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As coronavirus continues to spread, businesses around the globe are taking evasive action. Google and Facebook have recently cancelled conferences in the interest of slowing the spread of COVID-19. Twitter has gone a step further, ‘strongly encouraging’ its global staff of 5,000 to not come into the office until further notice. IBM – which rolled back its remote working policy just a few years ago – is now encouraging staff to work from ‘wherever possible’.
Now that coronavirus has touched down in New Zealand, and with Australia’s first case of human transmission having been declared, continuity planning is on the agenda for businesses Downunder again, and for many that will mean taking a fresh look at the idea of remote working.
Thinking about offering staff the opportunity to work from home? Don’t expect much pushback here: The Remote Work Report (produced by remote working company Zapier) estimates that three quarters of employees would be willing to actually quit their current job in order to work remotely, so you’re likely preaching to choir.
How do you effectively manage a workforce that’s no longer coming into the office?
But the better question is, how do you effectively manage a workforce that’s no longer coming into the office?
Straight talk 1: Get your facts straight
Making decisions based on rumour, hearsay and similarly dubious sources is a clear and present danger to your credibility. Instead, monitor official sources. For New Zealand readers that will mean the Ministry of Health website. For Australian readers it’s the Department of Health. Both of those sites are updated regularly, so check them daily and keep employees informed as the situation changes.
Straight talk 2: Set expectations
Clearly articulate what you need: What work is required, preferred channels for communication and what kinds of communication are expected and when. Pay special attention to how meetings and catch-ups are scheduled and make sure everyone’s on the same page.
And it’s not just about delivering orders: Take the time to communicate to staff that they are entitled to switch off their work devices at the end of a long day. Be particularly cautious about asking for after hours extra effort when employees are working remotely.
Busy days for the IT department, directly ahead. Staff will need the ability to access the network, your key business applications and communication channels in a safe, secure way. Setting up a reliable, easy-to-use VPN solution for remote employees is the first order of duty.
Bear in mind that not every employee will have access to high-speed internet. A 2018 survey including Australian and Kiwi respondents (conducted by LogMeIn) found almost a third of remote workers face ‘significant; technology and connectivity issues, so thoroughly assess remote workers’ internet capabilities and consider the costs that may be incurred from shifting the data burden from the workplace to the home.
Also worth answering: Can your employees actually put in a full day’s work using their personal devices? Or do they need hardware from the workplace? Is a remote desktop solution required? In a pinch you may need to lease or purchase new devices. Bear in mind too that BYOD – even at home – has its risks.
Tools for the job
The 2020 State of Remote Work report conducted by Buffer and AngelList finds the greatest challenge for remote workers (tied equal with ‘loneliness’) was ‘collaboration and communication’.
When employees can’t communicate face-to-face, they’ll need to shift to digital communication means, so expect a sharp upswing in the use of IM, collaboration apps and teleconferencing facilities. Solutions are myriad of course, many performing multiple functions. Big names include Skype for Business, Facebook’s enterprise collaboration suite Workplace, Slack, Zoom and Google’s G Suite.
For those looking to beef up their remote working capabilities, now is a good moment to make the leap: Companies specialising in remote working solutions – who surely know a marketing opportunity when they see one – are offering sweeteners for current users and those on the fence. Remote connectivity service LogMeIn is offering ‘Emergency Remote Work Kits’ (tools for meetings and video conferencing, webinars and virtual events, remote IT support/management and remote device access) for governments, educational institutions, healthcare organisations and non-profits, free, company-wide use of its collaboration and remote access products for the next three months.
Even better, Google has just announced free access to its Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities for all customers until the 1st of July.
“As more employees, educators, and students work remotely in response to the spread of COVID-19, we want to do our part to help them stay connected and productive,” writes Javier Soltero, GM and VP of G Suite.
“As more businesses adjust their work-from-home policies and adopt reduced travel plans in response to COVID-19, we’re helping to ensure that all globally distributed teams can still reliably meet face to face, even if employees are not in the same location”.