MARCH 20

HOW REMOTE WORK BECAME A WAY OF LIFE AT IDEA GROVE

by    |  FROM THE CEO

Fortunately, we've seen it coming for a while.

No, not the COVID-19 pandemic. In a million years, we couldn't have predicted that. But we have gotten an inside view of the trend toward remote work, in the course of learning from and advocating for our B2B technology clients over the years. It's been an education, and one we are very grateful right now to have put to use.

Idea Grove is celebrating our 15th anniversary this year. Working with companies in unified communications, web conferencing, cloud computing, telemedicine, cybersecurity and e-commerce logistics over the years, it's been evident that our future is one of distributed and remote teams. This led us to take steps toward a remote-friendly future as an agency a few years ago.

For those of you whose organizations are just now making this transition, I thought sharing our agency's experience might be of value.

First, we bit the bullet and ditched our desktop computers in favor of company-issued laptops. That was challenging, because when you're a small business, buying 25 laptops is a major investment. We did it over a period of a year or so to spread the expenses out a bit.

Second, we moved from GoToMeeting, which we had utilized primarily for audio conference calls with clients, to the more user-friendly Zoom. Our use of video conferencing quickly expanded to video meetings with clients and sales calls with prospects. As the team became more familiar with Zoom, it became easier for managers to feel comfortable with their employees working remotely, so we gradually liberalized our work-from-home policies.

We also transitioned from Skype and email to Slack for internal chat and collaboration. Slack does an amazing job of making people feel connected and part of the same team, even when they are not in the same place. Finally, we transitioned from Deltek to Teamwork for project management. We configured it to our team's needs and workflows, and then committed to everyone using it -- and importantly, using it the same way.

Two years ago, with team members working remote more often, I considered moving to a 100-percent virtual agency model. After all, we were close to the end of our office lease, and I thought, "This will save us hundreds of thousands of dollars!" I did quite a bit of due diligence on the idea. I talked to longtime friends like Gini Dietrich at Arment Dietrich/Spin Sucks and Shelly Kramer at VB3, who had built thriving virtual agencies. I spoke with a global PR agency that had previously sought to acquire us, and who had recently purchased a virtual agency. They said brick-and-mortar vs. virtual made no difference to them in terms of agency valuation.

Ultimately, I decided against going completely virtual. There were a couple reasons. First, young people coming out of school or with just a few years of experience enjoy the camaraderie, hands-on experience and in-person mentoring that comes with office life. This is especially true when the commute feels more voluntary and less a 9-to-5 daily slog. Second, about half of our clients are based in Dallas like us, and many of them enjoy coming to our office for work sessions. For many clients and prospects, an agency having an established office is part of what demonstrates credibility.

So we decided on the best of both worlds for us. We now have a remote work policy that gives team members the freedom to work from home (or wherever they would like) two days per week. If they need extra days for any reason (our creative director recently worked from Europe for a week during an extended trip abroad), we are highly flexible. One of our most valuable and longest-tenured team members, Senior Content Manager Les Worley, even moved to Merida, Mexico more than a year ago. It never even created a blip in terms of his service and availability to clients.

Having said that, we also recently signed a lease on new office space at Tollway Plaza, which we've been building out over the past several months. Our move-in date was scheduled for the end of this month. We're a little saddened to have to delay the move because of the current crisis, but we are very fortunate that our team is healthy and safe. 

Like many of you, I look to find the positives in everything, although it's not always easy -- especially right now. But I was heartened to see the news the other day that the U.S. government has extended access to telemedicine to Medicare patients, empowering millions of older Americans to visit their doctors remotely via Skype or Zoom and avoid catching or spreading the virus.

I first got a glimpse of the future of telemedicine in 2007, when I attended the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco for a client. Since then, however, the healthcare industry has been slow to realize its potential. Now, you can be sure that when the current threat passes, the expansion of telemedicine -- and of remote work generally -- will continue, and will benefit us all.

For those of you whose organizations are just now making the remote transition, I recognize that the change is more abrupt than you'd like, and that inconvenience and disruption to longstanding routines can be jarring. But I encourage you to embrace it as an opportunity to grow and move your business forward.

If there are silver linings to the cloud that we are all currently living under, that is one of them.

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The Idea Grove agency got its start when founder Scott Baradell created this blog in 2005. We’ve been sharing insights on PR and digital marketing ever since. To continue your learning, explore Idea Grove’s Knowledge Base.

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