Reflections on COVID-19, the impacts on our business and the future
A Rapid Test of Our Capabilities
COVID-19 has upended our normal routine. We have changed the way we work, interact, create, and contribute across the board. We empathize with those who have lost loved ones due to the pandemic. The changes we have implemented showed us that our company can be flexible while still providing excellent service to our clients and that by adapting to new circumstances we may help create a better environment not just on a large-scale but also within our personal surroundings.
As Stay-at-Home orders were put in place in the regions where we work, we were able to shift to a predominately remote workplace. Many of our staff were already equipped with a laptop, making us well prepared to pick up and recreate our workspaces from home. Our IT team stepped up to help ease the pains of transition providing training, upgrades, and support. Some of our practice areas already implemented Microsoft Teams for their inter-office and client communications. New users were able to get training on the basics which allowed our groups to continue functioning effectively—and in some cases with improved efficiency!
This change did not come without its challenges. Moving all meetings to teleconference came with growing pains, whether from a co-worker’s screen freezing as their bandwidth tried to accommodate simultaneous first-grade Zoom meetings, movie streaming, and a video conference, or determining how to best present our team during a virtual interview for a key project pursuit. Additionally, keeping a work-life balance, especially with children and pets became a big task with all family members suddenly at home.
Moving towards the future
Otak is reflecting on the ways in which this time has impacted our business and what we can realize going forward in order to operate more efficiently, allow employees to maintain a work-life balance, and deliver great work while reducing our footprint as a business.
With fewer employees now working from our offices, the need for expansive office space is changing. We still want to give our employees a place to work from, but this begs the question: do we need all of this square footage? It is something that many employers are contemplating, especially those who had office expansions planned for 2020. Each employee may not need their own workspace. Offices could be set up to offer shared hubs or hotel desks for those who primarily work from home in the future.
Allowing for flexible schedules might be one of our favorite benefits of working from home. Many employees appreciate the flexibility to take a walk, run or bike ride during their lunch break, or even run some errands in the middle of the day when things are less crowded. People with children have learned to work around getting their kids set up for school, doing homework, preparing lunches, and scheduling “after school activities”. Being able to keep multiple priorities balanced looks much different now. Work-life balance also means keeping self-care and mental health a top priority during these stressful times. Many of our employees signed up for the Bike More Challenge in Portland to log their bike trips throughout the month of June. Local yoga studios and gyms have also pivoted to offer remote classes.
Deliver Great Work
With our increased collaboration on MS Teams and other video conference platforms, we are able to continue to deliver great work to our clients. In some cases, we have seen project schedules condense, leading to overall cost savings. One reason for this has been more efficient or fewer site visits and less travel time. Additionally, video conferencing allows our project teams to review and work together on project deliverables. We no longer have to wait until everyone is in the office. While it was an adjustment for some, redlining plans and making markups can also be faster when done digitally.
Impacts on Otak’s Sustainable Practices
All of these advantages come with the underlying benefit of reducing our overall footprint as a company. Most of our staff are no longer commuting to the office each day, which reduces vehicle emissions as well as commuting time. We have cut back on printing and paper by emailing invoices and digitally signing or stamping when allowed, reducing our waste stream company-wide. With fewer people in the office, our utility demands are decreased. And our company travel to project site visits, between offices, and to client meetings has been drastically reduced!
This pandemic also challenges some of Otak’s approaches to sustainability in other ways. While our travel to project sites may be reduced, when we do travel for a site visit, we are advised to travel individually. For employees in our Portland office, the health risk of taking public transportation means many employees will prefer to drive (or bike!) to work when offices reopen. The impact of these choices on traffic volumes in our cities remains unclear.
Despite this pandemic and the disruptions in our societal norms and economies, Otak is working to see a bright side. We are working diligently to implement the lessons we have learned and continue to operate more efficiently while providing a safe and welcoming workplace each employee can be proud to call their second home.