New Orleans 500 Survey: Most Execs Embrace Remote Work
NEW ORLEANS — Most area executives continue to run their businesses using some version of a remote work model at this stage of the pandemic, according to the latest Biz New Orleans email survey of the “New Orleans 500,” a list of influential CEOs.
Biz New Orleans asked business leaders to classify their current system. In response, 12% of respondents said they allow their employees to work solely from remote locations, 36% said they require them to do their job at a workplace and 50% said they apply a hybrid approach.
“What we have discovered is there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer,” said Susan Bonnett Bourgeois, president and CEO of the Northshore Community Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropic organization. “We have remained flexible with our team members, making sure to work as best as possible with their needs, while maintaining a successful and thriving organizational culture. It’s challenging but worth it to keep quality employees on board and fulfilled.”
As the two-year anniversary of the pandemic’s arrival in the United States approaches, survey respondents mentioned successes, problems and surprises they’ve encountered during this seismic shift in the way they do business.
On the plus side, many reported that a full or partially remote work routine has increased productivity and morale. Their employees are getting work done more quickly and they appreciate the flexibility to build a work schedule around other responsibilities.
G.F. Le Breton, managing director of the investment banking company Chaffe & Associates, said “the remarkable dedication of our staff and flexibility around school schedules … have allowed us to meet the needs of our clients, and record our best year yet.” Restaurateur and hotelier Robert LeBlanc, owner of the Chloe on St. Charles Avenue, said “I think we actually communicate better and more consistently now that we have to rely on set Zoom times.” And Robby Moss, president and CEO of Hartwig Moss Insurance, said “generally it is working very well. We have 52 remote workers and a core group of seven or eight who come to the office daily.”
Many execs said that virtual meeting tools are game changers that have allowed companies to make new contacts, expand their reach and save their clients time and money. Thanks to telemedicine, for instance, patients can “visit” the doctor quickly without having to take off time from work.
“One of the pleasant surprises with going virtual is that now the whole world is open to us,” said Adrinda Kelly, executive director of the nonprofit group Black Education for New Orleans. “We’ve been able to more easily make connections with notable influencers and partners outside of our bubble of New Orleans and leverage those connections to strengthen our overall programs.”
Another plus: the shift to remote work has allowed employers to save money by consolidating office space and using less supplies. For employees, meanwhile, the change cuts down on commuting time, transportation costs and childcare costs in some cases.
Of course, remote work creates plenty of problems as well. Several respondents said the new way of life makes it harder for them to build a workplace culture and for co-workers to connect for a quick chat or brainstorm session.
“Productivity for many has gone up without constant distractions but the sense of community and morale has gone down,” said Tania Tetlow, president of Loyola University New Orleans.
Along those lines, some execs in creative industries — architects and designers in particular — reported problems getting work done together as a team without as much face-to-face interaction.
“Nothing can replace person-to-person connections and collaborations among team members, especially when it comes to serving the young men in the program and their families,” said Bivian Lee, founder of the nonprofit organization Son of Saint.
Another difficulty mentioned by several execs: some employees simply dislike or abuse the remote work model. That’s why employers have to devise new ways to stay connected with employees.
“Regular employee check-ins have been critical,” said Neel Sus, CEO of Susco Solutions, a Metairie-based business software development firm. “In early 2021, before we’d established the check-in process, we had a couple of employees give their notice. When I asked why they were leaving, they said, ‘I hate remote work.’ They were doing a great job and our clients loved them, but I had no idea they were suffering in silence. It’s not easy to express your frustration or difficulties to management, and most people won’t volunteer it — even if you have open door policies or a reputation for being approachable.”
Several respondents pointed out that, of course, there are plenty of jobs that simply can’t be done from a distance. As Jonathan Kernion, president of Cycle Construction, said: “It’s impossible to pour concrete remotely!”
As a result, many workers in the healthcare, hospitality, construction, retail and manufacturing fields (among others) still regularly commute to a workplace to take care of business. For executives in these industries, it’s essential to establish safety protocols — out of concern for the overall community as well as the bottom line.
“We have to mitigate risk and mask in order to keep ourselves and our families healthy,” said Melissa Martin, owner of Mosquito Supper Club, a well-regarded Dryades Street restaurant. “Unfortunately almost everyone of my employees tested positive for COVID at the end of December and we had to close for two weeks.”
By contrast, some industries seem tailor-made for remote work. The leader of a local public relations firm as well as an investment advisor and other professional services providers all reported experiencing great success — even record-breaking income — over the last two years after moving their offices to fully remote or hybrid work models.
“We’ve employed a ‘work from wherever’ model for more than ten years,” said Eric Stuart, race director at the Crescent City Classic. “It works well for us because, in the world of event management, we’re out of the office a lot. When we need to have a meeting or Zoom call, taking it at a coffee shop, office or home all work well.”
Another theme among executives who responded to the survey is the need to adapt to the new reality. Jim Cook, general manager of the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, summed it up well: “We as a community need to think less about ending the pandemic and more about adopting the practices that enable business to thrive safely despite the pandemic.”
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The inaugural edition of the New Orleans 500 was published in late 2021. It’s a collection of profiles of the city’s influential, involved and inspiring business leaders. Once a month, Biz New Orleans will send an email survey to all the leaders on the New Orleans 500 list to collect data and insights about topics important to the business community. This is the second report in that series.