Over the past two weeks our traditional notion of ‘the workplace’ has been replaced with remote office. Organizations across the globe are moving, or already have moved their employees from the office to work from home. This decision impacts companies differently – some are more advanced in their remote work infrastructures and processes, whereas others are just beginning their journey. Regardless of where you are, there are four key things to take into consideration: technology, people process and culture. Now more than ever, connection – technologically and with one another – is critical to an organization’s success.
A strong technological infrastructure is the foundation for effectively moving your entire team to remote work. Not only do your employees need you to have the proper solutions set-up so they can continue to do their jobs, your clients depend on you to have these tools in place to ensure business continuity. Many organizations have already purchased solutions, such as Unified Communications (UC), Virtual Private Network (VPN) and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), but haven’t invested the time needed to effectively roll out the technologies to their teams – other business priorities have taken precedent. Now, businesses are rushing to implement while still needing to plan, design, build, secure, deploy and train – the latter two often in parallel. Whether you already have a remote work infrastructure in place or are rapidly building and deploying one, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Check network readiness and health: in the short term, the business mandate may be to simply maintain and support all mission critical applications and services. Given the current circumstances, an organization’s network traffic may be drastically abnormal. It’s important to monitor the stress of the internal network to quickly identify issues and maintain continuity.
- Implement strong security measures: the more people working remote or from their personal devices, the greater the security challenge. Having hundreds or thousands of additional remote endpoints, increases an already complex security landscape. It’s crucial to routinely assess if your organization's VPN infrastructure is vulnerable to attack. One of the first initiatives to consider is a strong Two-Factor Authentication strategy and solution.
- Educate on phishing: unfortunately, there are email and online scams seeking to capitalize on public concern around COVID-19. You need to educate your team on this and tell them to be cautious about opening any web links or attachments even if you know the sender, as they may be from a compromised account.
- Leverage cloud: implementing cloud-based, Software as a Service platforms (SaaS) or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), solutions will allow your organization to be more agile and flexible, not only during these times of uncertainty but in the future as well. Select a partner who will help you develop a plan to architect, implement and operationalize on solutions that will get you through your immediate challenges and also act as a catalyst for pushing your organization towards its digital goals.
Once you have your remote technology and infrastructure in place, it is time to focus on your people. Working from home, even under normal circumstances, can feel isolating. And for those who have never worked remotely or only occasionally worked remotely, it is sure to be extra challenging. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to set your team for success.
- Develop “remote work” training: those who are unfamiliar with working from home will need a crash course in your company’s tools and processes for remote work. Develop clear and concise training documentation on all aspects and store it in a central place that employees have access to, such as a Microsoft Teams group or a Sharepoint site. You may want to also consider recording a short series of webinars on any more complex or elaborate remote work tools.
- Make video your best friend: as meetings move from face to face to online, encourage everyone on the team to make use of both video and voice. It’s this combination that builds comfort and engagement because it replicates in-person interaction, providing a sense of normalcy for the team. Using voice only is not as effective and does not nurture adoption in the same way.
- Empower team leads: ensure that you have appointed team leads across the organization to help rollout your remote work plan – from moving meetings online to modelling optimal work from home behaviours. These leaders will set the tone for the rest of the organization.
- Introduce a buddy program: if you have members of your team who regularly work remotely, connect them with members who are just transitioning to work from home. They’ll be able to help get other employees up to speed on your organization’s remote work tools, share ideas on how to create a WFH routine and foster a sense of community.
During times of uncertainty, people – in this case your team – look to routine as a way to establish a sense of normalcy. Developing and implementing simple, clear processes is the fundamental building block to establishing new routines during this extended remote work period. Here are some suggestions:
- Shorten meetings: as you take all your meetings online, consider shortening the length of them. Shorter meetings allow for more focused discussions.
- Increase frequency: while meetings should be shorter, encourage managers to increase the cadence in which they check-in with their teams (using both voice and video to chat). This not only allows them to keep business momentum going, identify challenges or brainstorm on projects but also fosters a sense of daily connection, during a time of possible loneliness. Consider scheduling a daily touch base time so that your team knows that there will be a minimum of one time a day you’ll “see” one another.
- Digital collaboration tools: in the office, your team is used to using whiteboards, lunch meetings and informal chats to brainstorm and collaborate with colleagues. Integrate remote-friendly, cloud-native tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams to encourage idea exchange and collaboration. Encourage employees to book time with their colleagues to ideate.
- Promote feedback: even the best thought out processes will have some hiccups as you put them into practice. Foster an environment where your team is comfortable sharing what is working and what isn’t. Capture challenges – technical, training, communication, etc – via a feedback specific email address, a form you develop or a Sharepoint site. Once you’ve collected the information, work with your team to collectively develop a solution that works for everyone.
Culture is the glue that holds people together and creates a sense of identity across your organization. Now more than ever, it is important that employees feel a sense of connection with one another and the company they work for. While culture may traditionally be built through in person interactions, if doesn’t mean that it can’t be fostered remotely.There are simple ways to keep your culture strong:
- Carry-on traditions - with a twist: just because you’re not in the office together right now, it does not mean you can’t carry-on with the activities that connect you and define your culture. You just need to get creative. Perhaps your office has its own gym and your team is particularly passionate about wellness. Arrange weekly online fitness classes, yoga sessions or meditation classes – not only will these classes help you stay connected, but they’ll help your team take care of their mental wellbeing during this stressful time.
Maybe you regularly host a company happy hour – you still can, just move it online. Put a weekly “Thirsty Thursday” calendar invite in everyone’s calendar and have them video conference in for a virtual cheers. Use this time to just catch-up and reconnect with one another – leave the work conversation for your next meeting.
- Encourage creativity: ask your team to share ideas for new company activities that you can partake in remotely. Select a new concept to try every week and have the person who suggested it partner with your HR department to bring it to fruition. While not all ideas will stick, some will – and these will become part of your organization’s cultural identity moving forward.
- Use gamification: there are lots of gamification platforms available to help you foster employee engagement. Set-up daily or weekly challenges for employees to partake in, such as sharing funny photos of their furry co-workers, comparing their “Taco Tuesday” lunch creations or snapping a picture of their craziest/funniest work from home socks. Have everyone vote on the winner and then award that person a prize. If your organization is in a position where it is feasible, consider an e-gift card in support of a local business or a donation to a local charity.
Your employees are likely craving connection more than ever. Don’t allow the change in the work environment to eat away at your culture, rather use your culture to continue to motivate, inspire and connect with one another.