Always be prepared. It’s not just the Scout’s motto. It’s what brought our Waterloo Region Future of Work and Learning Coalition members together in 2019. We began by looking at what employers, employees, education and government can do to build a community of practice to help future-proof the workplace.

We just didn’t think the future would get here so quickly.

The Future of Work has become the present of work. COVID-19 and our collective response to it has pushed our community to action. In the span of a week, a large majority of organizations across the globe quickly moved their teams to a work-from-home model.

Every organization is different, and the ways they have managed the transition vary. We spoke with a few of our local organizations – both government and private sector – to see what tools their teams have used to stay connected.

For Arctic Wolf’s Head of Communication Dan Deeth, the biggest surprise was the lack of surprises. “As a security firm, we have always been prepared for business continuity in the event of emergencies or disasters. COVID-19 has proven that we can operate our business 100 per cent remotely if needed.” Slack has been the internal communication tool of choice at Arctic Wolf, as it has for many local tech companies. Deeth said that there’s been a noticeable increase in daily message traffic since moving their entire team to work from home.

Transitioning their office culture to work-from-home has been a priority for the Arctic Wolf team. “Our office managers and senior leaders have been running games and contests via Slack,” added Deeth. The contests have ranged from general trivia to a competition for who has the best homebrew coffee setup.

The week of moving to work-from-home happened to include St. Patrick’s Day. This didn’t stop the Arctic Wolf team from celebrating. “Our Chief Revenue Officer organized a ‘Virtual Happy Hour’ where we had over 75 team members video conference together to share a pint,” said Deeth.

At TextNow, the transition to work-from-home has proven to have its challenges. “Many employees say it’s harder than they expected it to be,” said Carolyn MacDonald, TextNow’s Director of Communications.

Like many companies, the issue for the TextNow team has been missing the in-person social interactions in their office. “The team here at TextNow is extremely close and employees are missing things like our lunches where we all eat together and connect,” added MacDonald.

One of the office benefits at TextNow is an in-house gym and trainers. To keep their employees healthy and engaged, teams have been sharing and participating in livestream gym workouts from a few of the office’s trainers.

TextNow is a Slack-powered office like Arctic Wolf. “We have always been heavy Slack users and continue to rely on that channel to communicate regularly,” added MacDonald. The leadership team at TextNow have started to create different Slack channels to help employees navigate this new world of remote work. Parents at TextNow can find ideas on how to keep kids busy and happy while school is closed in the #kidideas channel. “We also share tips and tricks for working from home on our #mentalhealthatwork channel as well as ideas for staying healthy,” said MacDonald.

While TextNow and Arctic Wolf embraced work-from-home as an option long before the outbreak of COVID-19, RouteThis has focused on being an office-first company.

“If someone had an appointment, a delivery or a sick kid at home, yes, working from home is an option, but we just didn’t have a strong work-from-home precedent to work from,” said Matt Gardner, RouteThis’s Director of Customer Success. Gardner said that once RouteThis made the decision to move to work from home, they put a lot of thought and intention into how to make the transition work.

The RouteThis leadership looked at what they were fearful of losing when moving remote. “There’s a lot of ad hoc stuff that happens. You have someone saying how much more productive they’re being at home – but that means the work that happens at the coffee machine or between meetings isn’t happening now.”

RouteThis focused on making sure their team knows to be available during core hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a daily team sync over video chat. “There’s the whole social aspect of work that we’re trying to bring back too – eating lunches together and happy hours.”

“Most of our communication relies on going to someone’s desk and asking a question,” said Gardner, “Now calling someone is knocking on their door when they’re in a meeting – it means you need help right away.”

Gardner also pointed out that this isn’t normal work-from-home. “You’re working from home with kids. We have a few team members who loved work-from-home conceptually, but now they’re saying after this is over, ‘I never want to do this again’.”

Managing the transition for a scaling tech company has its challenges. Doing the same for a workforce that’s the voice of regional government takes on a whole other level of importance.

“Public perception and public trust is really important for the Region,” said Jane Albright, Commissioner, Human Resources and Citizen Service at Region of Waterloo. “We’re a values-based culture at the Region. It’s not hard to get people on board about serving this community.”

The Region of Waterloo provides many critical services for citizens across the community – including waste management, public health and transportation management. Two-thirds of Regional staff are deemed critical, which meant that there wasn’t an option for working remotely. For the remaining one-third of staff, Albright said they were thrilled at how easily the transition happened. “All credit for our infrastructure goes to our IT group. We’re setup with VPN access and technology for virtual desktops.”

Staff at the Region had been testing the technology to enable working from home, but one of the unexpected things was around expectations. “Our managers wanted to make sure that they could rely on being able to communicate with their staff. Many of the staff need to be available to be deployed to another team,” said Albright, “It’s top of mind that we don’t undermine services for citizens.”

One major difference for the Region compared to private tech companies is that many of the Region’s staff are union members. “We’re lucky that we have excellent relationships with our unions. It’s a partnership and we made sure we were able to deal with any concerns – from health and safety to seniority.”

Albright oversees the Region’s call centre – the voice of the Region. “We’ve had unprecedented call volumes and the team has been doing an amazing job,” added Albright. “I’ve worked at many different government organizations and it’s always remarkable how much our organization here at the Region embraces our values every day.”

As always, we’re looking for stories and examples of how you’re managing transitioning to work-from-home or any other way you’re adapting to the changing ways we work and learn. Send us a summary of your story and we will select a few to be profiled in future newsletters and on social to bring to life the great things already happening in the community.