DUNWOODY, Ga. — Local economic development groups are working to give small businesses the tools they need to adapt to a new economy.

Thursday, Perimeter Connects, a program of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts, in collaboration with the Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber of Commerce and the City of Dunwoody’s Economic Development Department, hosted a round table talk on working from home.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many businesses were forced to switch to remote work overnight. Others may have already been taking slow steps to implement telework and had to suddenly speed up the process.

Some workers may be longing for the day they can return to their office, but many have enjoyed the flexible schedule and lack of commute that comes with working from home. 

According to Elham Shirazi, a telework expert and one of the panelists on Thursday’s call, employers can see many benefits to teleworking, such as increased productivity and better recruitment and retention.  

“Not everybody wants to telework,” she said. “It’s not ideal for every job, but when it’s implemented properly, it’s not uncommon to see productivity increase 10 to 20 percent.”

The Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber transitioned to a work-from-home setup in January, and CEO and President Stephanie Freeman said she has seen benefits.

“We are much more productive,” she said. “We have to be much more intentional with our time. There’s none of that office cooler conversation, you really get right to work.”

Of course, COVID-19 has created less than ideal conditions for a transition to remote work.

“Before COVID, when we talked about teleworking, it was a controlled environment,” Shirazi said. “Children were at school. Your spouse was at their office. You had a designated home office space set up. There wasn’t all this anxiety that we have now.”

Realizing that some organizations may have been pleasantly surprised by a teleworking productivity boost, or that others may need to retain at least some remote work out of safety concerns, Shirazi’s talk focused on the practicalities of setting up a long-term, work-from-home business model.

“If you want to keep teleworking in your organization, you need to start planning now, and you need to manage expectations,” she said.

Shirazi discussed the legal consideration of teleworking and tips for drafting work-from-home policies. The hallmarks of a successful remote work model, according to Shirazi, are clear expectations, measurable productivity and frequent 1-on-1 check-ins between managers and staff. These not only ensure your team is meeting their goals, but also protects against burnout, she said.

“It’s important to look over the horizon and think about how we can come out of this smarter,” Dunwoody Economic Development Director Michael Starling said. “This crisis has been thrust upon us, but we can use it to come out of this better than we were before.”

Perimeter Connects Program Manager Johann Weber said he hopes the roundtable discussion helps small organizations that are unable to adapt in the way a large corporation can.

“The challenges of navigating remote work are just fundamentally different for a small business,” he said. “You have the challenges of trying to evolve and innovate without the same resources or specialization that larger organizations have access to.”

However, small organizations also have the benefit of being able to change direction more quickly, he said.

Carson Cook is an Editor with Appen Media Group and covers Johns Creek, Dunwoody and Fulton County.

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