I'm the author of "How We Make Stuff Now" and the Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet. We launch innovative products from small businesses.

Being a CEO: Excruciating but necessary decisions

I don’t think the New York Times will mind my sharing this

Like most CEOs much of my recent mind space has been expended on figuring out what to do about COVID-19/CoronaVirus. I ended up mandating work from home today. It was a hard decision. I am sharing it in case it helps other organizational leaders.

A complication for me was something that my own son experienced. He is the assistant superintendent on a large construction site. Yesterday he had to stand in front of 300 men and women and tell them that they must carry on with the project, despite the lack of adequate sanitizing facilities. He understandably carries a heavy burden in taking that action. In a similar vein, right after the staff at Bain Consulting were sent home due to a Bain co-worker diagnosis, the construction crews renovating the very same offices were told to carry on. The imbalance of this situation is excruciatingly difficult.

At the end of the day I had to focus on what CAN be done and our opportunity to help. I believe in science and the role we all have in flattening the curve.

This below is what I told our team this morning. I had seen an excellent memo from a local tech company (Salsify) and it was really helpful–I outright borrowed some of the guidance. (I have no pride of authorship in such a dynamic situation.) As such, in case it helps another leader or CEO, I am sharing ours.

Hi all,

This morning, I made the decision to shift to a work from home period effective (starting) tomorrow, Friday, March 13th until further notice.   This was not an easy decision, particularly given the physical output of our work. I appreciate the input and help many across the team gave me in terms of concerns, information, and advice. But this is truly uncharted territory.

If you are in a position where you believe you need to start working from home today, you should do that and communicate with your manager. 

Based on all the reports, I believe the containment of the virus has failed.

Continued restrictions on travel:

We will continue to restrict all non-essential business travel for employees and guests until further notice. If there are questions on what is considered essential business travel, please work with your manager who will in turn work with the OT team to make a determination.

Work from Home:

·       Business as usual. Do not reschedule meetings or calls due to you being remote.

·       Bring home your laptop and power cord today.

·       Assess whether there are supplies or equipment that would help you be more productive (i.e .monitors, keyboards). Please note that we will not ship equipment home, but you are welcome to bring home what you need (take a Lyft if you need it), and then bring it back to the office upon your return.

Additional information:

·       All on-site interviews are moving to virtual from March 13th until further notice. Please work with Shauna or Lisa as needed to coordinate video interviews.

·       If you are a manager and have a new employee starting within the next 14 days Shauna will reach out to you soon with a plan on how we will be moving forward. We will be prepared for remote onboarding (employment verification, laptop shipping/setup, and remote orientation)

·       CET/Media/Samples Receipt. Jason, Allison, and Meredith have prepared responsible and safe plans for handling the specific work that cannot be done from home.

As I said above, this was a really hard decision:  given the physical output of our work, having brand new employees, the impossibility of taking credit card data from home, and the degree of in-person collaboration we do. The hardest part (from a purely business operations point of view) is not having a time horizon. In my own mind I am preparing for this policy to be in place through March, but no one has a crystal ball.  

But at the end of the day, as a business that organizes around the idea of Citizen Commerce, I felt that our responsibilities as citizens have to prevail. We are up for this challenge. Getting ourselves in a rhythm where we are all productive and able to work remotely is entirely doable. We’ve had lots of practice due to investments in our existing technology infrastructures, meaningful remote team size, and existing WFH policies.  We can do this—we can band together from all corners—and deliver on our goals and responsibilities.

Jules 

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