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How COVID-19 is forcing Austin tech companies to adjust to remote work, personal travel

(BUSINESS NEWS) There is no consensus on how to treat employee travel and remote work, so here is the spectrum of how Austin tech companies are reacting to the COVID-19 threat.

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Because there is a lot of confusion and misinformation, today, we’re going to talk about how companies are adjusting to the endless unknowns of the spreading coronavirus (or COVID-19) threats.

The jobs report released this morning obliterated expectations, adding 273,000 jobs in February, and unemployment dipping to 3.5%, but this remains a lagging indicator, so the extent of the impact of the virus remain unknown.

Also unknown is how each company should adjust, and having not gone through this in the modern era, we’re all flying blind. Retail employees can’t work remotely, healthcare staff must also interface in person, but tech companies are reacting by sending their workforces home.

For example, Austin’s Amazon team has cut all business travel and cancelled any on-site job interviews.

Also up in the air is the conference circuit, as attendees are staying home, and sponsors are pulling out of conferences due to restricting employee travel.

Our favorite site for tracking conference cancellations is IsItCanceledYet.com which offers a simple yes/no tracking on major conferences.

So far, major conferences cancelled include Google I/O, Game Developers Conference, TwitchCon (Amsterdam), Adobe Summit, Facebook f8, Mobile World Congress, Internet Freedom Festival, IBM Think, and Kubecon.

Not yet cancelled are SXSW (despite widespread criticism and petitions to shut it down), Microsoft Build, TwitchCon (San Diego), Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC), PAX West, Coachella, Seattle Comic Con, San Diego Comic Con, and Dell World.

UPDATE: SXSW has been cancelled, as have Seattle Comic Con and Dell World.

Most major tech companies in America have cancelled all business travel, essential or otherwise.

Microsoft, Google, Twitter, and Facebook in Seattle and San Francisco have all sent their teams home for work, and many of their Austin teams are following suit.

Austin tech companies are scrambling to determine whether or not teams should be sent home, given that the city has no confirmed cases yet. That said, there are confirmed cases in San Antonio and Houston, putting pressure on companies to consider their policies.

The spectrum of work from home policies at Austin tech companies:

  • Several companies are sending everyone home 2-3 days next week to test out their readiness, but recalling everyone afterwards and waiting for various triggers (like a confirmed case in Austin).
  • A few companies are being non-communicative, but are testing out all company equipment (like laptops) and using various excuses like an “annual update,” or “in case of weather emergencies.”
  • Some companies are allowing any employee to work from home that wishes to, but most employees are still reporting in for work.
  • Many companies are simply allowing anyone that feels ill with any COVID-19 symptoms to work remotely, but there is no discussion of sending all team members home.
  • Some companies are allowing employees to work from home if they’re pregnant, living with someone pregnant, are immunocompromised, or living with someone immunocompromised.
  • Other companies have requested that employees work from home (for example, Dun & Bradstreet has asked all team members with a laptop work remotely and use a VPN when doing so).
  • Some Austin tech companies have straight up said they’re not making any adjustments, everyone must report in, and employees are simply instructed to wash their hands more frequently.

As you can see, there’s a pretty broad spectrum of responses for remote work.

The only theme we are seeing is that unlike other sectors, most Austin tech companies are at least trying to be communicative with their teams, and are willing to test their readiness in case confirmed cases hit the city.

What is now emerging is how Austin tech companies are responding to employees’ personal travel choices:

  • Most companies have not communicated with employees about their personal travels. At all.
  • The majority of companies that are being proactive are asking employees to observe a 14-day self-isolation period upon return, if visiting any nations that the CDC has labeled with a Level 2 or Level 3 Travel Health Notice. Some are mandating it (like the University of Texas), others are requesting it.
  • A few tech companies have required employees to take work equipment with them during personal travels in case they’re quarantined or isolated and need to work remotely.
  • Several companies are requiring that leadership or HR be notified of any personal travel in advance. Some are simply asking for a heads up so they can consider a response, others are noting that they have to approve that travel beforehand.
  • Several companies, like DISCO, are requiring employees to fill out forms indicating where their personal travels will take them, and will react on a case by case basis.
  • Some have urged employees not to travel at ALL. So far, there are no commands, but several polite requests.

We don’t know what the consensus will ultimately become regarding remote work and personal travel during this COVID-19 threat, or if a unanimous behavior will emerge.

Also still scattered is what the triggers are for ending remote work and personal travel mandates.

The target end date for restrictions is currently unknown by all, and while many companies are saying non-essential travel is restricted through March, other mandates remain indefinite.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Business News

Keep your company’s operations lean by following these proven strategies

(BUSINESS) Keeping your operations lean means more than saving money, it means accomplishing more in less time.

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The past two years have been challenging, not just economically, but also politically and socially as well. While it would be nice to think that things are looking up, in reality, the problems never end. Taking a minimalist approach to your business, AKA keeping it lean, can help you weather the future to be more successful.

Here are some tips to help you trim the fat without putting profits above people.

Automate processes

Artificial intelligence frees up human resources. AI can manage many routine elements of your business, giving your team time to focus on important tasks that can’t be delegated to machines. This challenges your top performers to function at higher levels, which can only benefit your business.

Consider remote working

Whether you rent or own your property, it’s expensive to keep an office open. As we learned in the pandemic, many jobs can be done just as effectively from home as the workplace. Going remote can save you money, even if you help your team outfit their home office for safety and efficiency.

In today’s world, many are opting to completely shutter office doors, but you may be able to save money by using less space or renting out some of your office space.

Review your systems to find the fat

As your business grows (or downsizes), your systems need to change to fit how you work. Are there places where you can save money? If you’re ordering more, you may be able to ask vendors for discounts. Look for ways to bring down costs.

Talk to your team about where their workflow suffers and find solutions. An annual review through your budget with an eye on saving money can help you find those wasted dollars.

Find the balance

Operating lean doesn’t mean just saving money. It can also mean that you look at your time when deciding to pay for services. The point is to be as efficient as possible with your resources and systems, while maintaining customer service and safety. When you operate in a lean way, it sets your business up for success.

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Business News

How to apply to be on a Board of Directors

(BUSINESS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Business News

Average age of successful startup founders is 45, but stop stereotyping

(BUSINESS) Our culture glorifies (yet condemns?) startup founders as rich 20-somethings in hoodies, but some are a totally different type.

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There’s a common misconception that startups are riddled with semi-nerdy, 20-something white dudes who do nothing but sip Nitro Brews and walk around the open office showing off the hoodie they wore yesterday. It turns out that it’s extremely rare that startup offices resemble The Social Network.

However, the academic backdrop for the real social network story (AKA Harvard), produced statistics that will serve to put the aforementioned misconception to rest. According to the Harvard Business Review, the average age of people who founded the highest-growth startups is 45. Say what?! A full-fledged adult?!

In fact, aside from the age category of 60 and over, ages 29 and younger were the smallest group of founders that are responsible for heading the highest-growth startups. I guess you can accomplish a lot when you’re not riding around the office on a scooter all day.

The study also found that older entrepreneurs are more likely to succeed. The probability of extreme startup success rises with age, at least until the late 50s. It was found that work experience plays an important role.

Many will argue, “Well, what about someone like Steve Jobs?” You could easily argue right back that it took Jobs until the age of 52 to create Apple’s most profitable product – the iPhone.

The study continues to answer questions like, why do Venture Capitalist investors bet on young founders? This goes back to the misconception at the start, and there’s a notion that youth is the key for successful entrepreneurship. Wrong.

There is also the idea that younger entrepreneurs are likely working with less financial options, so it may be common for them to take something from a VC at a lower price. As a result, they could be viewed as more of a bargain than older founders.

“The next step for researchers is to explore what exactly explains the advantage of middle-aged founders,” writes Pierre Azoulay, et al. “For example, is it due to greater access to financial resources, deeper social networks, or certain forms of experience? In the meantime, it appears that advancing age is a powerful feature, not a bug, for starting the most successful firms.”

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