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Working remotely is bringing us closer

It’s a Friday afternoon and I’m wrapping up my first week of working from home, compliments of the virus that has infected life as we know it.

As I look out the window of my home office – my adult daughter’s former bedroom — the sun is breaking through the clouds and I see a neighbor walking his dog. It’s the kind of spring day we wait all winter for.

Except it’s not.

Work and home life entered a surreal 6th dimension this month where every facet of life has been turned on its head. Since March 12, each day has brought news that another sector of life was going on hiatus. No Major League Baseball. No March Madness. No NBA playoffs. Movies theaters, restaurants, festivals, even places of worship, either shut down, or found way to reach their audiences where they live.

Businesses were suddenly faced with an existential crisis – how can we survive?

For us here at BridgeTower Media, we had to figure out how to continue providing our readers with the information they need to plot their own way forward, while ensuring the safety of our employees.

Like many businesses, we announced plans to have our folks work from home. That’s not a stretch for us, our reporters and editors do that on occasion. But this was different. This was a period of separation that could last for months.

For companies whose employees have never done this, I imagine this is another big shock to the system. So, here’s a couple things we did to ease the transition, and we’ve been making adjustments as we go.

Building a tool kit

Our first task was ensuring everyone had the tools they needed to do it. It takes more than a laptop and access to the web to make it happen. We needed reliable access to our servers and our office phones. We needed a way to communicate with one another in real time because, let’s face it, there’s just too much noise on email.

Those issues were easy to resolve. We use the phone app 3CX to keep in touch with our sources and clients, and Google Hangout to handle the back and forth between the reporters and me. We’ve been using Hangout for months, so this was an easy transition.

I manage five reporters who have been surfing the tidal wave of COVID-19-related announcements for two weeks. For them, it’s the biggest story of their professional lives and these tools are enabling them to write and post news of closures, revised hours, and the almost hourly announcements coming from the governor’s office and the health department.

Personal contact

But having all of the software and gadgets isn’t enough. As Bruce Springsteen sang, we all need that human touch. So, when we worked out our strategy, Associate Publisher Cathy Hirko and I scheduled regular conference calls. There is no form of communication as efficient or as powerful as the human voice.

In a crisis that demands physical isolation, the importance of reaching out to employees who are working from home is amplified. Witness the rush to download teleconferencing apps such as Zoom, Slack and Hangout.

Our reporters write for two publications – Central Penn Business Journal in Harrisburg, and Lehigh Valley Business in Bethlehem. They never see each other. And one of my goals since joining as managing editor in August was to find a way to bring them together.

Google Hangouts got that started, but just one week into this crisis I’m seeing bonds forming across the virtual divide for the first time.

They’re helping each other, yes, but they’re also cracking jokes and solving problems.

We say good morning when we log in each morning, goodnight when we sign off.

They’re like soldiers in a fox hole.

And that, for me, is more than I could have hoped for.

Garry Lenton is managing editor for Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business. You can reach him at glenton@bridgetowermedia.com

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