As the response to the COVID-19 coronavirus grows, and more organizations are having to shutter their public operations and avoid large groups at work, the need for employees to work remotely becomes immediate. For most of your staff, the remote location of choice is at home, but they can’t always do that. This means that you will need to take a proactive and flexible approach to working outside of the office, and you should work fast. The number of COVID-19 cases appears to be expanding exponentially.
Your first step is to identify who can work remotely, who can’t, and who should work on site if possible. The obvious step would seem to be that anyone with an office job can work at home, but that’s not necessarily the case. You may find that compliance requirements prevent this, or security requirements won’t let certain job functions work in unsecured areas.
We deliberately made it so people could work from anywhere
Likewise, employees with direct customer contact, such as restaurant workers, service workers or other workers for whom direct contact is required can’t work at home. And there are some jobs that may be problematic if working from home is required, such as production supervisors in a factory – while those are office jobs, they need access to the production facilities.
Determining your capabilities
After you’ve identified who can work remotely, it’s time to survey their ability to work from home (or elsewhere) if required. This means you will need to determine which employees have a computer they can use at home, which have adequate internet access, and which have a location that is sufficiently secure for the type of work they do. You will also need to determine the ability of each employee to have voice phone access.
Be prepared for surprises, even if you have a business continuity plan. Mehdi Daoudi, CEO of Catchpoint Systems, said that his company decided to put their plan to a test to see if they could implement a work-at-home plan.
“We have 250 employees,” Daoudi said. “Everybody worked from home last week, and then we did a survey.”
“There were a lot of etiquette issues,” he said, “such as being on time, multi-tasking, and other productivity hits. We found technical issues, so we ordered equipment and now everyone is working from home for the foreseeable future.”
Catchpoint is in the IT monitoring space where they track employee experiences, so they’re probably better equipped than most to pull it off, but the fact that they were able to actually test their plan ensured that a mandatory work-from-home order is something the company could carry out.
When you run a test of your business continuity plan (which you must do when you see a potential disaster on the horizon), you’re certain to find out that not everything works as you think it should. There will be employees who don’t have adequate internet access, some that don’t have computers that meet the requirements for your software and possibly a few that don’t have an adequate workspace.
Daoudi said that it’s the company’s responsibility to make sure that employees can work effectively from home. This can include buying new computers, paying for improved internet access or adding a voice phone such as a VoIP connection for an employee who must use the phone.
Alastair Pooley, CIO of Snow Software, said that in addition to making sure you have adequate internet access, you also need to make sure you have the proper number of VPN licenses. He pointed out that the number of remote users will expand when everyone is working from home. Fortunately, with cloud applications becoming common, fewer employees will need VPN access for those applications, but VPNs may still need to be available for users who need to have access to the company network.
Pooley also said that telephony can’t be overlooked since it’s vital to the functioning of your company. He added that someone has to be able to answer your company’s main phone number when it’s called, so provisions need to be made so that can happen. “We deliberately made it so people could work from anywhere,” he said.
You will find out where your deficiencies lie when you look at the results of your employee survey. If you expect your work-from-home effort to succeed, fixing those deficiencies is imperative.
Helping your staff adapt
“It’s a cultural shift,” Pooley said. “People aren’t used to working from home.”
He said that this is particularly an issue with meetings using a videoconferencing application such as Zoom, WebEx or Google Hangouts. For example, people need to make sure their cameras are turned on because their body language helps make the meeting run better. Pooley also said that there needs to be an explicit agenda for online meetings, and someone appointed to take notes to be shared with everyone.
But such meetings only work well when you’ve taken the time to train your employees in the proper use of the software so that when they need to know how to use a feature such as screen sharing, they can do it.
What you may find, as some companies have already, is that working from home, once you get it figured out for your company, can actually lead to increased productivity. As was the case with Catchpoint, working at home became so successful that they kept doing it.
For this sort of success to happen, your managers need to learn to trust their staff to do their jobs even when they’re not being constantly watched. Fortunately, there are a number of monitoring packages, including from Catchpoint, that can let you see what your employees are doing, even if they’re at home. Now, you may have no choice but to trust your staff, if only because working from home may be about to become mandatory.