If you work in the field of economic development, and more specifically if you have an economic interest in the real estate industry, then you know the value of stability in the marketplace. Significant events with adverse economic impacts, such as COVID-19 and a derecho, can have a cascading effect on jobs, families, and the economy generally. That is why it has been important for government, non-profit organizations, and businesses to support activities that collectively create a safety net – to provide some measure of economic stability. It’s one of the reasons the State of Iowa, local governments and community organizations created their own economic recovery grant programs. Other nationwide support systems, such as unemployment benefits, the Paycheck Protection Program and various forms of natural disaster assistance, have also been important.
To be sure, these are imperfect systems, and one can debate the effectiveness of various policy alternatives or the extent to which we can borrow from the future to pay for them. But there is no question that they have provided an important lifeline to many during these challenging times. While some programs have ended or are winding down, there are some that will continue for a few months longer. Two of them are designed to help people stay in their homes and businesses by assisting with rent and utility expenses.
Iowa COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention (EFP) Program
The Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) reported last week that rental assistance has been provided to just over 2000 applicants equaling approximately $4.8 million. On the foreclosure side, the EFP Program has awarded nearly $135,000 to 61 applicants. Approximately $15 million in funds remain in the program, which will remain open until funds are exhausted or until December, 2020, whichever comes first.
IFA reports that the program has seen a significant increase in the number of applications being submitted since August 1. On Tuesday, August 4, it was announced that Iowans who have been receiving $600 a week in federal unemployment stimulus benefits may now apply for the rent and mortgage assistance. For more information, visit https://www.iowafinance.com/covid-19-iowa-eviction-and-foreclosure-prevention-program/.
Iowa Small Business Utility Disruption Prevention Program
The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) recently announced that more Iowa small business owners and nonprofits are now eligible to receive financial assistance with electric and natural gas utility bills. Eligibility criteria for the Iowa Small Business Utility Disruption Prevention Program has been expanded to include utility assistance for eligible small businesses and nonprofits for electric or natural gas service provided between March 17, 2020 and October 15, 2020.
To be eligible, small businesses and nonprofits must have experienced a COVID-19 loss of income. Financial assistance of up to $7,500 is available. Payment’s would be made directly to an applicant’s utility service provider. The program will accept applications through October 31, 2020 or until all funds have been exhausted. The state allocated approximately $14.5 million of federal CARES Act funds for the program when launched in early July.
For more information, visit https://www.iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/Business/energy-recovery or call 515.348.8914 (toll free: 855.300.2342).
The Enterprise Iowa team encourages our clients and affiliated organizations to share this information with everyone in their various networks. Let’s do what we can to ensure that the individuals and businesses in need of this assistance get connected with these resources. It is the type of help that can increase economic stability for the benefit of all.
In a world forever changed by a global pandemic, we are also experiencing a business world forever changed. While COVID-19 has obviously given businesses a whole slew of challenges, there are also key takeaways that can be applied to improve business operations in the long run. These are not necessarily new technologies, but they all deserve an extra round of applause for helping our team and other teams continue to make it through our time away from the office. They will also certainly have a new face even after the pandemic dissipates.
With that said, here is our list of the most helpful tools for continuing remote operations:
Videoconferencing has largely made the transition to remote offices possible. There are many videoconferencing platforms out there, but Adobe Connect has primarily been what our team has used. It’s an essential communication tool to more closely mimic that in-person conversation as well as explain more complex tasks and issues. It comes in handy both for internal and external meetings that would typically happen in person.
Slack (or a similar platform) has been pretty much essential for any business to continue operations through these times. It is arguably the best way for teams to instant message each other to keep projects flowing. Our team utilized Slack before this all began, but this pandemic gave Slack a newfound purpose for our team at Enterprise Iowa.
Microsoft SharePoint has been another essential technology our team has used away from the office. It’s a web-based shared library that allows each member of our team to access files outside of the office. Prior to the pandemic, we mostly had to be at our desks to access company-wide files. This has truly allowed our team to operate fully remote.
Adobe Creative Cloud
Like SharePoint, Adobe Creative Cloud has a shared library feature. When creating graphics for a variety of uses, the library is helpful tool to keep themes consistent across all design elements. This means that from anywhere, anyone on our team can create new themed designs without having to access files on the network in the office.
Mailchimp has been another life-saving communication tool in the times of COVID-19. It has been our best and easiest way to share information with our audience. This not only includes updates about continuing business through these times, but also serves as a relevant information tool for the virus itself.
Much like Mailchimp, Hootsuite has been another way to keep our customers and audience updated through social media platforms. Hootsuite is an easy place to manage all social media platforms, schedule reminders, and allows access for our team members within the account. Again, it allows us to update everyone regarding our business and COVID-19.
I’m writing this blog with WordPress right now! WordPress has been another essential tool to keep everyone updated and informed. Aside from the blogs, the websites we run are also created with WordPress. Again, websites are a fantastic way to update everyone about continuing business as well as finding relevant information about COVID-19.
This one is different because it is hardware rather than software, but docking stations paired with laptops have been incredibly useful through the pandemic. As companies look to new technologies for their offices, docking stations allow much more flexibility when working from home as well. Rather than having a stationary desktop, having a laptop that you can connect to a docking station for all office files, programs, etc. that you can also disconnect to take the laptop anywhere allows for a lot more freedom away from the office.
As you can tell, the age of communication is changing—and that change has been expedited by this global pandemic. COVID-19 has forced all of us to rethink how we operate our businesses, and many of these practices will likely carry over to a post-pandemic world. While some jobs will return to what they once were, and some jobs never really changed throughout this pandemic, a lot of jobs will likely be transformed forever by technology used remotely to grant employees more freedom when it comes to the workplace.
Remember, while more and more of the country begins to reopen and businesses may be returning to normal, or our new normal, COVID-19 has not just disappeared. Cases are still on the rise, so it is important to still be taking safety precautions even as we ease back into our typical day-to-day lives. Throughout these changing times, stay happy and stay healthy.
To promote the safety and well-being of our population during this pandemic, many companies have told their employees to stay home and work remotely. While this is a rather difficult transition for many, there are simple things to do to make life a little bit easier throughout this time. As I write this blog from my couch, I have compiled a list of tips and tricks to stay productive at home.
1) Establish a Routine
Establishing a routine may just be the most important tip for effectively working from home. It will help outline day-to-day activities to stay in line and productive at work. When will I start work? When will I take my lunch break? What can I do to keep me focused and motivated throughout the day? What kind of time needs to be allocated to the tasks I need to complete?These are all valid questions that can be incorporated into a daily routine. Perhaps getting in the routine of keeping and following a schedule or list to follow day in and day out will help keep you on track at work.
2) Get Ready for Work
This is not to say that you still need to dress business casual to work from home (although feel free to if that helps). However, sticking to a morning routine before “heading off to work” will help you get in the right mindset to be a productive employee. My top recommendation for this tip is to continue setting your alarm. Furthermore, before beginning work for the day, try doing simple things such as starting your day with some exercise, hitting the shower, and making breakfast to send a mental signal that you are ready for work.
3) Create a Separate Office Space
You do not need a nice, at home office to utilize this tip. My home office has become one end of my couch with a side table. The important part here is that this is not somewhere I typically sit and lounge on a regular basis. The point is to have a physical separation of your personal and professional lives within your home. It’s possible for this to work out for some people, but the one thing I recommend avoiding is working from bed.
4) Utilize Technology and Keep in Contact with Your Team
Technology is what makes work from home possible. However, a new adjustment for most of us is electronically communicating and coordinating shared documents with everyone. At the office, we are used to having easy access to everything we need and stepping next door to ask a coworker a question. Moving that all online can be a difficult transition. Having shared access to necessary documents through cloud technology is a necessity for team-based environments. It is also important to utilize messaging and videoconferencing apps to maintain good communication with everyone involved in your line of work. Communication is still key!
5) Minimize the Distractions
It is no doubt that an endless number of distractions can come from working at home. Many of us have taken on the extra role of care providers and teachers for children, are sharing spaces with family members also working from home in completely different lines of work, or have new furry coworkers who are always in your business. This is not to mention other simple distractions that arise in a home environment that we do not typically face at the office: How many trips to the fridge will I take today? What new shows are on Netflix? I’ll just take a quick ten minute break to fold some laundry. Again, a solution to this goes back to tip #3. Try to keep a separate office space secluded from many of the distractions you face to remain as productive as possible.
But don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself falling victim to these distractions. Yes, it is important to find ways to stay focused and more productive at work. But more importantly during this time is to be honest about your work. Try to keep detailed notes of when you’re taking breaks and for how long. So, while a small break here and there may be healthy to clear your mind and get back on track, just be honest with the work you have actually completed.
Those are just a few tips to start out with, and you may find that not all of them help or that something completely different helps you the most. What’s important to remember is that many of us are facing the same challenges that come from working at home. I find that most of us are understanding, forgiving, and patient as we are going through the same complications of this transition. In the end, this is not a permanent state and learning how to be productive with your coworkers remotely may end up being a skill we can all benefit from in the future.