Since canceling The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass after one round of play on March 12, the PGA Tour has not only worked to get professional golf back on the course safely, but also to figure out a way to have its more than 900 employees get back to work.
Before the pandemic, only 20% of the Tour’s workers worked remotely at tournament sites and other satellite offices. The remaining staff in Northeast Florida was mostly office-based at its Ponte Vedra Beach and St. Augustine campuses. according to Kirsten Sabia, PGA Tour vice president of integrated communications.
In the two months since The Players Championship, every Tour worker based in Northeast Florida has been working from home with few exceptions, Sabia said. The Tour has been using Microsoft Teams as its mainline for communication, and has seen a 93% increase in its use since work-from-home commenced, Sabia added.
Although Microsoft Teams has served its purpose, it has presented some minor, but still present, challenges to the Tour’s daily operations, she said. Like staffers at many other companies, Tour officials have forgotten about the importance of the mute button, while Teams calls have become just as burdensome as email.
Those small problems aside, Sabia believes that one challenge the Tour will have to prepare for is the opening of its new Ponte Vedra Beach-based office in January 2021. Led by construction firm Clark Construction Group, the Tour’s 187,000-square-foot headquarters building is expected to house more than 750 employees who currently occupy 17 separate buildings in the area.
According to a Golfweek article from March 25, construction on the new facility is still ongoing, with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan still hopeful for a Q1 2021 move-in date.
Sabia expects that the Tour’s return to its current offices – some of which are more than 40-years-old – will be slow as it adapts to various density and building inadequacies.
Overall, Sabia thinks that the recent months of remote work have not led to any significant problems for the Tour. She even believes that her company can be used as a template for how to handle certain technologies.
“Our employees have demonstrated their nimbleness in adapting to this extended WFH situation,” she said. “We have been more inclusive in a lot of cases, where we are not restricted by meeting space or availability. More employees have had a voice thanks to the chat functionality in Teams meetings. Microsoft could look at the TOUR as a poster child.”
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has also been felt on how the Tour communicates with its employees, Sabia said. Recent years have seen its internal communications become more transparent, and has only been accelerated by COVID-19.
Every week, there are two Tour-wide communications with additional updates on its employee base in general, Sabia said. It is conducted via a chat series hosted by various departments on handling these circumstances in their respective areas and has even seen participation from Monahan on two separate occasions.
Along with department heads hosting social hours via Microsoft Teams, Sabia has been impressed by the Tour’s leaders during this at-home period.
“Our leadership has stepped up in the need to stay connected, to stay in touch, especially for our employees who may be home alone,” she said.
Across the board, Sabia has seen a complete shift in the Tour’s perception of working from home. She says that previous doubters within the company have been silenced by others’ abilities to demonstrate the effectiveness of remote work.
Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis, echoes Sabia’s sentiments. While the coronavirus pandemic has brought much pain and confusion to the sports industry, he sees the work-from-home fad as a positive trend that many throughout sports can appreciate.
“This scenario that we’re living through right now is at least showing people that, ‘hey, we can get work done from home,” he said. “Some people may opt not to, some people may prefer to go back to work when it’s time to go back to work – but I think many people are realizing, ‘you know what, I can still be effective and do my job and have a little bit more flexibility…’ I do think that the sports industry is unique because it is more relationship-oriented than most other businesses. But that being said, the technologies of Zoom and others lend itself to at least bridging that gap.”
It should not be a surprise that workers are optimistic about their job responsibilities outside of the office. Data from research firm Gartner has shown that, on average, employees who work from home are just as productive as those in the workplace. A Glassdoor survey of nearly 1,000 U.S. workers revealed that 60% of respondents are confident that they can do their job remotely, with 50% believing that they are equally or more productive at working from home than in the office.
Brian Kropp, group vice president at Gartner, said watching companies loosen their stance on remote work has been particularly notable given their past issues.
“A year or so ago, you could go in and talk to a whole bunch of business leaders, and you’d ask them about the question of working remotely, and at least half of them would say, ‘my employees that work remote, they spend half their time sitting on the couch, eating pizza, and watching TV, and maybe take a couple of naps during the afternoon. If they’re not here, they’re not working,” Kropp said.
“What companies have really found out – and the vast majority of executives now believe – is that for lots of jobs – not necessarily all of them, but for lots of jobs – people who are working from home can be just as productive as those who aren’t,” he added. “We have to adjust how we work, what we do when we do it… but you can be productive working from home, and even if you’re 5% less productive, the cost savings are so much worth it that the ROI is higher than having people come into the workplace in a lot of cases.”
There are still long-term questions about the viability of companies letting more employees work remotely. In a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and advisory firm Oxford Economics, all but 5% of the respondents – which were 3% of 1,000 U.S.-based HR professionals – expect their workforce to return to pre-crisis levels within the next six months.
While Kropp himself has heard some non-sports companies discuss having as many as 70% of their workplace transition to work from home, data shows that out of the jobs that could be done remotely full-time, only about 10% of people did so, and only 20% worked remotely part-time.
Sabia is mindful of the emotional and physical impact that working from home has on the Tour’s workers. The Tour’s current campus has a cafe and fitness center to bring people from various departments together but, due to the pandemic, limits the long-term capabilities of those areas.
In a short time, Sabia and the Tour will transition to a blend of office and remote work. The Tour will begin by allowing 10% of its employees to return to campus by the end of May and subsequent buildups of 25%, 50%, and ultimately 70% capacity over the coming months.
Even though there is so much uncertainty to address, Sabia would not be surprised if the Tour’s move to its new office turns out differently than it had previously thought.
“When we are in the new building, we would not be surprised if we never see the 100% density levels we were so accustomed to before COVID-19 – and that’s not a bad thing,” she said.