Three Lessons COVID-19 Taught Us About Remote Work

When the pandemic ends, leaders and managers should take time to reflect on what millions of people learned from "the world's largest work-from-home experiment."

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It’s astonishing to think about how fast time flies during a global pandemic. Just last year, Time magazine called the coronavirus outbreak “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.” Many companies transformed their business overnight into a fully remote working environment. It was a daunting challenge, but we did it without losing sight of two essential ingredients that make our company a success: our employees’ and customers’ productivity and well-being.

Tech’s Response to COVID-19

The long-term reality of the pandemic began on March 13, 2020. I distinctly remember it because it was Friday the 13th, and I was in California for an in-person town hall meeting. It quickly became apparent COVID-19 wasn’t going to blow over after a couple of weeks. We converted our town hall to an entirely virtual gathering. I took the redeye home and worked with our leadership team to create a COVID task force. We closed our offices, immediately implemented a remote working policy, and revised our ever-evolving business continuity plan to take care of our employees and customers throughout the fluidity of the pandemic. Our priority was to ensure our employees were safe and equipped with the tools and infrastructure needed to succeed under these working conditions. This plan empowered us to break barriers, redefine business as usual, be more authentic and empathetic to our workforce’s mental health, and continue to put the customer first.

Redefining Business as Usual

Like many companies, COVID-19 had us scrambling to implement a coherent and effective remote-work strategy on the fly. This rapid shift created new challenges. Working from home was no longer a privilege; it was a necessity. We had to ask ourselves what “business as usual” would eventually mean in a non-pandemic world. Suppose we couldn’t return to pre-COVID normalcy. How could we adapt as an organization with 50% new and changing leadership team unaccustomed to managing a business through a pandemic?

Upon realizing COVID wasn’t a two-week anomaly, I concluded that “business as usual” simply didn’t exist. The pandemic forced us to shift our thinking and personal interactions. We established a COVID task force whose primary purpose was to help us understand the right things to do for our employees and customers going forward. Additionally, we devised online activities like virtual game shows and happy hours for fun and creativity to engage customers and employees. We’ve also instituted COVID spot surveys to check in with employees to understand how they’re doing and what additional tools they need to succeed.

Mental Health Maintenance

The pandemic underscored the importance of empathy, transparency, and compassion—skills that our CEO, Christal Bemont, has always believed are essential to being a good leader. Remote work gave us all a window into co-worker’s home lives. That knowledge allowed us to normalize transparency and have more authentic interactions—it invited greater trust and compassion. The stresses, uncertainties, and blurring of home and work life brought on by the pandemic made understanding and trust essential to organizational health and success.

As a business leader, I’ve realized that a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work. Everyone thinks about (and adapts to) a situation differently. While some welcome the opportunity to work from home permanently, others miss the camaraderie of a physical office location.

Realizing a slow return to normalcy, we’ve learned to be flexible and intentional about remaining personal with employees and customers, especially when we break the fourth wall between work and home life. For example, we try to humanize Zoom meetings with small talk to strengthen relationships and collaboration while allowing those less dependent on such communication to leave if they prefer.

Putting the Customer First

More than ever, we have learned the importance of leading with an empathetic mindset and putting the customers first. The pandemic pushed us to proactively check-in with customers, listen to concerns, and reassure them we understood their unique challenges. These individual conversations helped solidify customer relationships and provided data for an in-depth evaluation. As a data-driven business, we know having reliable information helps both the salesperson and customer find clarity and drive smart business decisions.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

When the pandemic ends, leaders and managers should take time to reflect on what millions of people learned from “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.” With that said, I’ve seen several positives come out of this digital transformation over the last year, not least of which are the vaccine rollout and acknowledgment of our perseverance and resilience. The pandemic stretched us to grow as a company, innovate for customers, and rapidly adapt to an unknown future. We learned throughout the chaos, deep down, we are all braver than we believe, stronger than we seem, and more united than we think.


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Jamie Kiser

Jamie Kiser is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Customer Officer at Talend, a leader in data integration and data integrity solutions. Talend delivers complete, clean, and uncompromised data in real-time. This unified approach to data has made it possible to create the Talend Trust Score, an industry-first innovation that instantly assesses the reliability of any dataset to bring clarity and confidence to every decision.