Embracing Workplace Flexibility In The Time Of Coronavirus

In the last few weeks, Coronavirus – or COVID-19 – has captured the attention of people around the world. It’s an ever-changing situation - both federal and state government officials are working tirelessly to inform Americans about the actions they are taking to keep us safe.

It’s becoming more difficult to maintain a semblance of regularity as sporting events, college courses, public gatherings, are all being canceled or modified in preparation of Coronavirus spreading – but these are wise decisions being made by officials to prevent the spread of disease to those among us who are most vulnerable.

As part of that calculus, officials are also asking businesses to evaluate their workplaces and are encouraging strategies of social distancing and workplace flexibilities that permit employees to stay home and self-isolate when sick or take care of loved ones. For more guidance about preparing workplaces for COVID-19, visit www.osha.gov.

While that can be a challenge for companies that make products or require employees to report to a workplace at all times, I was proud to send an email a week ago to staff saying that nothing will really change for them.

Since our inception in 2014, Vanguard Public Affairs has embraced those recommended workplace flexibilities as a point of pride, offering our employees maximum latitude with their schedules, while maintaining a thriving business.

Because of the work we do for our valued clients – strategic planning, public relations, communications, public affairs, digital and web design, graphic artistry, and more – we have the luxury of being able to operate from most anywhere. As a result, we offer the following benefits for our employees, all of which help attract and retain talent:

  • Flex Days – Every Vanguard employee – currently – has one flex day per week in which they can work from anywhere, whether it be from their home, their local coffee shop, or any other location. As we begin to enter an era where social distancing is becoming increasingly important, we may choose to increase the number of flex days for everyone in the near future.

  • Vacation Time – We don’t really count vacation hours – while we keep track of time off for employees, we are very flexible with their time. Generally speaking, junior employees receive about two weeks of vacation, and senior staff receive more, about three to four weeks per year. We take advantage of the digital world we live in – and while employees have the time they need to unplug and take a break from work – they have connected with us from Florida, Arizona, California, New York, Washington, the District of Columbia, and the Caribbean to check in with staff and clients.

  • Sick Time Is Sacrosanct – Employees have heard me say time and again the following mantra – “If you are sick, stay home. Please don’t get me sick.” Because of my time in a previous career spent as communications director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as a leader I understand disease protocols and how the state of Michigan could and does operate during health challenges, like the pandemic we are now experiencing. When people are sick at Vanguard, other people cover their work until they are healthy. About a year ago, one of our employees had a significant health issue that required hospitalization and critical care. We chose to give them the time they needed to recover and didn’t count sick days – it was more about managing the work and giving the employee the time to recover fully, while receiving a paycheck to manage their personal finances. It may have not been in the eyes of some the smart business thing to do, but it was the human thing to do.

  • Conference Calls Are The Key – Most of our work with clients requires the use of conference calls, and we regularly invest our time and energy using that technology to update clients and each other on our work. We do two conference calls together per week, in additional to internal meetings for each clients, also generally over conference call.

  • Information In One Place – At Vanguard, we use an online program called Basecamp to house all of our client project work. While there are similar cloud-based programs available for businesses to use, such as Google Drive and SharePoint, Basecamp is our choice to work in together and safely store proprietary documents and files.

Currently we have staff that work in many places across the country, and that practice helps expand our potential talent base so we can bring best public affairs practices for our clients to the table.

Katherine Erickson, our Chief Operating Officer, has been with Vanguard Public Affairs since our first week in business nearly six years ago, and lives in a suburb just outside of Dallas, Texas. While she has visited Vanguard headquarters here in Michigan a handful of occasions, her time is spent on task working with clients via email and conference call. Kayden Grinwis – our Digital Director – also lives in Texas, yet delivers high quality digital plans and service from nearly anywhere, whether it be on a mountaintop in Colorado or on a flight to Spain.

Jen Eyer, my partner here at Vanguard, spends a limited amount of time in Lansing each week, using the advantage of flexibility to effectively work with several clients from her home in Ann Arbor, yet juggle a busy family schedule. Our Content Manager, Amy Bailey, lives in Wisconsin, yet continually participates in conference calls with staff and clients. David Lossing, our Vice President, spends the bulk of his time working with clients along the I-75 corridor from Bay City to Detroit, but manages to visit his office in Lansing once or twice per week as his schedule allows.

Certainly, I won’t pretend it’s all wine and roses. Sometimes, distance can be inconvenient. I prefer to work in our office most days and it can get frustrating juggling different schedules and knowing where people are. At the end of the day, however, people value the flexibility they receive from Vanguard Public Affairs – it’s not just corporate speak. Our company actively lives in this space and it’s a unique model we remain proud of today. We will be ready for Coronavirus because of a forward-thinking workplace – I would encourage other leaders in similar positions to embrace similar changes as they benefit everyone.

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