Moving To Remote Working Due To COVID-1924 March 2020
Photo: Unsplash - pixpoetry
COVID-19 has swept through countries and had a direct impact on every person. Whether it be through contracting the virus, economic repercussions or social distancing, our way of life has been significantly changed. As I write this we still do not know what is required to get life back to a form of normality or how long that will take.
One area that, through the effects of this virus, has seen immense growth is remote working. The number of companies offering remote roles has been growing for years but with the spread of COVID-19 it became an overnight necessity for all non-essential office-based workers. This has generated a huge opportunity for these companies to try a new way of working. The time frame that these companies had to get their operations working remotely may mask many of these benefits.
The aim of this post is not to rehash the many (too many) posts on how best to work from home. Its aim is more to highlight both technical and cultural issues you need to consider.
Let’s start with the technical, moving all your employees out of the office is no easy task. Most companies these days provide laptops for convenience. This means your staff will generally have a machine that you can control to work from home on. This means that you can control the basic’s of security like anti-virus protection (irony huh?) and VPN connectivity. Where ever possible you do not want your team working from the family laptop. If they do you need to consider the impact on your data and the vulnerabilities that may expose. It would not be unfair to insist that any non-provided computer that an employee works from is upgraded with your corporate security solutions. Next, you need to consider their ability to communicate. So far the mobile networks (at least in the UK) have stood up to the increased load. So it would seem, have the broadband providers. The thing to consider is that your employees may not have high capacity lines. Speeds and transfer rates vary and if you employee has a family that is also consuming Netflix and PlayStation games due to being off school, that can have an impact on their ability to video call and work. Not every situation is the same and what is a small cost to absorb to upgrade a couple of the teams broadband for a small company is a much larger cost as your headcount increases. It’s something to consider.
The next main thing to consider is your data and how secure it is with the sudden move to remote working. Thanks to GDPR you should have a full map of all the data points in your organisation and which systems those points relate to. Many systems are cloud-based these days and the preparation for GDPR would have meant ensuring your providers meet the regulations. If you are not using a service like GSuite or Dropbox to manage your files then how are your employees accessing the data? Your main concern here is that data and documents do not get shared via insecure services or personal accounts. If you are running your file-sharing infrastructure then the least you need to ensure you have in place is VPN connections for all employees to your file servers. Remember that no regulation or data breach will be forgiven in 2020 just because of COVID-19. Check your data audit and secure all access.
The next obvious thing to consider is communication. There are a host of options but ensuring that your employees use the right ones is key. Slack, Microsoft Teams, Facetime, these are all proven and reliable forms of communication tools. For video conferencing, there are endless options but selecting one can be trickier than it should be. Zoom is a massively popular video calling app but has a history of security issues. Again, take time to review solutions and their history before getting the whole team on board. Slack for me has pretty much all you need to stay connected. How well you use it is another article but it has calling and video chat, screen sharing and most apps provide a way to integrate with it now.
Communication brings me to the final area I want to cover in this post, team culture. Every company has its culture and without realising it that can be governed in part by the locations of your teams. Office-based teamwork tends to be much more synchronous than when your team is remote. This is obvious as you can walk up to any of your team and have a conversation in real-time. The employee can understand context and meaning from you. These are elements that can be lost in a text-based conversation.
You can see when that employee is at their desk so you know when to have that conversation. When a team becomes remote you need to adjust this element of the culture. There needs to be an element of flexibility. This is not so your team can kick back and catch up on Netflix and fit work in when they want. When someone transitions to working from home it can add an element of anxiety for some staff. They feel they have to respond to a Slack message immediately. They don’t feel comfortable taking an hour for lunch as they fear how that might be perceived. The level of anxiety across your team may differ but it will be there in some form especially now at a time when they have been forced into remote working. Add this sudden change, anxiety and wider concerns about the world events you will find that it will take some time for your team to settle into being remote. You or your management team must make time to check in with your employees and ensure their OK. Agree as a team to the standard you now expect. It’s fine if you need your core team available between 8:30 and 5. Share that you want an all-hands team call on a Wednesday at 10am. Figure out what you need as a business but be sure to adapt to a more asynchronous way of working and be slightly more forgiving of your team during this unprecedented event.
One last tip on culture. Add some fun elements to it. Arrange a virtual team lunch, add a music sharing channel to Slack, arrange the book club virtually. This is key to helping the team adjust to the sudden change. Be visible as well. If you are the CEO, sales manager, a developer, whoever just be visible and friendly and accessible.
I hope this article has provided some points to consider. I didn’t want to write another “don’t work in your PJ’s” article as people should know that already. If you have any questions around going remote, building teams or culture then let me know via twitter or email.