Working from home: How three Fort Wayne companies are adapting to the 'COVID-19 normal'

As the COVID-19 pandemic shuts down all non-essential workplaces in Indiana (and across the country), it is changing the way Fort Wayne works.

Prior to the pandemic, some employers in Northeast Indiana have been more amenable to working remotely than others.

So as more local companies roll out work-from-home plans for the sake of their employees' health, what advice do they have for making the transition smooth for managers and subordinates alike?

Three local managers weigh in on their experience working from home so far and how it's shaking up their company dynamics. 

Barnes & Thornburg

Barnes & Thornburg's Savannah Robinson Savannah Robinson is Director of Legal Personnel at Barnes & Thornburg, a law firm with multiple offices around the country. She's acts as the firm's director of legal personnel for all 19 offices and is charged with overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Fort Wayne office.

Legal work typically requires some in-person interaction to get the job done, Robinson says, so while working remotely during COVID-19 is convenient in some ways, it also presents additional challenges.

For example, law offices have had to adjust to the fact that some courts have closed temporarily. As she puts it, they've "pivoted," while their workload and client expectations have not waned. If anything, there are more needs now than ever as clients navigate the uncertainty involved with COVID-19.

"Our lawyers and communications team continue to educate firm clients on COVID-19 related resources, help them manage their businesses and work through best plans of action for the way ahead," Robinson says.

She explains that they're trying to offer some sense of normalcy to their workforce in this unusual time, too. They're also trying to prevent anything from slipping through the cracks as staff handles sensitive information from home.  

"We are taking extra precautions with confidentiality and data security since we have people working from their homes, enforcing regular work hours to keep people engaged, and moving forward—business as usual—for the most part," Robinson says. 

Fort Wayne Metals
Fort Wayne Metal's Evan WoodEvan Wood, senior director of human capital management at Fort Wayne Metals, says the nature of their business has made remote work setups harder to adopt than at other organizations.

“Two-thirds of our workers can't work remotely because we're in a central manufacturing function, supplying medical devices,” he explains.  “A number of those are pandemic specific. So we have a number of people working from home that can, and then we have a number of manufacturing employees that have to be on-site to do their job.”

Wood says they’ve made the most of the situation. Staff whose jobs lend themselves to remote work have done so, and the integration has gone fairly well. Wood attributes this to technology stacks that make it easy to meet virtually. He says the fact that they made the transition in early March has made a difference, too. His colleagues have had more time to get acclimated to the new way of collaborating. 

In hindsight, Wood says Fort Wayne Metals’ culture is another factor in their success with their telework adoption.

“I think what's helped the transition is we're such a close-knit team," he says. "We’ve already had such good relationships built, that it's made the transition to connecting via video easier. We don't have to try to build a relationship remotely. Relationships already existed.”

Indiana Tech

Like Wood, Indiana Tech’s Director of Career Center & Regional Career Services Cindy Price Verduce has worked remotely in various capacities before the COVID-19 pandemic. But this time around, she says helping her staff adjust has taken some extra effort, especially when the arrangement has been thrust upon them so suddenly.

Working with students is another wildcard for Indiana Tech. Verduce's office is tasked with helping students find internships and jobs, and sometimes face-to-face communication is necessary or at least preferred. Verduce says they’ve made do with video calls and other tools.

Indiana Tech's Cindy Price Verduce

Another factor that maybe isn’t as obvious is how some personalities are better suited to telecommuting than others. Verduce cites the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as one helpful resource in deducing whether or not employees will enjoy working remotely. Each personality type has certain tendencies and things that grate on them in a work environment. Verduce says the key is to be mindful of what makes each person on the team tick and try to accommodate accordingly.

“For example, one of our staff members is an INSF, which means she tends to hate procrastination and last-minute changes, disregarding established rules and regulations and not being appreciated,” Verduce says.

She keeps these considerations in mind as she’s helping her team set goals and tackle challenges related to COVID-19 or not.

Under regular conditions, she works to accommodate all personality types on her staff, offering two standing huddles a day on in addition to virtual office hours to address concerns as they arise. 

Going forward, she believes that having a balance of in-person and virtual communications is the ideal mix to help employees of all types get what they need to thrive.

"While I think that for some people the virtual setup definitely works, there are still some people who value the richness of shared experiences you can't always get online," she says. "If anything, people probably would prefer a hybrid mix."

And while many workplaces in Northeast Indiana were accustomed to office hours before the pandemic, the option to work remote might be more commonplace now that more companies realize what's possible.

Pandemic aside, as companies look to attract and retain Millennials and Gen Z, they may be forced to evolve with the times or become irrelevant to these generations.

After all, for digital natives, work isn't a place you go, but what you do. The question then becomes: Will remote work become an exception or the rule for corporations after COVID-19?
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Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a freelance contributor for Input Fort Wayne. A graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.