Monday, March 16th: far from a national holiday, but for HFA and many companies across the country, it was a day that won’t soon be forgotten. In fact, it was a day that might redefine the way we work moving forward. After an impromptu leadership meeting with team leads, client leads, and directors, CEO Dave Wilgus and COO Ryan Ray let the company know that effective immediately, HFA would be working remotely until further notice. Shortly after this meeting, team leads began dispersing this information to their teams, and the shift to a fully remote workforce began.

A few weeks ago, we put out our first in a series of “HFA at Home” blogs, where we interviewed a few HFA employees to see how they were transitioning, what was working and what wasn’t. This week, we decided to dive deeper into what remote work looks like for those who are responsible for making sure the technology behind a remote workforce runs smoothly. I sat down (via GoToMeeting, of course) with John Raines, Senior IT Systems Lead, and Brittany Lawrence, Design Technology Lead on the BIM team, to discuss what implications the new remote workflow has had on their teams, as well as what learnings and growth have resulted for the company as a whole.

A Fully Remote Workforce

Many companies, especially small businesses without satellite offices throughout the country, continue to experiment and course-correct during the COVID-19 outbreak. For HFA, however, one of the saving graces has been the amount of preparation done on the front end to save time and stress when it came to sending employees home to work remotely.

John explains, “Over the last five or six years, we've put into place a lot of infrastructures to make working remotely possible. Especially once we opened the Franklin, MA, and Fort Worth offices, we needed the flexibility for employees to visit these offices and collaborate freely with them."

"From an infrastructure standpoint, we did have to check some things out {like licensing and infrastructure capabilities] because we haven't had that many people working remotely at once. But once we verified that we had the correct licensing, the biggest hurdle was dispersing the equipment to employees so they could work from home successfully," he continued.

HFA’s offices across the U.S. and in Mexico have set us up for success in this regard because many employees have experience traveling between offices, and some teams even have a mixture of team members from multiple offices. So, for some, this didn’t drastically change their day-to-day workflow.

“HFA has already been implementing the idea of this remote session, so it’s like HFA had been planning for this for the last four or five years already. That’s why I feel like the transition has been a lot smoother for us,” Brittany explains.

Together Apart

One of the most surprising hurdles the IT team is working through during this time? Like everyone else, they miss face-to-face interactions, especially when it comes to helping employees with a HelpDesk ticket. While being able to remote into a user's device is helpful, there is nothing that can compare to standing at their machine, watching them explain the issue, and walking them through the steps to fix it.  

Brittany says, "There's nothing that can truly replace that. GoToMeeting, Teams, they're the next best thing, absolutely, but there's something about that in-person interaction that takes that conversation to a whole other level.”

"Customer support is what we do. You need to build those relationships; it's essential, especially internally. I've had to rethink how I approach training, support, and conversations now that I can no longer have that in-person contact," she continues.

However, for some, this nontraditional work schedule and format has allowed them to be even more productive and focused.

John says, "Some people are excelling in this environment. I'm interested to see what the future holds because we're seeing people who've seen their productivity shoot up since they've been working from home, but you also have people who do not excel in this environment. But, then, there's also a group that hasn’t been impacted either way and could work from home or the office with ease in the future.”

Remote Work: A Glimpse into The Future?

While there will always be things that are out of our control when it comes to merging more than 250 employees to a fully remote workforce, like slow internet connections, computer issues, and technology hiccups, for the most part, HFA as a whole has been incredibly fortunate. This is thanks in large part to our forward-thinking leaders and the tireless efforts our technology teams have put in behind the scenes to roll out processes, programs, and infrastructure in advance that make remote work not only possible, but successful, as well.

"It [COVID-19] did accelerate processes and programs that we'd already been planning on using, but we also had stragglers who hadn't adopted them yet. So, it forced them to step out of their comfort zone and made them use these resources and see what the benefits of them are,” John said.

Working remotely as a company and a country is proving to be a fascinating experiment when it comes to considering employee productivity, the justification for flexible work schedules, and predominantly remote workplaces in the future.

For now, we’re all just waiting to see how this shakes out while continuing to work at the highest capacity we can given the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Will more companies allow for flexible schedules or a partially or even fully remote workforce once the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines are lifted? Do employees work better from home?

John concludes, “It just makes it that much more difficult for companies that say they have not seen purpose or value in allowing remote work. I think that has been negated. I don’t think you’ll ever be able to make that argument again.”

Only time will tell.

Until then, you’ll find the HFA IT and BIM teams continuing to work as hard as ever behind the scenes to make sure technology is on our side so we can continue to provide best-in-class client service, no matter where our desks may be.

Founded in 1990, HFA is a full-service Architecture and Engineering firm with locations in Bentonville, AR; Franklin, MA; Fort Worth, TX; and Mexico City, MX. Focused on designing for the customer experience, HFA works coast to coast with retail, real estate development, office, industrial, fueling, restaurant/food service, lifestyle, and education clients.