Even when the implementation of ‘lockdown’ was only a possibility, organisations quickly moved towards introducing remote working in what was an impressive shift to help employees observe safe distancing guidelines.
Now the rules are well underway, many businesses are still working from remote locations and trying to adapt to a ‘new normal’. So, this is the time to evaluate what may have been overlooked.
Here are some of the ways in which organisations can maintain security, productivity and engagement.
1. Network connectivity
Hopefully employees will have access to the information they need, in theory, but if servers are based in the office, rather than the cloud, the speed of data retrieval could soon be compromised.
It is important to evaluate bandwidth (the size of the internet pipe) – and fast – otherwise, it’s like trying to push a baseball down a hose.
2. The tech infrastructure
Hardware sales have rocketed in recent weeks, to the point where laptops ended up in extremely short supply. But there’s more to robust remote working than the physical devices alone.
It is important to think about everything within the tech infrastructure, including firewalls (and up-to-date patches), backups, video collaboration apps, home WiFi and more.
If this is new territory, business leaders should speak to their peers to transfer ideas and learnings, or enlist the expertise of a specialist who can help them remain agile yet robust and secure, during these unprecedented times.
Remote working will continue to represent a huge step into the unknown for a number of workforces and their employers, meaning policies are unlikely to exist for many.
Even if drafting these ‘on the hoof’, it is important to clearly outline protocol, guidance and expectations – otherwise how do colleagues know what to do, and how can undesirable behaviour be managed?
Honest and transparent communication is key, and not just when it comes to tech-related topics such as using personal devices and browsing habits. Think about ‘softer’ things too such as break times, working hours, and the message to customers. It all matters.
It’s an obvious point to make yet all too often, management teams want the slickest, most fool-proofed remote working solution available, yet won’t dedicate the necessary financial resources to match.
In short, budgets should reflect expectation, because – perhaps unsurprisingly – you get what you pay for. So, cut IT spend at your peril. Yes, cost control is important, but what about the cost of an outage? A hack? A staggering drop in productivity? Customer dissatisfaction? Business non-recovery? These numbers are far tougher for a business to accommodate.
This will prove a challenging time for busy IT departments as all eyes fall on them to make remote working a possibility, potentially for the long term. Teams may soon become stretched and knowledge gaps might also start to arise.
The expertise of an outsourced specialist could add real value here, if only on an ad hoc consultancy basis. Now is not the time to ‘wing it’.
Fraud, hacks and scams are all too common, particularly during times of widespread crisis. Covid-19 phishing emails professing to offer much-needed information on the pandemic are reportedly up by 40 per cent, and messages seemingly directed to remote workers from employers’ IT departments will also be frequently received.
Employees therefore need to be educated – or re-educated – on cyber-safety so that they can remain vigilant against such threats.
There are some fantastic services out there, including ones that send simulated phishing emails to unsuspecting users to test how they respond in a controlled and safe environment. This helps identify which colleagues are most in need of training. This training can still be delivered remotely, and ongoing tips and reminders will also prove helpful, particularly when the pace of change – and in many cases fear – may cause a new level of distraction.
7. The customer experience
Customers are people too, and they are also enduring a period of uncertainty, so now is not the time to go quiet on them. Keep talking, honestly, as much as possible, and remind them you’re there. This is the time when brand authenticity will become clear.
Also think about the mechanics of how customers interact with the business. Is someone manning social media channels as normal, for example? And can customers still contact the colleagues they need to?
The right voice (telephony) infrastructure will prove crucial to routing calls to the right people. Better still, a unified communications solution would allow employees to switch easily to another channel such as video conferencing or social, to suit the needs/preferences of different individuals.
And, for bigger organisations, when customers do call, what is your ability to respond? What are the waiting times? And call abandonment rates? Keep an eye on the metrics that matter and don’t ignore the data if it starts to depict worrying trends.
Ongoing conversation with colleagues is crucial – if only to maintain morale when the workforce has the potential to feel disconnected. Employee engagement may be deemed a ‘softer’ side of the strategy, but a company is nothing without its people, especially during difficult times, and it is important to acknowledge that the risks to mental health are very real. Most people feel more reassured when they are informed, so maintain open dialogue.
With pressures mounting and employees now working in their homes, it’s also easy to let the work-life balance slide. So, think of social activities that can be held digitally, from ‘thirsty Thursday happy hours’ to virtual bingo – whatever will keep spirits high.
To follow on from the previous point, the normal 9-5 is probably already a distant memory. So, in the absence of routine, source and share productivity tips to keep workload slick and staff sane!
Planning may feel like a helpless crystal ball gazing exercise at present, but businesses still need to work to some form of strategic approach during these uncertain times. Management teams should focus on scenario planning and work out what information needs to be disseminated to colleague and when, to demonstrate signs of solid leadership. This will keep employees inspired when they need that vision the most.
Whether these tips only help improve the robustness of remote working until the lockdown is lifted, or they support businesses with a long-term flexible working strategy, they will hopefully assist organisations with fine-tuning their approach so that they can move forward in the strongest position possible.
Tim Mercer, CEO, Vapour Cloud
- If you're interested in seeing how you or your business can benefit from working from home, join us at the Working From Home Show this summer, Thursday 30 - Friday 31 July. To register or enquire about sponsoring, visit https://www.workingfromhomeshow.com/