To protect employees from the spread of COVID-19, many public media outlets are quickly becoming “distributed” organizations — with staff working remotely from home or other places outside of the office.
Telework is nothing new to Public Media Company, which was set up for remote work from its very beginnings 19 years ago. Since PMC works with local media around the country, we don’t locate our entire staff in a single office. We have a home base in Boulder, Colo., but most of our employees work at their homes or in shared offices when not traveling for work.
We feel like we have some of the kinks worked out — issues that public media stations may have just started to grapple with — so here’s advice we can share from many years of refining our practices.
The key to success is for the organization and employees to embrace digital tools and systems and make cultural changes that allow “working from home” to become standard operating procedure for as much of your workforce as possible.
Advice for station leaders
There are many tools and systems that support remote work arrangements. At Public Media Company we use tools that support our virtual work environment and allow staff to work and communicate on cloud-based platforms across multiple time zones. The tools we use are:
- Toggl — for time tracking
- Expensify — expense management
- Slack — real-time communication
- Uber Conference — conference calls that support voice and screen-sharing through a dial-in number that doesn’t change every time you schedule a call
- GoToMeeting — conference calls by voice, video and screen-sharing; recommended for larger groups that require video
- Salesforce and SmartCloud Connect — CRM
- QuickBooks — cloud accounting
- Office 365 – file sharing via OneDrive or SharePoint
- Outlook — email and calendar
There are many similar products on the market. I recommend checking TechSoup, a marketplace for technology supporting nonprofits, or contacting the software provider directly to ask about nonprofit pricing.
Once your tools are in place, offer clear guidance and training on how to use them. Provide written how-tos and troubleshooting guides as reference resources for staff. Ask all of your teams to share work schedules and institute time tracking, and mandate the use of team communication tools, including email and Slack.
Buy subscriptions to additional tools, such as conference lines or data storage, when necessary.
As your systems come together, you also need to consider whether financial processes (invoicing, bill processing, expense reimbursements, etc.) can be transitioned to an electronic system. It’s also important to evaluate standardized virus and online threat protections that will cover employees working remotely.
Many employees are being asked to work from home while also taking care of family members, so it’s important to embrace tools that give your employees the flexibility to balance work needs with elder/childcare or other obligations.
Advice for employees
It’s not always easy to work from home, despite the appeal of not commuting and gaining some privacy and flexibility. At Public Media Company, we work across many time zones, so we’ve adopted tools and communication practices that support us in getting our work done.
Maintaining a consistent day-to-day work schedule when employees are reachable via Slack or email is key. Members of your team must be able to rely on each other to get the work done. For companies with employees in multiple time zones, the hours between 10 a.m.–3 p.m. are most critical.
Here are few important tips:
- Establish a schedule that your colleagues can depend on and stick to it. Document your hours worked.
- Make sure you are working in a quiet space and set up all of your online tools so they’re readily accessible.
- Ensure that your home Wi-Fi has the bandwidth and speed you need for digital workplace tools. Upgrade if necessary. If cost is an issue, many cable internet providers are offering special deals to low-income households during this crisis. Check out the services available in your area and see if you qualify.
- Embrace technology and standard company practices for working remotely, such as sharing files on a cloud-based server.
- Communicate frequently using multiple tools. There’s a hierarchy of urgency in how we communicate at Public Media Company. Email is for matters that require routine response; Slack is for time-sensitive or project-related issues; text messages or phone calls are for urgent matters that require immediate attention and/or discussion of how to proceed.
- If questions come in from Slack or email, don’t break your concentration to answer. Wait until you are at a natural stopping point to respond. Do check email and Slack consistently so you know when someone is trying to reach you.
The stress created by COVID-19 and its impact on family life is enormous. Public media leaders should use this time to open a dialogue about how stations can support employees who are working to keep audiences informed and entertained throughout the day.
Public media is more important than ever before, and it’s imperative that stations approach this new reality with calm, perseverance and a commitment to serving one another at a time when our best work is truly needed.
Alison Scholly is the managing director of Public Media Company, a nonprofit strategic consulting firm that fosters sustainable local public media growth in communities across the U.S.