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Teleworking Tips: Best Practices on Staying Connected Remotely

Published Mar 17, 2020 by Maggie Martin

Thousands of Houstonians are working from home this week after dozens of businesses have closed their physical locations in response to growing COVID-19 concerns. Many employees - and their employers - are adjusting to teleworking as a reality for at least the next few weeks. 

Carey Kirkpatrick is CEO & Founder of CKP, a Houston-based agency serving clients in Houston and Austin through integrated strategic marketing and public relations solutions. She was also a guest on our Small Biz Insider podcast last year. 

Kirkpatrick answered a few questions about the challenges and the opportunities of teleworking. 

What can employers do to best support their employees remotely?

Employers can ensure their teams have three things in place:

  • The right tools to do the job: This could mean anything from laptops to connectivity to cloud versions of software. (Here's a rundown of some popular tech tools and software to help)
     
  • Access to information: If your company operates and shares files using the cloud, you can easily grant access and share information. If not, this is a great time to test-drive cloud-based sharing and collaboration.
     
  • Clear expectations: There’s enough uncertainty around the public health emergency. Avoid adding to the uncertainty by being crystal clear about expectations for working hours and communication protocols. 

What are the biggest challenges – for employers and employees – of working remotely?

The challenges are not going to be the same for each employer. If your company is utilizing remote working for the first time, the two biggest obstacles are likely to be managing and maintaining productivity with a dispersed workforce, and keeping communications open, meaningful and flowing regularly.

The biggest challenge for first-time remote workers begins with communication expectations—knowing which channels to use for what and how often. Some coworkers may prefer text over messaging apps, while some conversations are better over video or voice call. Another challenge is prioritizing projects, tasks, and responsibilities. These can also arise from feeling isolated and unsupported, a common symptom of being away from a physical space and the company of colleagues.

How can employees adjust to this new way of working, especially those who haven’t done teleworking before?

  • Prepare for each day like you would any other office day. Follow your same morning routine to help mentally prepare for switching to work mode even though you might still be at home.
     
  • Maintain the same dynamics you would if you were physically in the office. Just because you’re using the phone or video conference or chat doesn’t mean things have to be awkward, weird or stale.
     
  • Designate a workspace in your home. Make sure your family understands that when you go into the “work zone,” you’re working. If your spouse or partner is also working from home, it’s ok, and maybe even preferable, to have separate work spaces. And if kids are home from school, build a schedule with your spouse or partner for who’s in charge when, so each of you has the opportunity for focused work time.
     
  • Use tools like task trackers, shared calendars and to-do lists with reminder notifications to organize and prioritize. 
     
  • Be patient and over-communicate with your managers as they might be doing this for the first time, too.
     
  • Take adequate breaks to move around and clear your head. When the work day is over, shut down your equipment and move to a different space. Small cues letting your brain and body know you have moved from “work-mode” to “family time” or “personal time” can help prevent burnout and feeling overwhelmed.

By which measures should employers gauge the success of their organization’s remote working experience?

The number one success metric is customer satisfaction. Regardless of whether your client is internal or external, if your team is able to deliver excellent results that meet the objectives regardless of location, then you have a win. 
 

The Partnership has put together a list of items companies should consider when preparing for and dealing with the impact of the coronavirus. 

The Partnership's Houston Coronavirus Resources guide provides information around the virus to businesses and individuals in our region. We will continue to update this page as new information becomes available.

Read our latest issue of Economy at a Glance. It looks at what we know about the COVID-19 coronavirus and its impact on Houston as well as the plunge in oil prices.

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Houston Economy to Face Major Job Losses, Recession from Coronavirus and Oil Plunge

4/1/20
Houston is likely to see significant job losses and a prolonged drain on its economy from the COVID-19 coronavirus.   That was one of the major takeaways from a virtual presentation by Patrick Jankowski, Partnership Senior Vice President of Research, on March 31. Jankowski discussed his latest analysis of COVID-19, collapsing oil prices, the imminent U.S. recession, and their impact on Houston’s economy.  Jankowski stressed that because of the unprecedented and ongoing nature of the situation, predicting the economic impact is difficult at this time. “With the situation changing daily, we can’t really get a good read on what’s actually going on yet,” he said.  Jankowski referenced the next Bureau of Labor Statistics’ jobs report, which will be based on the number of employees on payroll during the second week of March and won’t include the waves of layoffs that happened during the third and fourth weeks of March. It won’t be until the April report is released in early May when we will see the real impact on the job market. Pandemic will determine recession’s length and severity  “We are coming off a period of 113 consecutive months of job growth, the longest expansion in US history and a phenomenal jobs report,” Jankowski said. “Last week we saw 3.3 million claims for unemployment benefits, and I believe that number will only rise as more people are laid off, the system becomes less overloaded and people figure out how to apply for benefits.”  Given the single week of job losses based on the initial claims for unemployment insurance in Texas and Houston’s share of Texas’ jobs, Jankowski estimates mid-March losses in the region will be around 37,945 jobs.  Jankowski noted that measures to combat the coronavirus are also combating the economy. He referenced the U.S. GDP forecasts from major financial institutions that estimate a decline in GDP for the first quarter of the year that continues through the rest of the year.   “From my perspective - yes, we are in a recession and the situation will worsen in Q2,” Jankowski said. “We hope to have some growth in Q3, but we will end of the year worse off than at the beginning.”  Add that to the drop in oil prices and the Texas Railroad Commission being asked to regulate crude oil production for this first time since the 1970s, Jankowski believes the crude collapse will only add to Houston’s misery.  Small businesses and other industries hurt the worst  Jankowski mentioned the Partnership’s survey of its small business members and found that 29% were unable to deliver goods or services, 59% are operating below half capacity and the most concerning, that 41% can survive only 1 to 4 weeks.  He also highlighted industry sectors that are most at risk during this initial period and the 777,000 jobs tied to those sectors. The sectors include those impacted by social distancing (like retail), those whose services can’t be delivered remotely (such as plumbers and other home services), those that aren’t considered essential (such as the arts), and most small businesses (that tend to operate on thin margins).   “If this virus continues after May, every job is at risk, every sector is at risk,” Jankowski stressed.  “And even if you are working from home and able to provide services to some degree, you may be affected. We will see additional layoffs to what we’ve already experienced.”  Houston predicted to lose at least 150,000 jobs  There are two ways to predict how Houston will fare – looking at models based on assumption or based on history.   The Institute for Regional Forecasting shows 18 different scenarios of how the virus and oil prices will play out, with the most likely scenario from their prediction showing Houston down by 44,000 jobs. On the other hand, The Perryman Group’s model is forecasting 256,000 jobs lost.   “These are two very different forecasts and you’re really seeing that uncertainty play out in these models,” Jankowski said.   By referencing the history of recessions Houston has experienced, Jankowski estimates Houston’s jobs loss will hover between 150,000 jobs and 350,000 jobs.   “Given how Houston fairs when oil is faring badly and then when the US economy not doing well, we are likely to look like between 2008-09 recession and oil bust we had in the 1980s,” Jankowski said.   With a job loss of 13.2% from 1982, that amounts to about 417,450 jobs today. Using the Great Recession benchmark of 4.5%, that loss is closer to 142,325 jobs.  Collapsing oil prices on par with 1982 energy bust  With the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia spilling onto the world stage and affecting the price of crude, Houston has already felt the effects.   On March 30 of this year, the price of oil closed at $21.07 a barrel. During that same month in 1982, the price was $10.25 but adjusted for inflation, it closed at $24.37 a barrel.   “We can expect crude to slowly climb back into the low $30s by mid-summer without a Russia-Saudi deal,” Jankowski said. “We’ll see any jobs we regained from the 2014 fracking bust disappear and a leaner, smaller industry in the next two years with more consolidations and bankruptcies taking place.”  Houston in one word – resilient  One of the biggest determining factors in an economic rebound will be the level of fear people still have around the virus, Jankowski said. Even on the downward slope people will practice at least a degree of social distancing. He reiterated the damaging shock to consumer confidence the virus has caused.   “The economy really won’t be able to recover until people feel comfortable spending again. However, if there’s one word I would use to describe Houston, it would be resilient,” Jankowski said. “We've been through five downturns since the 1980s and yet the economy is larger now and more diverse than ever before.” 
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