — to the staff for making the transition happen.

“It was a huge amount of work to happen almost overnight,” he said.

The city’s IT department went through a similar process for departments including finance, public works, planning and municipal courts, according to Mike Lane, the city’s communications manager. 

“IT jumped right in and got most of the (couple hundred city employees) able to work remotely,” he said. “It was quite a process.”

Big Agnes’ Karen Goedert working from home in her living room.
Courtesy photo

Home office setup, schedules

With hardware and systems set, employees scattered across the Yampa Valley were equipped for remote work by some measures, but in everyone’s workspace lurked any number of potential obstacles. Instead of ergonomic chairs and standing desks, many employees set up shop on couches or kitchen tables. And for many, home internet — stretched to the limit by multiple family members or roommates’ remote work or schooling — was spotty.

While working in the same space as multiple family members or roommates could be distracting, many employees noted that the extra time with loved ones afforded by remote work was the best part of working from home.

Another issue for some became the sudden lack of boundaries between the sections of their lives.

“It’s hard to separate home life and work life when everything’s happening in the same place,” said Main Street Steamboat Springs Executive Director Lisa Popovich. “There was never a delineation between work and home.” 

Popovich found that aspect of working from home stressful until she implemented structure to her day so she wasn’t constantly working. For example, pre-pandemic, she’d never turned her phone off and took calls at all hours. In the past two months, though, she’s decided to power down during some nonwork hours.

“Making those rules for myself really helped to alleviate that (stress),” she said.

Cashen has observed what might be the opposite phenomenon in his own schedule.

“I’ve found the hours have become more nontraditional,” Cashen said. “Sometimes, the office isn’t as conducive to creative work, and creative work isn’t always confined to nine to five.”

He’s found working during odd hours has been helpful for his higher-level strategic planning and for creative tasks like copywriting. 

Clockwise from top left: Steamboat Springs City Manager Gary Suiter, Transit Manager Jonathan Flint (SST conference room), Information Systems Manager Kent Immenschuh and Public Works Engineer Mike Beurskens participate in a citywide, all-hands meeting discussing COVID-19. The city utilized the Microsoft Teams platform for this meeting and hosted more than 150 employees on in the digital meeting room.
Courtesy

Communication

For many, working within or managing a team from afar is a new experience.

“I’ve been very impressed with our management team. Without having any real training in how to lead a remote team, they jumped right in and figured it out as they went along,” Goedert said.

“It’s a real exercise in self-discipline. You have to be willing to hold yourself accountable,” Cashen said. “It really gives the individual an opportunity to demonstrate what they’re made of.”

While video conferences like Zoom and project management platforms like Basecamp have been helpful, online programs are still a far cry from in-person teamwork.

“Zoom has been a really powerful tool for keeping people semi-connected, but it’s still not the same,” Cashen said. “When people have an idea (over Zoom), they have to wait and raise their hand, and I often wonder: how many great ideas have gotten lost (in the meantime)?”

In workdays packed with video conferences, Popovich discovered a recurring issue was the lack of natural spacing between them, impacted by a touch of the all-too-common Zoom fatigue.

“(With in-person meetings), there’s usually built-in time (to travel from one meeting to the other) and that’s when I digest that information,” she said. “But with Zoom, meetings can be scheduled back to back, and you lose that processing time.”

Lisel Petis, executive director of Advocates of Routt County and Steamboat Springs City Council member, works from her back deck.
Courtesy

Once she pinpointed the problem, Popovich began intentionally scheduling space between meetings.

But what most temporarily remote workers seemed to miss most of all is having their teammates close by.

“(At Resort Group,) we’re all part of something that’s bigger than just our team or department. Not having that personal continuity has been the hardest adjustment,” Cashen said. “I like people and I like working with my coworkers.”

“To be together, to talk about adventures — that’s critical to our culture. You lose a little bit of that when you’re not all under one roof,” Goedert said.

Similarly, during a typical work week, Popovich spends time visiting local businesses, meeting with community members and chatting with locals and visitors as part of Main Street’s mission of preserving, promoting and enhancing downtown. 

“It’s so satisfying to hear what people have to say. That connection means so much to me,” she said, “And all of a sudden, they weren’t in front of me. That feeling of disconnection was so big.” 

Perhaps due to that same feeling of missing connection — whether with coworkers, customers or constituents — many remote employees have found the connections they have had have been especially positive, compared with pre-pandemic times.

Cashen discovered that the vast majority of guests and homeowners whose vacations to Steamboat Springs were canceled due to COVID-19 were incredibly gracious and understanding about the situation. 

“A lot of them were checking up on us and making sure that Steamboat was doing OK,” he said.

City workers and Big Agnes customer service representatives have encountered a similar grace.

“(The public) has been pretty flexible and accommodating while we’ve been working through this,” Lane said.

Because of that flexibility, Lane noted, people have been able to continue accessing the services they need through emails, calls and private appointments.

“People weren’t dying for immediate answers,” Mariano said. “An air of patience came over our society. Taking a message and calling someone back tomorrow became acceptable.

“I really like that patience,” he added. “I hope we don’t get back to that ‘I need everything right now’ mindset. It’s OK to give people a little time and space.”

Kara Stoller, executive director of Steamboat Springs Chamber, smiles as she works from her standing desk at her home office.
Courtesy

Silver linings

Amidst the chaos and challenges of the past two months, workers have appreciated the silver linings of their situations — some of which will be helpful in the post-pandemic workplace.

After the initial period of anxiety surrounding the pandemic, Mariano reports that he and his staff at Big Agnes found their rhythm and have been working from home effectively.

“One of the positive outcomes of this is that we now recognize that we can work through change, and we can continue to collaborate,” he said.

During the past two months, the company kicked off both its Camp From Home campaign and an initiative creating and providing masks to the community through Routt County United Way.

“I think this is all going to help us all be stronger as individuals and as a company,” Goedert added.

Popovich is optimistic the widespread adoption of video conferencing could stick around into the future as a convenient option that increases accessibility and participation.

“There’s no substitute for in-person meetings and those 10 minutes afterwards to stay and connect with people,” she said, “but if there’s a reason you can’t get to a meeting and you can just Zoom in instead, that’s a game-changer.”

Until the world and all of its offices fully reopen, organizations will explore options of staggered shifts, adjusted schedules, modified set-ups and an increase in hand sanitizer dispensers. And employees will look forward to a time when work happy hours will take place not over Zoom but in person.

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.


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