Is Covid-19 the watershed moment where we finally learn to balance family, school, work, home, exercise, friends and errands—for everyone?

Covid-19 has turned all of our definitions of work and life upside down. Almost instantly, thousands of companies and millions of employees transitioned to working from home, Zoom meetings and unstructured schedules.  

Companies have had to learn new ways of doing business, with virtual teams, new technologies and an uncertain economy. Individuals and families have had to learn how to work from home while taking care of kids.

This piece of thought leadership is part of 11 Moonshot Ideas to Move the Columbus Region Forward: A Future 50 project.

THE IDEAS

The need for a civic renaissance • The private sector should fight inequity • Closing the digital divide • Driving equity by funding women-owned businesses • Designing a more equitable region • Using data to guide public policy • Customer-centricity in social services • A radical recalibration of education • ISO: Ambassadors for science • Finding true work-life balance post-Covid • Reimagining community-police relations • Why we did this project

For some, the transition to a flexible work arrangement has been easier. Two Columbus-based technology companies, Beam Dental and Aware, have made the permanent shift to remote work. 

“We interviewed our employees and 90 percent wanted to keep working from home on a long-term basis,” says Jeff Schumann, CEO of Aware. Both companies have provided resources to help employees make the shift, and they’ve used technology to maintain team culture and ensure collaboration.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 has highlighted the inequality that exists in the Columbus region and many other cities. While people in white-collar occupations have had the privilege of staying home without much loss of income, individuals and families in low-income ZIP codes don’t have that choice because they depend on service industry jobs that require them to report to a particular location. If they do have occupations that would allow for remote work, families lack the reliable technology to be successful. 

As we get beyond the pandemic, it can be tempting for office-based companies to revert back to more traditional models of work. But what if we could take the positives from Covid-19 and change the way we do business in the Columbus region?  

What if we could fund a public-private partnership that allows all citizens to experience their ideal definition of work and life balance? A situation where the government, companies and nonprofits join together to create a community where all individuals, regardless of class or status, can choose their preferred work arrangement—where to work, how to work, when to work.  

A few key elements could help establish an effective initiative. 

Government funding to support businesses and investments in infrastructure. New devices, collaboration tools and cybersecurity investments that support remote work should be funded through grants and low-interest loans, especially for the smaller businesses that may not have the financial resources to evolve. Investments in infrastructure are needed to ensure all businesses and residents have access to reliable technology.

Create incentives and public policies that encourage businesses to offer flexible work opportunities. In 2013, Vermont passed legislation that protects the rights of employees to request flexible working arrangements. Employees are permitted to make two requests per year. An employer is permitted to deny a request if not consistent with the business’ operations. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against those who have requested flexible working arrangements. Columbus can expand on this approach to create the guidelines and incentives that encourage flexible work throughout the year.

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Establishing this public-private partnership has the potential to reduce traffic congestion, parking and public transportation needs, and lessen pollution, increasing quality of life and freeing up land for added green space.

What if the Columbus region created work choice for all people? What if our innovative position attracted companies to the region that brought well-paying jobs and a progressive social stance that demanded equity?

What if our community was built for the future of work?

‘Remote-first’ model

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed many things for Beam Dental. Like many companies, Beam immediately shifted its team to a work-from-home model. After experiencing the shift and listening to employees, the leadership team decided to switch to a “remote-first” model where all employees will be able to work from wherever they choose. 

Founded in 2012, Beam Dental offers dental insurance based on brushing behavior as tracked by its smart toothbrush.

There will still be an office for those who prefer to come in, and for team meetings and other situations where in-person collaboration is needed. The shift allows Beam to take a leaner approach to its office environment with shared workstations.

The cost savings are being used to invest in its people, by providing dollars to each team member to outfit their home office with better furniture, technology and supplies.  Beam has also used a number of collaboration tools including Google suite, Salesforce and other proprietary software.

Each week, a different leader at Beam is interviewed to connect with the team of over 225 employees. Beam believes it is important to maintain team camaraderie and will continue making it a priority by holding monthly virtual all-hands meetings, virtual celebrations and other opportunities for employees to share stories with each other.

CEO Alex Frommeyer believes this shift will allow them to attract new talent and create a culture where employees are more valued.

“Beam is compelled to maintain or even grow our high cultural standards while also changing to a more dynamic work environment,” he says.

Calls to action 

• Interview your employees to understand how they are adapting to the current shift in work and what they care about when it comes to their ideal work structure.

• Seek out companies that have experienced success in shifting to flexible work arrangements to learn best practices.

• Start developing internal performance management practices that help management evaluate performance and results of teams regardless of work arrangement.

Nevin Bansal is CEO of Outreach Promotional Solutions and founder of SmallBizCares.

With contributions by Alex Anthony, Chanel Nelson, Kierra Williams and Haley Boehning