CHEYENNE – There’s a mass migration of workers in progress, and they’re moving from brick-and-mortar office buildings to home offices, living rooms and kitchen tables by the thousands.
It all started here about two weeks ago, as part of an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
But working from home is one virus-induced change to daily life that Stacey Obrecht, CEO of the government consulting firm Public Knowledge LLC, hasn’t had to make.
Obrecht has worked from her home in Cheyenne for the better part of a decade, but she’s part of a 50-employee team spread out across 11 states. Her firm assists state government agencies with large-scale projects and problem solving.
When fear of the virus, of which there are now more than 80 confirmed cases in Wyoming, first escalated a few weeks ago, nearly every state, including Wyoming, called for the closure of schools, nonessential businesses and other public gathering spaces.
A lot of office workers did the same, and Obrecht watched as many of her clients have had to pack up and go home, but without much guidance on how to make remote working a possibility.
“State governments historically haven’t had hardly any remote work options,” Obrecht said. “They very much follow a model of ‘You come into the office, you sit in your seat, you do your work, you go home.”
Learning how to work and manage people remotely “basically overnight, without having the infrastructure in place, has been a challenge for a lot of them,” said Obrecht, who helped Public Knowledge compile a guide for working remotely.
Shortages of laptops, an inability to remotely access company servers and communication breakdowns are some of the biggest issues she’s seen for far.
The guide, which is available on the firm’s website, includes some of these tips:
• Move collaboration and information sharing online
• Document responsibilities and processes in the event someone gets sick
• Set an expectation of regular updates from staff
• Find and promote opportunities for human connection
• Watch for employees who are working too much
Obrecht, who said she “can’t imagine” going back to a traditional office, has had much longer than some of her clients to ease into work-from-home life. She says it’s much more centered on output than visibility at an office.
“I have so much more work-life balance now that I don’t worry about the 8-5 grind,” said Obrecht, who spent years working in state government offices.
“I get the work done when I get the work done. I like that it’s not based on a schedule,” she said. “It offers a level of flexibility and balance that makes me feel like a professional.”
But Obrecht hasn’t always been so thrilled about the idea of not stationing herself at the same cubicle everyday. When she first got the job with Public Knowledge, which has operated remotely since it was founded 32 years ago, she was a little worried about her new office environment.
“I’m super extroverted,” she said. “I like being around people, so the thought of being at home by myself made me a little nervous.”
Video-chatting and communication apps like Zoom and Slack, she said, have changed her mind.
“In an office, you have an intimacy and communication that exists by just being there,” Obrecht said. “When you’re virtual, you have to be a lot more intentional. You have to overcommunicate.”
As Obrecht sees it, the flexibility and cost-saving benefits of working remotely are “the future of our workforce,” and the circumstances of COVID-19 are simply “catapulting” it to the center of those conversations.