It’s challenging to put into words the dramatic changes the world has seen in the last few weeks. As difficult as it is to acknowledge, these changes might just be getting started. In the coming weeks, the business world’s prerogative will be to join together and do everything possible to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
When it’s all over, we’re likely to see a permanent transformation in the global economy, infrastructure and approach to work. Your organisation has probably already shifted towards a fully or partially remote setup to help implement the social distancing guidelines – and for most businesses, it’s wise to start planning for the long haul.
It’s unlikely any organisation will fully revert to the old way of doing things once the crisis it’s over – the fact is, in such a globalised world, this crisis serves as a stark reminder of the importance for modern businesses to be flexible and capable to adjust quickly to unforeseen changes.
This article will provide an employer’s guide to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic and thereafter, without missing a beat in productivity or throughput.
- State of Remote Work
- Covid-19 Concerns for Employers to Consider
- Employers Guide to Remote Working (10-point checklist)
- Security and Infrastructure
State of remote work
While official numbers on the current transition towards the Work From Home (WFH) or remote working model haven’t been tabulated yet, it’s clear that virtually every organisation that can go at least partially remote, has.
It’s also clear from the most recent stats on the topic, that the trend of remote working has been rapidly increasing over the past few years:
- 56% of companies in 2018 allowed remote work, or are a fully remote company
- 16% of companies were already fully remote in 2018
- 5 million U.S. employees (3.6% of the workforce) currently work-at-home half-time or more
- 40% more U.S. employers offered flexible workplace options than did five years ago
While most organisations will likely revert at least partially to their original setup, it’s a fair bet that the end of this crisis will see a dramatically higher performance of the overall workforce working from home.
Covid-19 concerns for employers to consider
In the immediate term, there are several concerns and obstacles you’ll have to keep in mind as your employees are making this transition.
First and foremost, with countries going on lock down and flights being stopped, every company needs to prepare for extensive travel disruptions. For most organisations this shouldn’t be a major concern – it simply involves buckling in for the long haul of no face-to-face contact, beefing up asynchronous communication channels, and investing in proper video-calling architecture (i.e Microsoft Teams subscriptions, equipping your team with quality telecom equipment, etc.)
It’s essential to watch and monitor global announcements, regulations and disruptions to better understand what movement is or isn’t available to you and your team. Perhaps more critically, many businesses will be keeping in close contact with their legal team to keep an eye on how government directives may affect business operations and contracts.
Many governments are offering payroll subsidies and stimulus to businesses that continue operations, with still others going as far as to enforce remunerations and non-standard contract clauses to business owners. Stay on top of these changes, and engage with your employees on fair terms.
Finally, be prepared for the worst: employee incapacitation. The rate of incidence is extremely high in many parts of the world, and bigger organisations especially need to face facts that incapacitation is likely coming. It’s time to start making audit logs available pre-remote work in case you need to monitor intra-organisational spread.
Employers guide to remote working
Remote work can be challenging, but with the right structures in place early on it can be quite simple, and can actually lead to productivity improvements. In fact, the vast majority of foundations you need to put in place are extremely easy – so even if you’re expecting it to be a temporary transition, it’s worth the time to put these in place.
1. Key roles
Identify roles key to operations that cannot be done remotely. Clearly outline ways to mitigate their exposure, and ensure they have regular, scheduled communication with your remote staff to prevent isolation and disruptions in processes.
2. Video conferencing
Replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences. As mentioned above, it’s worth investing in strong audio equipment and internet connections for your employees. Microsoft Teams, which is available with Office 365, is one of the best business solutions for video conferencing. It enables your employees to chat, meet, call, and collaborate, no matter where they are.
3. Remote phone systems
If you need your staff to be able to answer calls and deal with customer queries over the phone while they are working remotely, you should implement a remote telecoms solution. This will enable customers to continue calling the same number they always have with calls automatically routed to employees at home, with full phone messaging, redirecting, and transferring features available as well as analytics for tracking volume.
This can take time to get set up so make sure to contact your MSP as soon as possible to request an assessment of your requirements.
4. Remote working computers
Laptops that work in an office environment – for instance, power-hungry machines with high performance but low battery life – won’t necessarily work for remote workers. For remote workers, ergonomics, efficiency, portability and flexibility are essential.
Many employers are also setting employees up with desktops for their home however, asking your employee to hold these larger, more permanent devices in their homes may be a step too far for many.
Nothing disrupts a workflow more than your workers having to start working in an uncomfortable environment with shoddy tech – equip them as well as they would be in-office, and allow flexibility to mould to their specific home environments.
Make sure that each employee can access the relevant filesystems and look at implementing a file sharing solution such as OneDrive which is also available with Office 365.
5. Device encryption and backup
Make sure that any desktops/ laptops your employees take home are fully encrypted, and capable of remote backups. The risk of a data breach and data loss due to a lost or stolen device is markedly higher with remote working so you need to be prepared for that. Speak to your MSP about getting the right encryption and backup software for your remote devices.
6. Strong secure wi-fi
At least 20mb upload and 20mb download are advisable, particularly for workflows heavy with video chat, which will be most. You will need to ensure that your employees only use a secure internet connection for all work, and never use public wifi networks.
You’ll also need to ensure that your firewall can accommodate and protect users working remotely and that employees use SSH access wherever possible.
7. Remote working policies
Remote working can be straightforward once everyone knows what they’re supposed to do. Make sure to send copies of remote working policies to all of your employees outlining what can, should and should not be done. You should speak to your MSP about applying end-to-end security best practices for your remote working staff, and then inform them on how to stick to it to protect your business.
Your employees will need clarity in these times of transition – make sure everything is communicated, and then communicated again.
8. Optimal workspace
Most employees who are new to remote working will find out quickly, it’s hard to concentrate on work when there are a thousand things happening around you. Advise your staff that to work effectively, a quiet space in the home that’s dedicated to work is key (if at all possible!).
And you can’t overlook their actual physical home office equipment. Employers are still responsible for ensuring remote workers’ office equipment is ergonomic, which even includes VDU assessments.
The one piece of office equipment remote workers should definitely not skimp on, is a good chair. Back pain is the most common chronic disability, and if they are working slouched on the couch 8 hours a day, they are going to know all about it.
9. Health and well-being
Don’t underestimate the strain the remote working can be on some employees. For many, it’s even preferable, but some will struggle.
Without the regular structure and personal contact that employees would normally be used to, remote workers are more susceptible to things like stress, loneliness, mental strain and disrupted work/life balance. With the current global situation, this will be exacerbated by the fact that most parents will be minding their children while trying to work and worrying about the health of their family and friends.
Now more than ever, it’s paramount that employers help their staff to handle these issues. Here’s a few tips on how remote workers can look after their personal wellness and mental health:
- Separate work from the rest of daily life.
Advise them on keeping their work space separate from where they would normally spend their downtime and family time. Once the end of the work day comes, encourage them to unplug from work completely i.e. in the evenings and especially on weekends.
- Instill “watercooler” talk digitally.
One of the biggest missing factors for a remote worker, is the sudden lack of casual and personal communication they would normally have with co-workers. Many organisations use tools like Donut to encourage casual conversations and non-work socialisation between employees to help them to deal with isolation and loneliness.
- Instill good time management.
Some employees will be fine adjusting to a disrupted work day but others will struggle. Implementing good time management structures (like the Pomodoro Technique) can help employees to keep on top of their workload as well as making sure they set aside enough time to take breaks, clear their heads, improve their productivity and prevent burnout.
Many remote businesses are looking towards mindfulness and meditation as a way to counteract some of the negative impacts of remote work and improving company culture and morale. This can be done together with Microsoft Teams with one person leading the others.
10. Test it first
If you’re lucky enough to be in a country not on lock down, take advantage of this lead time to test work-from-home policies and set up before the time comes where it may become mandatory. This testing can be invaluable. You can implement it in stages with half of employees remote working one day and the rest remote working the next.
This will give employees a chance to adjust and provide feedback and to work out any hardware and software kinks. A sudden to remote working can be overwhelming, a testing phase can really help.
Security and Infrastructure
No business can overlook IT security in times like these and, if anything, good IT security governance is even more important during times of dramatic change. As well as those previously mentioned, here are some standard security guidelines you should enforce with your employees while working remotely:
- Implement a secure Password Management Solution (e.g. LastPass, 1Password)
- Enforce Multi-factor Authentication for all of your employees
- Schedule and perform regular security audits of remote and on-premise workers
- Ensure your firewall can accommodate and protect users working remotely
- Encrypt & rotate secrets/secret keys
The bottom line
Remote doesn’t have to be a painful adjustment. Thousands of organisations around the world who have been remote for years swear by it – and sure enough, much of the data suggests remote work typically leads to higher employee retention and happiness.
The caveat here is to ensure you start putting the structures in place on day 1 – procrastinating will lead to “workflow debt” you’ll have to clean up later, adding anxiety and frustration to the experience for employees.
These are challenging times for the world, and businesses are certainly no exception. Within the madness, however, lies opportunity to adapt to a new world and become more resilient. Becoming a fully remote friendly organisation doesn’t involve a lot of effort – but the benefits of doing it right will pay themselves back tenfold.
If you require assistance with transitioning your company to remote working, contact our team today on firstname.lastname@example.org.