The advice and news stories have come in thick and fast since the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, and many companies are facing the challenge of remote working for the first time. With self-isolated staff, and reductions in non-essential travel, not to mention client responses to the pandemic, cloud-based systems and options for remote access have taken on new import.
Only 30% of business leaders think their organisation is well prepared for the impact and rise of remote work. Whilst the current global situation poses an unforeseen and sudden test, this force majeure situation has put the spotlight onto the importance of robust internal processes and business continuity plans.
It is crucial to remember: these are not measures that should be turned to only in a crisis. Instilling a solid foundation can help support flexible working and ensure smooth handover and staff collaboration whatever the situation.
So, what areas must be considered when developing a seamless remote working strategy?
A STRONG FOUNDATION
Remote working is an effective strategy to ensure business continuity in times like this, however without a clearly defined policy and approach, organisations are unlikely to see a smooth transition nor productive results.
Underprepared leaders and workers can often find themselves underproductive and isolated in a remote working environment.
A useful first step is to understand the day-to-day processes and operations, and what is required. Are face-to-face meetings the main way in which decisions are made? How is information shared around the team? How are documents saved and data captured?
Many organisations will be familiar with centralised (and often cloud-based) document storage (such as DropBox, OneDrive, SharePoint, etc.), and many of these also facilitate collaboration within a single document; this can be particularly useful when teams are not working from the same location.
Other tools such as messaging platforms can be central in aiding the flow of information. A perhaps obvious point here is to roll out a unified, company chosen system; the alternative is individual teams turning to various instant messaging platforms (and there is a raft to choose from) to facilitate their conversations and selecting several different services. The natural outcome of this is an even more disconnected workforce! A tool that we have harnessed to encourage collaboration and facilitate remote working is Microsoft Teams. This acts as a general communication tool for colleagues throughout the working day, but can come into its own for remote working, as it allows screen sharing and document collaboration, as well as functionality for external parties to dial in for conference calls – an essential requirement in a time when so many businesses are trying to adapt to remote working in a short space of time.
Most software available today can be accessed from anywhere via a browser, and come with the option of multi-factor authentication to ensure secure access. Going remote can also mean team members logging in via public WIFI networks, from coworking spaces or public areas. It is useful to have a Security Policy in place that considers these eventualities, as well as supporting processes, such as regular password updates, and around data capture and storage.
As well as software and systems, hardware is another consideration. Although some organisations may require a range of office tools, for many companies, a laptop and a mobile will fulfil basic requirements. The main consideration here is security – for some heftier security policies, the cloud may not be sufficient, and desktop computers may be required, as well as VPN connections for confidential information sharing.
CLEAR CONTINGENCY PLANS
Setting a clear contingency plan should there be the need to move the full business to remote working should be a consideration for any management strategy. Communicating this throughout the team, with regular testing, ensures staff are aware of their responsibilities to enact these plans ahead of time, making the transition quicker and reducing the risk of downtime.
As with any situation, communication is key; efficiently keeping various teams up to date with latest updates on projects and customers is vital. Organisations cannot afford to let the lack of in-person interactions slow, or halt, business-as-usual.
And internally? When it comes to communication, more is more
Instituting a daily call, even for only 15 minutes, with the whole team to kick off the day, can be a good way of understanding task allocation and capacity, as well as assessing team-wide priorities for the day. It is also a chance to ‘check in’ with your team, as isolation can be a significant challenge for many employees, particularly those who work remotely on a regular basis. Personal interactions will also allow employees to get a sense of the wellbeing of the staff, as well as maintain the company culture and style.
Messaging platforms, along with usual email should be the go-to and encouraging teams to share even the smallest of updates, particularly initially, is a good way to get into the swing of remote communication. It is always better to slim down communications, rather than demand updates or be waiting for information!
AND FINALLY, TRUST
So how do you make sure things are still getting done? Trust comes into its own when teams are working remotely.
The first time a team experiences remote working it can feel like a daunting loss of oversight: wondering if things are progressing as they should be, and whether deadlines can still be met. For team leaders usually required to account for progress and achievements, this can create a desire to check up on the team frequently and erratically, searching for updates on each and every small development. Ultimately though, this makes you and your team less efficient and can feel more and more like the ‘big brother’ effect.
This is where creating an environment of communication and transparency comes in.
Softwares that allow task management and planning can be useful, allocating out tasks within a team, and tracking progress. Clearly setting priorities and expectations for each individual at the start of each week helps to provide a structure for teams to work within and allows leaders to see progress without frequently interrupting their team.
It may be challenging times for businesses, with more unknowns ahead. But with the right planning and preparation, remote working can support and enable productivity and efficiency, and allow businesses to function, in even the most difficult of circumstances.