Remotely Speaking, COVID-19 Has Changed How We Do Business

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to reinvent themselves. Some have shut down entirely. Government restrictions on business operations have required others to switch to at-home working models, leading to a shuttering of physical office spaces around the country. And those companies that have managed to stay open have found themselves juggling a host of new restrictions and medical advice, from mask mandates to social distancing.

The company I founded, Rubicon, is no exception. At the start of the pandemic, Rubicon shifted its employees to a completely at-home model of operations, shuttering our Atlanta headquarters for all but the most critical of operations. We were one of the first companies in the Atlanta region — and certainly in the U.S.— to go remote. For the past six months, our more than 350 employees have been working entirely from home, collaborating and meeting online, through emails, shared online tools, and “RUBI” our internal corporate intranet. A vast majority will work remotely indefinitely. We have sent the message to our teams that for the foreseeable future, this is the new way of doing business at Rubicon.

For me, this change marked a return to a prior way of working. As an entrepreneur, I have not always had an office. Even since founding Rubicon, because we have teams spread across the U.S. and in other countries around the world, I have gotten used to working remotely. Being able to work and manage the team from anywhere in the world has been a constant need, but there is a big difference between having a CEO who works remotely and having an entire company working from home.

If you are transitioning your company to an at-home working model, remember that addressing the challenge starts with communication and vision. I have found that you need to touch base with people every day to build a relationship. You have to water the plants to make them grow. A plant will not grow in the dark, or without water, and your team will not thrive without constant attention and information.

Constant communication is important anyway, but with a remote workforce, small things you might have been able to take for granted have to be carefully tended to. For example, company culture might be constantly reinforced in a physical workspace, by frequent interactions throughout the day. Working from home, your team does not get those interactions, so you have to go bigger and spell things out.

You might think that hundreds of employees transitioning to a digital workspace would involve technological solutions —and you would be right — but the challenge for Rubicon was primarily a test of our communications. We restructured meetings to accommodate frequent check-ins, because we were no longer running into each other in the hallways for quick updates and questions, or going to lunch together to discuss ongoing projects. Those conversations take up a lot of time, and we had to account for that time in planning remote meetings.

First and foremost, we set out to understand the expectations, needs and safety concerns of our employees in  COVID-19 world. We formed a Remote Rubicon & Beyond Committee; joined several groups and task forces both locally and nationally, including ones run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resource Management; and we used the Great Place to Work® tool to survey our employees about their feelings and individual situations to help inform our plan to move to a permanently remote office.

Technologically speaking, while we had a lot of the technical infrastructure in place to transition to an at-home working model, we required more. So, we scaled up where necessary to ease the transition. We have also increased our use of virtual social events, virtual guest speaker presentations, and underscored the importance of our affinity groups. All of this allowed us to stretch our muscles, and use different technology and tools. Ultimately, it grew us as a company, both in scale, capability and profitability.

I am proud to say that Rubicon has remained on-track even with having to take the time to transition to an at-home working model, but the challenge was not an easy one. It requires we rethink our operations almost every day to keep in mind the difficulties of having, not one or two physical work spaces, but hundreds.

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