How quickly things change. For many in the U.S., the new “normal” is staying away from community contact, including congregating at places of work. Companies around the globe have pushed out mandatory work-from-home policies. Fortunately, for many of these companies, working from home has been an available option for a while, and employees are most likely well-versed in the “how.”
But what about the rest of us? For many companies, sending their workforce home represents an abrupt logistical and culture shift. And, with all the simultaneous disruptions happening in homes now, including school closings and cancellation of activities, efficient planning and execution will be a must if your employees are to remain productive. The good news is that we’ve come a long way in that time with videoconferencing and secure cloud networks being the norm and not the exception. Here at Grapevine, we have been working virtually (partial or fully remote) for over ten years. Here’s some advice we can offer based on what we’ve learned – the positive, the negative, and the downright ugly. We hope it might save you a few bumps along the way.
First, before you begin, take a little time to assess your current capabilities against need.This is not the time to reinvent the wheel. Do a high-level overview. What will your workers need to work from home? (At a minimum, this might be a computer, high-speed internet, and access to email and files.) Talk with your IT support person or company. Chances are your workers already have a dedicated work laptop and the needed internet speed and will be able to access your work system using VPN. If they can’t take their computer home, they should be able to connect using a personal computer by enabling remote desktop on their work computer. Depending on your email server (most businesses use Outlook or Google), you’ll also be able to configure remote access. Again, your IT professional can help you navigate the larger picture.
- You’ll want to set guidelines and expectations around the workday in writing. This should include expected availability during the day and being present for specified meeting times.
- Help your employees assess their own at-home capabilities. What internet speed should they have? What should their workspace look like? (We recommend setting up a space or room away from the central activity areas of the home that can serve as being “at work” as opposed to being “at home.”)
- If you have a highly collaborative work environment, build in time for interaction. At some companies, teams set up a virtual “coffee time” – a dedicated time for people to video chat and catch up on their day.
- Give some helpful tips on separating work from home. Too many of us fall in the trap of multi-tasking across work and home tasks. Urge your people to refrain from folding laundry on their work time, and, conversely, not to stay glued to their email after work hours are over. Having dedicated work hours away from the many distractions of home helps when it’s time to leave work at the end of the day. You’ll all get more done with much less stress.
- Don’t consider commuting time as part of your expected work hours. Your employees will appreciate the flexibility to attend to home or personal needs during this time.
The Right Tools:
- Talk to your IT support about the nuts and bolts of access and security. Make sure it is well spelled out for your workers, and they have someone to turn to if they run into challenges.
- For clarity, use a remote work template and modify as you need for your purposes. (Some good electronic signature tools are Adobe Sign and DocuSign. Microsoft Word also has signature capability.)
- If you don’t have a way to share files, we recommend setting up a cloud networking solution. For smaller teams, we’re a fan of Dropbox, but we recommend you speak with your IT provider before making a decision.
- Consider phones. Even if you’re not at the office, you’ll want your client’s phone experience to be seamless. Grasshopper, RingCentral, and Vonage all offer comprehensive VOIP phone and messaging solutions including call forwarding. They’re also easy to set up. Consult with your IT and/or networking solutions provider to find the best option for you and current phone and system configuration.
- When looking at equipment needs, go beyond the computer to consider items such as a headset or a webcam, even a desk. If your people need support, consider allowing them to borrow from the office, or, budget permitting, ordering online and shipping items to their home. If they don’t currently have high-speed internet, consider underwriting the cost of upgrading their services, at least for the duration of your mandatory work-from-home term.
- Your best friend may be videoconferencing. While call-in meetings may be “enough,” they can’t rise to the inclusiveness and effectiveness of face-to-face and the ability to share work screens. You’ll also be able to record meetings or webinars for individuals who may not be able to attend. Cisco WebEx and Go to Meeting are popular options. For our purposes, we find Zoom to be an ideal, and cost-effective platform.
The success of your remote work arrangement will depend on several factors – good planning, execution, and flexibility. This will be an adjustment for everyone. Understand that “life happens” and not all your workers will be able to create the ideal work-from-home haven. Expect interruptions from time to time – dogs like to bark, and children have a talent for interrupting at the most inopportune times. Above all, stress to your people that this is a joint venture, and you will all learn as you go. If they feel they are trusted and valued, you just might be surprised at the new and innovative ways they find to better serve your customers.
Now that we’ve shared our wisdom, maybe you can help us with our burning question – after this is all over, just what are we going to do with all that leftover toilet paper?