Coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading quickly around the globe, and many companies are scrambling to protect their employees. Facebook announced its employees won’t be attending SXSW. Mobile World Congress, Google I/O and Atlassian Summit have all been canceled or moved to remote, as is the case with Atlassian. Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon, and Glassdoor – among others – are encouraging or forcing their employees to work from home, effective immediately.
Even for a remote-first organization like Modus Create, it is also important to provide employees with guidelines on how best to manage their workplace during this outbreak as part of a comprehensive response plan. We have created our own documentation empowering regional offices to take response plans into action if necessary and to monitor absenteeism with care. This is now distributed through our intranet and referenced in leadership communication to safeguard the well being of all our Modites (how we call our employees).
Making this kind of organizational shift is not something to be taken lightly or something that is generally done quickly without issues. In the realm of remote working, working from home (WFH) – which may be the best approach to avoid infection by limiting contact among workers – can be the most challenging. Here is some advice from a remote-first company that provides transformational consulting services.
Change Doesn’t Happen Overnight
In an ideal world, it is best to take a longer-term approach to organizational transformation. This involves pilots and pivots and top-down and down-up planning. You don’t have time for that now. This is going to happen fast. When you move quickly, things will break. It is important to manage your expectations and be prepared for issues to come up. Create channels for escalation and make sure you are capturing critical data needed to make decisions: what people are spending time on, what progress is being made on initiatives, and anything else that will help you to diagnose issues in real-time. Remember The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t Panic.
Communication Is #1
The most important aspect of working from home is making sure that you keep clear communication open. There are a few key ways to effectively communicate remotely:
- Use real-time and face-to-face communication via video conferencing – Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype and WebEx for example – and everyone MUST have their video on.
- Know when to do synchronous and asynchronous communication: do you need the answer now? Go to Slack or chat tools. Can it wait? Use email or other asynchronous tools.
- Be clear what is important and what is ephemeral. Things that are important should be documented somewhere other than your chat – there should be a central place to mark big decisions so everyone knows.
- Make sure that you have tools to track progress on projects and other initiatives. Trello boards are easy to set up and quickly become the center of truth for work prioritization and progress. If you’ve never used these, then find a method that works for you – shared spreadsheets, email updates, whatever, so you know what everyone is doing.
- Have other collaborative documents: Google Docs, Confluence, Microsoft OpenOffice – the tool is less relevant than the real-time collaborative nature of being able to work together remotely. Check with your company on what sharing platform you use and make sure that people know how to get their files from their workstations there, or at least make sure they can at least access their workstation drives remotely.
- You can still do workshops and interactive sessions like the ones you do in the office with sticky notes – you just need to use an online tool like Miro or Mural.
- Be smart about your meetings. Keep in mind you may need some extra “standups” or quick check-ins to see who is working on what and prevent silo-ing of efforts. You should also think about having retrospective meetings to discuss what is and isn’t working: both for the work-at-home initiative and for other projects. Additionally, look for opportunities to change what were meetings into Slack channels or live collaborative sessions in a document instead.
- Substitute the social. It is lonelier being home alone all day – find ways to interact with the people you interact with at the office, try having a “happy hour” with a bunch of people to have coffee and chat about whatever. Be creative and stay connected.
Work Environment Is More Than A Space
For employees that have no experience working from home, it might seem like all that’s needed is a little cleanup of their desk and a laptop. But there are many other implications that go beyond just the physical space itself.
When considering homework environments, companies need to make sure that people have the necessary tools, processes, and people required to perform their job available to them at home. From an IT perspective, this means:
- File access: ensuring employees can access storage and file repositories from their home office network.
- Company databases: cloud-based systems have resolved this for many companies, but thinking through all the integrations that may exist to in-house databases is important before assuming all the data can flow to show up at the employee’s screen when needed.
- Collaboration tools: beyond online video conferencing, online productivity suites like O365 and G-Suite resolve most of the remote work collaboration issues, but you may also need chat tools, project management software, CRM tools and ERP tools available online and from a remote location.
- Network and secure access: beyond ensuring the employee has access to a high-speed and stable broadband connection, system access through single-sign-on and VPN access to their systems and enabling reasonable session time-outs for sensitive applications is important.
- Software licenses: a frequently overlooked point is to ensure there are enough and properly managed licenses for all employees using software packages. This may require new permissions to install, etc. – need to balance flexibility with security.
- IT support: if your help desk team is used to a few questions from on-site employees, prepare for an influx of questions to support the transition to a WFH policy. This can be improved with self-service portals, AI chatbots and user guides. It may take time for you to enable those, and employees will still demand answers, so having a short term plan is pertinent.
- Security: at the very minimum, work computers should enable encryption of data and have the right endpoint security protection against virus, malware, and other threats. Beyond that, make sure employees avoid public wi-fi when possible and that the work data is only accessed from the work devices to prevent secure data from flowing into personal storage environments. Depending on your company’s data sensitivity, several other things may need to be considered too.
Many companies will issue requirements for what the home working space should look like and how it should be set up. Some companies even send ergonomists and HR specialists to verify that the space is properly configured (and avoid potential legal issues). If you are doing this as a crisis response to the current COVID-19 outbreak, your employees should consider that the space should at least comply with these recommendations:
- Identify a separate physical space away from distractions: not your bed, the kitchen island, or your car, or create rules with anyone else who might be home to know when you’re working to limit disturbances. The key is to limit disturbances and temptation for distraction. Make sure to get up and move around once and a while – and close your laptop or office door and log off to keep work-life balance, a challenge for remote workers.
- Work computers are for work: it’s not the family computer or for personal use.
- Good internet connection: with high-speed broadband and in compliance with IT security rules (as outlined above). Management can consider allowing employees to expense higher bandwidth connection to support video calls and collaboration.
- Consider the light: access to windows in the right position can reduce headaches, stress and eyestrain.
- Ergonomics and safety: a proper chair, desk, secondary monitor, separate keyboard and mouse are essential for long hours working on your computer – management can consider an allowance for upgrades. It’s also important that the machine is set up at the proper height and position for an ergonomically sound space.
This Will Be A Work In Progress
Make sure you take the time to work on the actual process of working from home. This should be an iterative process that you can learn from day-by-day and improve as you go along. Have retrospectives to discuss what is and isn’t working for people. Check-in with people by having one-on-one or small groups to discuss how communication is and get a feel for how everyone is managing. Some will invariably do better than others, so it will be important to support those who are struggling and you can encourage successful people to mentor others.
Try setting up a Slack channel, or group in another chat app if you don’t use Slack, that is focused solely on working remotely so people can provide input and help each other out. Additionally, because people will miss out on the human connection encourage them to have video calls with co-workers and create channels in your chat app to discuss other things – a #random channel as well as specifics on pets or food or other interests. Think about other things that happen on-site that are part of the culture, and find ways to recreate them online. Instead of pizza lunch, have social lunches and coffee time to encourage that interaction.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to change things up, try new things and take the learnings from retrospectives and other forms of communication to come up with new solutions and ways to work together effectively from home.
A viable option for companies looking to promote the health of their employees, as well as contain the spread of COVID-19, is to let everyone work from home – but there are a lot of consequences to making this kind of a shift quickly. Understanding some of the key elements that make this work is a good starting point to being successful. Keep in mind this is going to require some time to get right and taking an intelligent and introspective approach will ensure better success. In the end, communication is the most important aspect of remote work. You might even consider incorporating remote work into your long-term strategy after this experiment is over.
We’re here to help (we can do it remotely) – Modus can bring our years of experience as a remote digital transformation agency to help you. We can perform assessments, recommendations, remote training, as well as transformation plans adapted to your company and timeline.
Want to learn more? Download Modus’ guide to quickly transitioning your organization remote first.
Drew Falkman and JP Quesada
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