March 20 was a strange day for Greg Olson.
On that particular Friday, the Growl Agency owner spent much of the day helping his employees load equipment from his downtown Grand Junction office at 750 Main St. into the cars, knowing he wouldn’t see them in person again for a while.
“It felt like we were moving out,” he said.
Olson, who owns the design and marketing company with his wife, Libby, has focused on setting up his employees to work from home during the COVID-19 outbreak. The move became necessary last weekend when Gov. Jared Polis ordered that companies shift at least 50% of their employees to work remotely and essential when he issued a stay-at-home order through April 11 on late Wednesday.
For a company well versed in technology, it seems like it should have been an easy transition for Greg and Libby and their seven Grand Junction-based employees, but the shift comes with challenges as Olson and other area businesses are finding.
The Growl predominantly spent their time in the office attending briefings, working on projects and meeting with clients. They built morale by going out to lunches and happy hours or spending some downtime chatting over coffee.
Now, all meetings, client or in-house, are done via video chat. Olson said he had to check everyone’s internet capabilities for upload and download speeds as staff often have to upload large files.
“That’s the part I was worried about the most,” he said.
Additionally, he had to check everyone’s work spaces to make sure it was appropriate for video conferences. The Olsons have also learned about online whiteboards and video programs such as Zoom during the transition.
He’s also tried to think of ways to keep the camaraderie and morale up.
“We’re trying to come up with ways to engage them,” Olson said. “These are things we didn’t have to think about before.”
Now, they have morning staff meetings on video and a 4 p.m. check-in with team leads.
Checking in with workers and ensuring productivity is one of the keys to making this transition a success for all businesses now looking to work remotely during the stay-at-home order that runs through April 11.
“It’s a whole different way of working,” Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Diane Schwenke said. “The challenge is keeping up productivity.”
The chamber has resources set up for businesses to navigate the outbreak at gjchamber.org/covid19-resources.
At Dalby, Wendland & Co., a Grand Junction accounting firm, they had reduced their in-office workforce to around 50% after the governor’s announcement, then shifted to most everyone working from home aside from a few who can make trips to the office periodically.
The business is considered essential, according to CEO Chris West.
“We want to stay busy and do that while being compliant with what the state tells us to do,” West said
In an ordinary year, West and the staff would be taking client meetings and working long hours during tax season.
With filings and tax payments extended 90 days, which West said has helped, the company had to scramble to find equipment and get employees set up to work from home in Grand Junction, Montrose and Glenwood Springs. With some of the employees living in remote areas, internet speed was an issue.
The company had to go through its stockpiles and purchase things like laptops for employees and web cameras. They also reviewed best practices from working from home and company leaders have been proactive about communicating, West said.
“We are adapting,” West said. “We have great leadership.”
Leitner-Poma America, the ski lift manufacturer headquartered in Grand Junction, had its own hurdles to leap through in setting up some employees to work remotely.
President Daren Cole said the company received an edict roughly two weeks ago from its parent company in Europe to start setting up as many people to work remotely as possible.
It was a quick turnaround.
“We were able to set up in roughly 36 hours and have anyone who could work from home, work from home,” Cole said
Employees working in the production area were still going to work, using distancing techniques. But after the governor’s decree last week, Cole said they are operating with a skeleton crew.
GJ Computer, a subsidiary of High Desert Technologies is a local company that specializes in assisting companies deal with projects such as this.
Vice President of Operations Michael Tweedy said there are a lot of challenges and a lot to think about.
“My recommendation is to talk to someone about networking requirements for secure networks,” he said. “If you have sensitive information, you have to maintain those regulations.”
He added that companies need to find ways to maintain productivity and ensure that the employees are in the best position to succeed.
“Employers need to have that in mind that it’s still their responsibility to provide the best workplace,” he said. “It’s a very disciplined system to work from home. It’s easier to be distracted.”