COVID-19 presents challenges, changes for Top Workplaces

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Metro Atlanta’s Top Workplaces found new ways to do business while operating during a global pandemic -- and some of those practices could be here to stay.

Flexible work-from-home schedules, office hoteling, virtual conferencing and meetings are all likely to continue post-pandemic, say Top Workplace leaders. Many companies say they are rethinking office constraints when recruiting new hires and are looking for top talent regardless of location.

ExploreCheck out all the Top Workplaces winners for 2021

The pandemic also generated creative ways to maintain company culture and engage with employees now working from home. There were virtual happy hours, trivia contests, and other informal get-togethers. Some companies gave out hazard pay to those still working in the office and monthly stipends for workers at home.

We asked Top Workplaces to share their experiences dealing with the pandemic, the challenges they faced, and the changes they made. Here’s what a few organizations told us.

OneStream Software in Buckhead created departmental and location-based virtual happy hours for remote workers, and designed new digital programs to share employee news, said John O’Rourke, VP of product marketing and communications.

The company also launched a new employee training and development program based on virtual learning. Post-pandemic plans could turn offices into collaboration centers for employees in various locations across the country and world, O’Rourke said.

“In the past, we tried to hire for key positions in locations where we had physical offices. (We) now support remote work for employees who prefer this approach, with a hoteling approach to office space,” he said.

At Brand Vaughan Lumber Company in Tucker, President Jon Vaughan said cleaning, hygiene, and distancing protocols were profound changes. With office staff working from home, collaborating online was also challenging.

“But it created an opportunity for our team to show their innovative, creative and different kind of relational skills. We have continued to push forward on problem-solving and continuous improvement, just through different technology,” Vaughan said.

Pre-pandemic, Atlanta-based financial tech company Brightwell hosted monthly companywide lunches and events. Those were gone, so were daily interactions among staffers.

“Beyond those scheduled moments, there is the intangible value you get from the quick hallway chat or lunch break in the cafe with someone you don’t normally work with,” said Audrey Hall, senior VP Product.

To answer this, Brightwell created weekly videos to update employees on happenings and held virtual get-togethers with friendly competitions. Hall said the company might consider no longer having a physical office due to its successful transition to a remote workforce.

After shifting to a 100% remote service model, Protivia “instituted a ‘virtual coffee with a co-worker’ program that randomly assigned people for 15-minute weekly chats to replicate the non-scheduled office interaction amongst the team,” said Managing Director David Brand.

Brand said the pandemic brought more opportunities than challenges for the Atlanta workplace, such as flexible schedules with no commuting. “Our People leaders seized the opportunity to meet employees with empathy and understanding as we were all navigating a new way of working,” Brand said.

Many saw the need to diversify the customer base to offset the risk associated with world-changing events like a pandemic, such as Discount Waste in Peachtree Corners, said Vice President Thomas Lagos.

For Essential Ingredients, Inc., which sells products used to create cleaners, disinfectants, and hand sanitizers, business soared in 2020, along with corporate philanthropy. The company, with offices in Lawrenceville, invested in organizations helping people affected by the pandemic said HR Director Vince Botta.

At Intradiem in Alpharetta, Chief People Officer Joanna Luth said, “The way we work has definitely changed. The 5-day per week commute is dead. We have proven that we have the ability and determination to successfully work remotely and that we can operate very successfully without being in the same physical space every single day.”

At Insight Sourcing Group, Marketing Associate Billy LeProhon, said one of the Norcross company’s most significant challenges during the pandemic was learning to work efficiently as a remote workforce while maintaining the workplace culture and collaborative spirit.

“In many ways, it actually made us feel more connected. We had more firmwide Zoom calls and team huddles and held more happy hour/social events via Zoom,” LeProhon said.

Salesforce Atlanta addressed more employee needs by launching wellbeing surveys into how employees were feeling during the pandemic. This insight led to increased family care leave, home office stipends, and new mental health programs.

Top Workplace Aprio provided life coaches to team members with any mental health issues they were having while working remotely, said Larry Sheftel, HR vice president.

“We also held plenty of fun activities with our teams to keep the sense of community – Zoom happy hours, desk yogi, magic show, virtual games, etc.,” Sheftel said.

The mortgage company, which has offices in the metro area, will become a more remote workforce in the future, with hoteling options for those who want to come to a physical location.

Carroll EMC had more employees working from home, and closed the Carrollton office lobbies to the public for several months, said Kelly Hester, Communications & Corporate Events Coordinator.

Changes in the future could include fewer in-person customer care representatives and more flexible, work-from-home options.

At John Hancock Financial Services in Atlanta, Senior Administrative Assistant Lynda Bennett said employees rose the occasion to stay in touch with clients and customers virtually when the standard protocol is personal visits.

“We pivoted and adapted to ensure we didn’t lose the personal touch and white-glove service that our clients have come to expect,” Bennett said. She also gave kudos to management.

“The executive leadership team deserves an A+ for communication and showing appreciation for the hard work of the employees during this unprecedented time,” said Bennett.