Joe Bills

Joe Bills works at Yankee Publishing remotely from his Jaffrey comic book shop Escape Hatch Books. (Ben Conant photo/Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, industries around the region were left scrambling to figure out how to make the switch to working remotely.

For those companies that had dedicated office space where employees would come to work every day, they were forced to get things in order that allowed for people to work from home. And over the last almost six months, the transition to remote working has proven to be effective in some cases, while creating challenges in others.

How it's gone

For Tom Strickland, co-founder and president of Sequoya Technologies in Peterborough, the quick transition was double sided. Not only did Strickland need to ensure that his employees had all the tools necessary to work away from the office, but also set up Sequoya’s clients to be able to make the switch – and quickly.

Security was the major hurdle, Strickland said, because most of Sequoya’s clients weren’t set up to work remotely. To ensure the network they used was protected, Strickland said programs had to be put in place that allowed employees to work from home while linked to the office network in a way that didn’t compromise safety. A lot more goes into then employees simply having a computer they could use in the comforts of home.

“You have to be really careful with that,” he said.

For Strickland and his employees, the transition wasn’t all that difficult. A handful of years ago they began using Slack, a communication platform, and it allows everyone to stay connected just like they were in the office. And they had already been conducting meetings virtually.

“When we shifted most of what they were doing, they can do remotely,” he said. “It really puts a different perspective on working remotely.”

Strickland said they’ve been rotating two employees in the office each day in what he considers a hybrid model, one on the administrative side and another in the technical service area and “for us it's been pretty seamless,” he said.

When the stay-at-home orders came into effect, Yankee Publishing President/CEO Jamie Trowbridge said they made the decision to go fully remote. Although deemed an essential business, they didn’t have to, but seemed to be the right choice.

“There were enough employee-owners here that were concerned about their safety in the office,” Trowbridge said.

They have since reopened the office, but have made returning voluntary.

“We didn’t want to put anyone in an awkward position,” he said. “So for those who want to come back they can.”

Trowbridge made the decision to return fulltime and said he is very comfortable in the office and “the safety conditions are very high.”

Laura Akerley, vice president of Bellows-Nichols Insurance, said they too made the decision to switch to remote when the stay at home orders were issued.

“We were able to do that very quickly and overall I felt it went well given it was a very quick decision,” she said.

Akerley said the company, which has five locations in the Monadnock region, was fortunate that they were able to make the transition.

“Everything the agents were able to do from their normal work stations they were able to do from home,” Akerley said.

Challenges

Trowbridge said the downside to remote working is missing the daily inter-office interactions necessary for a publishing company.

“There’s a lot of questions about the long term value of remote work,” he said.

While it's worked, he said incorporating new people, like they did last month, into the mix could present a challenge.

“All those remote relationships are built off face-to-face relationships,” Trowbridge said. “And the biggest challenge that remains is just communication and staying in touch.”

He said a large portion of his day is now spent communicating with staff who are working remotely, which wasn’t the case when everyone was in the office.

Akerley said the biggest challenges came in the form of reliable internet and cell phone service. As well as adjusting to a new way of conducting business.

“A lot of what we do is face-to-face interactions,” Akerley said. “We’d certainly be open to change if that makes the most sense, but face-to-face is definitely what we prefer.”

Implications

Strickland said the number one issue with working remotely is access to good internet and thus connectivity.

“I’ve been on the broadband band wagon for a long time,” Strickland said.

He said small New Hampshire towns are really missing the boat not finding ways to build out better internet capabilities for residents.

“It’s as important as roads and it costs less than roads,” he said. “I like to say a mile of fiber optic cable is way less than a mile of asphalt.”

Trowbridge said if this happened 20 years ago, there was no way they could have shifted to working remotely. But thankfully they’ve been able to do it for now

“What we have is not ideal, but we’re getting by,” he said.

Future

Strickland said a lot of businesses who made the switch to remote are realizing maybe they don’t need a big office space. Working remotely can be more cost effective and environmentally friendly.

“The upside is that it’s a whole lot more convenient,” he said.

He sees the development of remote work centers as a possibility, where businesses sign on as part of a collaborative to use a central space.

“We’ll look back at this point and say that was a seismic shift,” Strickland said.

He expects to continue the practice, even when things start to get back to normal.

“And there’s not much downside for us continuing this. I think we will probably continue that at least through the end of the year and possibly until there’s a vaccine,” Strickland said.

Akerley said they have yet to fully reopen the office and are taking it month by month right now “because there are so many variables.” She said just two people are in the Peterborough office, so it's a bit of a hybrid approach at the present time.

Trowbridge said at some point they will want to fully reopen the office and ask everyone to come back.

“We’ve told people that time will come, but we haven’t set that time,” he said.

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These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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