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The Great Work from Home Experiment: How some Louisiana companies are making it work with lasting results

The spring of 2020 will go down as a moment when companies across the globe experienced exactly what it was like for fleets of employees to work from home. Large corporations and small businesses, many of which had been flirting with telecommuting, suddenly faced a baptism-by-fire experiment brought on by COVID-19. The situation has delivered a unique data set about remote work’s pros and cons, which companies will no doubt use in decision making in the future.

In Louisiana, stay-at-home orders were officially announced by Governor John Bel Edwards on March 22, but many companies had already been preparing their remote work systems, including IT defense contractor, General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), which has more than 1,000 employees supporting its Technical Shared Services operations that operate at various sites in Bossier City, La. GDIT employs more than 1,200 employees located in Louisiana.

“Our resiliency as a technology innovator enabled us to respond and equip our Louisiana workforce to telework almost overnight,” says Omar Bhatti, vice president, technical shared services management in Louisiana. “This is critical as a government contractor supporting essential and critical missions of local, state and federal governments with dynamic needs and missions supported by a distributed workforce and varied work environment.

Recruiting telework employees

Not only did GDIT maintain its workflow without interruption, it also continued to recruit new employees as customer needs have evolved during this period. A month into the stay-at-home order, the company was actively searching for more than 40 senior technical level roles across a variety of skill sets, and more than 150 temporary teleworking jobs for enterprise service desk support, some of which had the potential to turn into permanent positions.

“Many technology jobs can be done remotely, determined by our customers’ mission and security and whether it should be done from home,” says Bhatti. “At GDIT we take this very seriously.”

Saving space and eliminating the commute

In the Capital Region, Baton Rouge-based online grill and outdoor kitchen retailer BBQGuys moved its teams to remote work with very few snags, says Creative Director Cullen Boudreaux. The company, which sells specialty outdoor cooking products to customers across the country,  is based on a campus that includes a call center, marketplace/showroom and e-commerce and merchandise divisions.

“In the back of our minds, we’d been preparing to move our teams offsite before the order came down,” Boudreaux says. “It took about a week of growing pains, but our IT team was available by phone to provide step-by-step instruction.”

The BBQGuys content team, which normally shoots product demonstrations and video buying guides from an onsite studio, pivoted and developed content offsite from home-based ad hoc studios. Company wide, all teams had the capability of checking in every morning using meeting software. The company’s IT division provided support to ensure systems remained robust.

The ability to keep business operations flowing easily opens up future possibilities for employees to work from home, Boudreaux says.

“I think it’s definitely an option for us,” she says. “It’s going to allow us to draw from a wider talent pool.”

Moreover, Boudreaux says, it helps resolve space constraints in some parts of the company that have run out of work stations, but are actively hiring. A work from home option also eliminates the commute for employees who face long drive times.

Collaborating from a distance

In New Orleans, marine engineering firm Technology Associates converted operations to a remote format seamlessly, says founder, president and CEO Anil Raj. Ideally, this takes place as a “team sport,” says Raj, in which groups of designers work on different components for large scale projects simultaneously. Sharing information in the same physical space is optimal, but to compensate, the firm deployed high level software that keeps employees connected and projects on track. TA had already developed an infrastructure to support two locations, one in New Orleans, and the other in India.

Building on that experience, the firm’s employees use collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams to share and comment on designs, brainstorm and troubleshoot. Teams also hold daily scrum meetings, which Raj can drop in on and observe. All employees are expected to be actively working within the system between 7 am and noon, with flex hours thereafter as long as work stays on pace. The company also has software to monitor productivity.

An interesting byproduct of the pandemic work-from-home experiment, says Raj, is the realization that employees who are productive at work are often even more productive at home. The work-from-home blitz has also opened up the possibility that future hires who don’t want to relocate could work for the company from their current location, he adds.

Ultimately, a business like TA, which delivers $50-$100 million projects, needs to have a strong face-to-face presence with customers, says Raj. But where possible, telework options could exist. “We’ve stayed on track with projects,” says Raj, “and are optimistic about how it can be integrated in the future.”

All of these companies and many more are hiring during this time. Check out currently available job openings on Louisiana Job Connection today!