JetBlue's pilots and flight crew have been using iPads for years. The airline has had remote customer service operations since the airline's foundation 20 years ago.
Even with a technological background, "the virtual world has not been easy for many of us," said Eash Sundaram, EVP and chief digital and technology officer at JetBlue, while speaking on an online panel hosted by MIT Sloan CIO Digital Learning Series Wednesday.
Executives named strategic assumptions as their top risk of Q1 2020, according to a Gartner survey. By Q2, executives changed their top risk to the second wave of coronavirus. Businesses that went remote in March are hitting their five month-mark, and settling into an indefinite remote work landscape.
Such is the case for technology company Catchpoint, which went remote on March 12. Though the 260-employee workforce was somewhat accustomed to remote work pre-pandemic, challenges emerged with a 100% remote work setup.
"We maintain a very large fleet of data centers around the world, so we still rely on people that need to go into data centers," said Mehdi Daoudi, CEO and co-founder of Catchpoint Systems, during the panel.
Catchpoint also has to deliver hardware to customers, which means equipping at-home employees with stock "and inventory of mini computers, mini servers to ship to folks," said Daoudi. "That has been a little bit challenging."
One of the largest challenges of remote work, aside from keeping frontline employees and customers safe and healthy, is the well-being of at-home workers, no matter the industry. Employee stress jumped from 48% to 65% year-over-year by this spring, according to a Gallup survey. Sundaram and Daoudi emphasized the need for over-communication.
Virtual meeting places have been "the great enabler for us almost every week," said Sundaram. "Over the past six months, I would say we've probably stayed more connected to our crew members than on a normal time."
JetBlue leadership hosts company- or department-wide pocket sessions to keep employees updated on JetBlue's current standing. "I try and reach out to at least 10 of my members every day with personal one-on-one calls." It's about bridging the real-time interactions employees once had with a virtual world, but it's an ongoing process.
Catchpoint is paying particularly close attention to employee empowerment. With no headquarters to cultivate learning and development, the company is "doubling down and investing heavily" in employee empowerment remotely, according to Daoudi.
Just like JetBlue, the tech company holds weekly on-hands with all of its employees. "They need to know what's going on," said Daoudi. "Also, celebrate the birthdays, the anniversaries, virtual cakes — the human things."
The Catchpoint executive team engages in one-on-one "regular cell phone calls" with individuals. "People are a little bit tired of being on camera," he said. They just chat about what they're doing, but Daoudi advises not to talk about the pandemic too much. "I think between the news and everything else, it's too much."