At this writing, 44.8% of Wisconsin residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination. With more and more individuals vaccinated, employers are beginning to consider how to bring employees back into the office. Most of us have been working from home since March of last year. (According to the Clutch survey, 66% of the U.S. workers are currently working from home, up from 17% before the pandemic.)
Now, we might ask ourselves (and our employers) if this will continue. We’ve found that by working primarily from home, we can be more productive, better juggle family and home obligations, and travel far less frequently. A recent survey quantifies our desires: the Society for Human Resource Management found 52% of Americans would choose to work from home permanently given the option. Two-thirds of those who want to work permanently at home, said they would do so even if the U.S. reached herd immunity.
Currently, companies are seeking guidance from the Center For Disease Control and Prevention regarding return-to-work scenarios. But what if your personal “return to work” means something different than a full-time presence in your former office building?
The new normal may be some hybridized version of both working from home and going into the office. That is, a few days a week at home and a few days at the office. This arrangement works better for couples with kids and allows employers to continue their focus on building an embracing corporate culture designed to satisfy and motivate employees.
This long-term solution to the work-at-home vs. work-at-work conundrum might not have been possible had it not been for the COVID-19 response to work productivity. App Annie research found that stay-at-home orders and lockdowns significantly drove the uptake of business productivity applications such as Zoom Cloud Meetings, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams, growing 35% annually. And mobile consumers across the world installed business and productivity apps 7.1 billion times in 2020 – up 35% from 2019. The biggest surge in installations began in mid-March 2020 when shelter-in-place became the norm across regions.
If we can hope to retain some element of work-from-home, the key will be to retain the productivity improvements resulting from COVID-19 responses. Here’s an overview of many helpful productivity apps currently available, and in some instances, how WHPRMS members are using them.
Asana is a collaborative tool that helps teams track work – everything from tasks, to workflows, to entire projects. While not full-fledged project management software, it provides the structure and prompts to help your entire team succeed. Especially helpful is the timeline view that makes it easier to manage dependencies.
Dropbox is a cloud storage service (like Google Docs) that lets you save files online and sync them to your devices. You can use Dropbox links to share files and folders with other people without sending large attachments. With Dropbox, all your files are backed up to the cloud and available online. With your files in one safe place, they are accessible from your computer, phone, or tablet. Security settings allow for confidential sharing across organizations.
One of my consulting clients shifted from an on-location annual conference to a virtual gathering. Ordinarily attended by 500+ arts aficionados, this year’s pandemic version was held entirely online, including tabletop discussions addressing multiple topics simultaneously. The app High Fidelity made it seem like everyone gathered simultaneously. High Fidelity is a virtual spatialized audio platform with state-of-the-art 360 sound that mimics the audio experience of interacting in a group of people. Users can create their own avatar. They then virtually gather around a speaker or performer on a virtual stage, break off into group tabletop discussions or one-on-one chats. All of these conversations can happen at the same time. It’s almost like being in the room.
With the OneDrive App, you can share documents, photos, and files from your smart device and computer on the go. Your team will be notified if your file is edited. You can highlight and annotate documents, sign documents, and open files in other Microsoft products such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
Liz Kopling, WHPRMS Board President and Director of Marketing & Communications at Agrace is a new-found fan. “I started using Microsoft One Drive during the pandemic when we needed multiple people to simultaneously and quickly weigh in on communications with a short turnaround. It allowed us all to see and edit the same document without needing to “check out” the document to edit it like in SharePoint or email around attachments like I’d done in the past.”
Microsoft Teams allows you to collaborate with your work team, regardless of location. As the hub for teamwork in Microsoft 365, the software enables instant messaging, audio and video calling, rich online meetings, mobile experiences, and extensive web conferencing capabilities. In addition, Teams provides file and data collaboration and integrates with Microsoft 365 and other Microsoft and partner apps. In March 2020 alone, Microsoft Teams enjoyed a 1,000% user adoption increase.
Now that we work virtually, emails are no longer the only mode of communication. They are gradually being replaced by virtual chat rooms such as Slack – used by over 4 million business professionals daily. Slack offers chat rooms that can be classified on the basis of topics; private groups; Direct Messaging; and easy integration with other third-party services like Google Drive and Dropbox.
Zoom has pretty much become the default mode of on-line meetings, as it consistently offers high-quality audio and video conferencing. You can invite up to 100 people to join you on video, and connect with anyone on Android smartphones, iPad or iPhone. For marketers, this is a must have app. It’s also great for keeping in touch with family during these periods of long separation!
Carmen Craker, WHPRMS Treasurer and Manager, Marketing & Public Relations at Vernon Memorial Healthcare, notes that she uses video conferencing much more than in previous years.
Both daily living and our work life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID‐19. Most of us are working at home, using newly acquired tools like Zoom, and other technologies to stay in touch with family and colleagues. The importance of technology in our lives has never been more apparent. Our employers have this same awareness and will work to improve upon newfound collaboration and productivity, all the while looking to reduce costs of manpower and building operations. With our encouragement, we may help to convince employers that some combination of at-work and at-home work expectation is the best outcome for all.
James Shulkin, a member of WHPRMS since 1999, is the Chief Brand Officer, Healthcare at NOISE, Inc.