BKDers share the challenges and silver linings of working remotely during COVID-19.
Senior Manager Ryan O’Grady’s new co-worker starts his day by tuning in to “Good Morning, Springfield!”
The guidance and legislation surrounding the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the incidence of COVID-19 rapidly evolved, and BKD responded early and decisively in turn. The firm transitioned nearly 3,000 personnel in 40 offices into a fully equipped remote workforce in a matter of days. During the second week of April, we sent a survey to various BKDers to find out how they were adjusting to the new normal. This article shares some of the anonymous responses, as well as insights from BKD’s Chief Risk Officer Mike Wolfe.
Staying connected when surrounded by uncertainty
Firm leaders quickly learned there was no script or playbook for next steps to take in the unfamiliar environment. Mike jokes that his predecessor Steve Rafferty forgot to mention that COVID-19 response was in the CRO job description. One of the most significant lessons Mike learned from Steve was about the importance of communication.
“Steve was a master with language and communication, and he knew that the words we used matter. I can’t think of a time in my 24 years at BKD where communication has been more important. As we’re focused on communicating timely, we’re even more focused on communicating clearly,” he says.
Many BKDers reported a smooth transition into their home offices and extended appreciation to the firm’s IT department for providing the equipment, software, and assistance needed to do their work remotely. After the move, BKD adjusted its communication strategy and internally emphasized weekly messages from CEO Ted Dickman to provide updates and transparency to all personnel. BKD’s thought leaders have also significantly increased the development of BKD Thoughtware® to better assist clients in working through the ongoing changes. In addition to creating or sharing relevant information to clients, BKDers also are passing on notes of encouragement.
Although nothing can replace face-to-face communication and interaction, helpful measures can be taken to compensate for this missing element. Teams across the firm are holding multiple calls daily to discuss client engagements and monitor processes. Email communications from firm leaders and check-ins from coaches have increased for many. And some teams feel they have more communication with clients, managers, and staff than they did before the pandemic. Many feel the situation has resulted in more structured, productive, and intentional conversations, leading to more time efficiency and increased productivity.
But some BKDers have felt overwhelmed keeping up with the vast email communications while finishing busy season and others miss the convenience of in-person communications.
“Sometimes you just walk past someone in the office and only then are you reminded you had a question to ask. Those moments don’t transfer in a remote environment,” says one BKDer.
BKDer Ryan Sivill spends an afternoon break chaperoning outdoor scooter races with his wife and daughters.
Director Ryan Sivill says communication and grace are two words his team is focused on.
“We’ve increased our communication through twice-weekly team leadership calls, instituted new coaching and mentoring programs to stay connected to our young associates, and are actively making sure our coaching programs focus on verbal or video communication, not just emails and instant messaging. We’re doing all of this while focusing on having grace for each other as we navigate the new environment and grace for our clients because we know they are working through the same challenges,” Ryan says.
As BKD evaluated decisions that needed to be made in the short-term, Mike says three questions kept rising to the surface: How does this impact our people? How does this impact our ability to serve clients? And what does this mean to our business operations?
“The health and safety of our people and clients has been our top priority, so our initial efforts have been focused in that area. We also knew that because of the size and diversity of our firm and the markets we serve, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach wasn’t going to work across offices. Early on, we implemented a communication strategy that was centrally developed to provide consistency, but communicated through our office managing partners so they could add local insights pertaining to their people and markets,” explains Mike.
“Our culture, values, and principles will help guide us as we adjust to our new normal. As a disciplined, financially stable firm, we are as well positioned as any firm in the country going into this time.”
Serving clients and managing new schedules and responsibilities
The home office looks different for each BKDer and would look different still if the work-from-home (WFH) situation was by choice and not mandatory per the global health crisis. Some BKDers are working out of spacious home offices, but many are working on dining room tables or kitchen counters, which tend to provide ample work space and natural light. Some work out of the basement, where they’re separate from the noises of a full and busy house, or work from the couch using a small card table in the living room, unable to create an office space on such short notice.
Again, many WFH challenges stem from the reality of COVID-19. When taking the kids to school isn’t an option and daycares aren’t open, some BKDers with families are taking on parenting and teaching in addition to reviewing documents, taking client phone calls, and holding virtual meetings. Many also are rotating home spaces with their partner.
“My home space varies day-by-day, and frankly, hour-by-hour, as my wife and I have triplet one-year-olds at home,” says one BKDer. “Depending on rooms needed for playing, napping, etc., I have to be flexible.”
As the mom of two toddlers, and with a husband also working full-time from home, Senior Manager Ryan Sharp says they’ve had to resort to some unconventional work days that change frequently.
“Thankfully, both BKD and my husband’s employer are being flexible,” she says. “The additional time we’re getting with our boys has been the best benefit we could ask for.”
Mike Wolfe and his family were scheduled to be at Universal Studios in Florida during the first week of the COVID-19 era for BKD. While the trip didn’t happen, the family prioritized their time together during the first two weeks of the new normal to watch all eight Harry Potter movies. Mike’s 14-year-old daughter has also been teaching him to play some of her favorite video games.
“It’s been one of the most challenging seasons of my career, but I’m blessed to have tremendous support at home from my wife and three daughters. Getting regular sleep and exercise has been critical, and my faith has been a strong source of perspective and strength,” says Mike.
While families are grateful for the extra time spent with kids, the situation isn’t without obstacles. One BKDer stresses the difficulties of balancing client services and learning and consulting on COVID-19 legislation with home responsibilities such as getting the kids to do their schoolwork (with one child who has learning issues in a normal environment), cooking, and cleaning. Many families are now under the same roof 24/7, which means more meals are eaten at home than before and as a result, there are more dishes to take care of each evening.
We may be working from home, but we’re still dressed to impress. Managing Director Kevin Dadey stays sharp while delivering Unmatched Client Service®.
Several BKDers have expressed concern regarding being or teaching interns/new staff and mention the challenges of learning or assisting while not in the typical office setting. One intern had a single day in the office before the transition. Virtual happy hours with staff and leaders have helped them feel connected and excited to eventually meet their coworkers in the real world.
Some employees still make minimal trips to the office to pick up mail, including vendor invoices and client payments, although they admit it would be nice if those items could be redirected to their homes.
Others have compromised immune systems or an immunocompromised family member at home.
“I have a kidney transplant, so I think the anxiety I have is just because of that. I started working from home a week before everyone else, but there is still a little worry,” says one advisor.
“My wife is on the front lines of this epidemic,” says another. “She’s an ICU doctor for five patients at the moment. We’re hardly sleeping. She doesn’t have the best immune system, and I have hypertension, so there’s a lot of worry for our family.”
Being a trusted advisor is a big part of our identities, but it’s not the only part.
Appreciating the pleasant surprises
Without a daily commute in addition to the current climate, some BKDers are experiencing more than five hours of “extra” time each day. When asked how they’re spending any new-found time, sleep, exercise, schooling for kids, and more work were common subjects.
“I’ve been able to run more consistently in the past three weeks than I have in 10 years. This is the happiest I’ve felt in a long time,” says one advisor.
Another BKDer admits to having a cleaner house than ever before, along with additional time to enjoy hobbies, such as gardening and painting pots for flowers in the front of the house.
“Working remotely saves me a two-and-a-half-hour round-trip daily commute in big-city traffic. I use this time wisely, sometimes funneling it back into BKD work and other times attending to my family as needed,” one BKDer responds.
Many BKDers also are thrilled for the additional time spent with pets, although cats are sitting on keyboards and dogs are getting tangled in cords.
“Shortly after we started to work from home, we agreed to foster a three-year-old corgi, Lydia. We quickly ‘foster failed’ and she’s now a permanent member of our family,” says Performance Success Manager Rachel Hudson.
BKDers Rachel Hudson, Amber Warner, and Julia Dengel share a few furry, friendly faces of the BKD family.
However, some BKDers feel more distracted since working from home and struggle to hold themselves accountable, which often leads to working outside of normal hours. This is a common struggle for those transitioning to a WFH arrangement; to help, BKD developed an internal Remote Work Resource Center to provide tips and best practices for improving productivity. Still, the overall response to the transition has been positive. It’s given one BKDer the chance to help prepare her daughter for college.
“I was leading a conference call one day and after it ended, she asked me questions about why I said certain things the way I did, what was the goal of the call, etc., and it gave me the chance to show her my style of working that can help shape her own methodology as she looks to start her career. I call that an incredible gift,” she says.
BKDers are making the most of the blessings they’ve been given during this challenging time. One BKDer’s 83-year-old grandma just learned to FaceTime (sort of); another has more time to study for the CPA exam; and another finds happiness in the mornings as she sits to enjoy a warm cup of coffee rather than grabbing it as she rushes out the door.
Share Your Story
Do you know a BKDer with admirable community involvement, interesting hobbies, exciting accomplishments, or a unique client story? We want to hear all about it! For more information or to submit, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.