The world is in the midst of one of the biggest crises of the last century. At the time of this writing, borders around the world are closing and businesses that can, are moving to remote working, in an effort to cope with the COVID-19 virus spreading across the globe. Before proceeding, we would like to say that our thoughts are with all of those affected by COVID-19.
If you’re a part of the millions of companies around the world adapting to a new world of work, you have likely found yourself in a relatively unfamiliar WFH (Work From Home) environment. This article will dig through some of the tried and tested best practices for transitioning to remote work without missing a beat.
Rising tides and changing workforces
COVID-19 has forced millions of organisations to rapidly transition towards a remote workforce. Including companies like Google, Microsoft and Twitter, companies big and small are now moving to a remote working setup for the majority of their employees. For many of these companies, this transition is likely to be permanent.
While COVI-19 has certainly been a catalyst, the virus has only accelerated a process that’s been ongoing over the past 10 years. A study observing data between the years 2005 and 2019 summarised some of the trends as follows (these numbers have not been updated post-COVID-19, of course):
- 5 million employee (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
- 69% of employers offer remote work on an ad hoc basis to at least some employees, 42% offer it part time, 27% offer it full time
It’s impossible to know for sure until the current situation has passed, but it’s safe to say the current transition period will end in a massive step-change on most if not all of these numbers.
Hardware & Physical Environments
One of the challenges of transitioning a workforce to be remote is the lack of control over infrastructure. Compared to an office with controllable procurement systems and standard office equipment, remote employees will naturally gravitate towards a more personalised setup.
While many companies (particularly large ones) my attempt to force the issue by shoehorning their employees into the same setup as the workplace, this is often restrictive and can lead to productivity declines. After all, the heavyweight Lenovo setup of the workplace cubicle doesn’t suit if you are lounging on a futon for the day.
However, it is still wise to enforce some basic guidelines that you should follow in establishing your hardware requirements – and most companies will compensate you for it. A good place to start is:
- Strong wi-fi requirements.
At least 20mb upload and 20mb download are advisable, particularly for workflows heavy with video chat, which will be most.
- Good, flexible laptops.
Laptops that work in an office environment – for instance, power-hungry machines with high performance but low battery life – won’t necessarily work for you when you are working remotely. For remote workers, ergonomics, efficiency, portability and flexibility are usually the essentials.
- Ergonomic chair.
While not exactly “hardware”, your physical environment is crucial. Most aspects of a home office are overstated – it’s not essential to have a heavyweight ergonomic keyboard or multiple HD monitors. The one piece of office equipment that no remote worker should skimp on, however, is a good chair. Back pain is the most common chronic disability.
- Space to focus.
As most employees who are new to remote working are finding out at the moment, it’s hard to concentrate on work when there’s a thousand things happening around you. To work effectively, without driving yourself mad, a quiet space in the home that’s dedicated to work is key (if at all possible!).
- Remote phone systems.
For companies that require multiple people to be answering calls, a remote phone system is going to be critical. Make sure you are confident and comfortable in operating your remote phone system and familiar with how to answer calls, put callers on hold, transfer them to other employees, and put the phone on Do Not Disturb out of hours.
Make sure you know who to call if your system stops working in the middle of the day.
Software requirements & digital workflows
Beyond your physical environment, more critical to the success of a remote workforce is a smooth digital workflow. Too often an organisation in transition compensates by overloading with different tools, which ends up causing tool overflow – instead, strategically deploying smart tools and iterating is the key.
The core of a digital workflow for remote workforces is powerful team chat. Microsoft Teams is becoming increasingly popular and offers a feature-rich product than can accommodate the communication needs of most companies. Slack is another contender for team chat, with free and subscription options available.
Make sure you are confident and comfortable using your team chat tools, they will be your link to you co-workers during these times and don’t forget, most people will be in precisely the same position as you, so don’t be afraid to ask how something works!
Office 365 Business Suite
In fact, the entire Office 365 Business Suite is a good place to start for all businesses looking for remote working solutions, with sophisticated features and robust project management cycles. Microsoft Project synchronises with Teams particularly well, and the entire suite accommodates common methodologies like Agile and Waterfall well and includes online filesharing.
If you are using Office 365 or OneDrive, make sure you can access all of the files you need and if you can’t find them, don’t hesitate to ask – you may not have the permissions to view the files or you may just be looking in the wrong place.
Video Calls And Conferencing
As remote workers, face to face communication is still hugely important. Again, Microsoft Teams is a good choice for video calls, meetings and conferences. Other popular options include Zoom and Blue Jeans.
In times like this, these tools are not just relevant for work – they are a great tool for keeping in contact with friends and family. Once you are comfortable with using them for work, why not arrange a family dinner over video chat, or have a catch up with friends
Personal Wellness & Mental Health
It’s barely been a week since the majority of organisations have shut down and gone remote to slow the virus, and there has already been a lot of discussion surfacing about the dark side of remote work.
Without the regular structure and personal contact that you would normally be used to, remote workers are more susceptible to things like stress, loneliness, mental strain and disrupted work/life balance.
Here are a few ways to help you prevent the long-term consequences of these issues:
- Separate work from the rest of daily life.
If you can, keep your work space separate from where you would normally spend your downtime and family time. Once the end of the work day comes, unplug from work completely i.e. in the evenings and especially on weekends – and whenever possible, go outside and get some fresh air with the family (following COVID-19 social distancing guidelines of course).
- Get active.
Nothing clears the head quite like a good walk or a bit of exercise. Try to build in some small exercises into your daily routine to get you away from your desk and get the heart pumping. If you can, get outdoors for a walk, run or jog each day.
- 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 organisations 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.
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. Here are some standard security guidelines you should follow while working remotely:
- Implement a secure Password Management Solution and only use strong passwords (e.g. LastPass, 1Password)
- Make sure you implement Multi-factor Authentication on all of your accounts
- Only use secure internet connections for work (and NEVER use public wifi networks)
- Keep your work devices and data secure to minimise the risk of a data breach
- Make sure to be aware of your surroundings if you are not working from home
These are just the fundamentals, make sure to ask your company for their remote working policies so you know what’s expected of you.
Working remotely can be challenging, but it can also be hugely rewarding, and it can result in a higher rate of happiness & productivity in the long term. Stick with it and take care of yourself, you might just find you don’t want to go back!
We hope this helps during such a trying time – if our team can do anything to help you can contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.