Working from home (WFH) is the new black. Is your business ready for the future?
This is the first in a series of articles
designed to help you manage your business in a world where your people will increasingly be working away form the office. How do you maintain productivity, keep your customers happy, and ensure your people are actively part of the team and not feeling isolated? What tools will you need? What are the risks?
In this article we will look at the top 5 considerations to ensure that your business continues to operate efficiently and that your team can work in a sustainable and secure manner.
The COVID emergency in early 2020 caused significant changes to the way we work. Suddenly it was undesirable to be on public transport, too near other people, or working in a normal office environment. Many firms acted quickly to establish new ways of enabling their teams to work away from the office, either by setting up new systems and routines or fortifying and expanding on already existing facilities.
Fortunately, the stars aligned at just the right time to help with this sudden migration to home working. The most significant of these events was the near completion of the Australia-wide NBN network. The Australian government had, somewhat fortuitously, targeted 2020 for the completion of the rollout. While somewhat maligned in some sectors, the NBN has played a substantial role in providing key factors which enable home working. Features such as quick access to business systems and data, video conferencing and video chat, and integrated cloud phone systems, would not have been cost effectively possible without the NBN.
Another factor which helped with WFH programmes was that a lot of people were already doing it, at least to some extent. This meant that many of the processes and infrastructure systems were already in place and only needed to be expanded to cope with the greater load. This previous experience meant that, for a lot of people, spending more time working remotely was not as unfamiliar or confronting as it might otherwise have been.
Although we have all become familiar with home working, what happens next? Business surveys indicate that a lot of people anticipate a permanent change to their work practices with many expecting to spend less time in the office. It’s one thing to respond to an emergency situation, albeit and extended emergency, but how will work habits change when the emergency passes, and business leaders have to consider how we meet new expectations and challenges.
Here are my top five considerations for future work practices:
1. TEAM COLLABORATION
People are social animals. That hasn’t changed because of the events of 2020. People still want to interact in a personal way. They want to see each other. That want the opportunity for casual interaction and the ability to bounce an idea off a colleague.
Collaboration tools have been developing for some years but 2020 has seen massive growth. In 2019, nobody understood the term “to Zoom someone”. Now that has become analogous for a video meeting, mostly in the business environment. Although there are many excellent collaboration tools, notably Microsoft Teams, Zoom has stolen the term and become a verb, even when we aren’t actually using the Zoom product.
It has become increasingly important for team members to engage in casual meet-ups with colleagues. Initially, this form of interaction may feel uncomfortable, so it is important for business leaders to encourage such interactions, maybe going as far as to schedule catch-ups with and between remote workers.
Collaboration tools are becoming more advanced as a competitive market demands greater functionality. Ensure that your IT service provider is keeping you up to date with developments and introducing you to new services, options, and techniques on a regular basis.
2. REMOTE SECURITY RISKS
When everybody is working in the office, there is a sense of confidence that confidential or sensitive information is secure withing the framework of the internal network and physical premises. For the most part, the only exposure to external parties is through a web site or the local firewall. Management of these points appears to be relatively simple or, at least, well understood.
Everything changes with remote working. Now staff are using their own devices, over which the business has little or no control, data is less and less under direct surveillance of the business management or, indeed, the IT support teams.
At the very least, a general refinement of security standards and deployment of tools to protect systems and data from unauthorised access is required. Products such as Microsoft 365 include features such as multifactor authentication which can make a substantial difference to access controls.
Staff may feel more relaxed or complacent when working from home so improved user education and training, particularly around spam and phishing, will help to limit exposure to unauthorised access and ransomware. Emphasise awareness at every opportunity and ensure that good backup routines are maintained.
Ensure that personal devices, such as home computers, meet security standards. It is essential that these devices have current anti-virus tools installed and that all updates and patches are applied.
Where the applications and services generate logs, particularly access logs, review them frequently and take immediate action where unusual or questionable activity is found.
3. IT SUPPORT
The role of your IT support provider may change significantly and become more challenging with more people working from a diverse number of locations. Problem solving with personal devices may be difficult or, in many cases, not possible. The ideal solution is that people who work from home do so only with equipment issued by the business. This allows the device to be controlled and managed remotely and reduces problems associated with security and problem rectification.
While not much changes with the support of primary systems and data, IT support visits may not be practical in a situation where staff are geographically dispersed. Other factors such as local Internet service disruption, performance or outage need to be considered in terms of worker productivity.
Discuss with your IT service provider a plan to ensure that key workers are sufficiently resourced to operate efficiently and with minimal disruption and that they are equipped with an understanding of their home or remote systems so that they can effect basic problem resolution when required.
4. THE RIGHT WORK/LIFE BALANCE
Before COVID, many employers were hesitant to embrace remote working and were slow to adopt “work form home” as a viable option. COVID changed the landscape by removing the decision and forcing business to allow staff to work from home if the business were to survive.
As we recover from COVID, it is increasingly unlikely that we will all be heading back to the office full time. Employers are seeing the benefit of the availability of a more flexible workforce and access to skilled people who might otherwise be outside their traditional geographic catchment. After all, remote working knows no location bounds.
Meanwhile, employees are seeing the benefits of reduced travel, a more relaxed work schedule and a greater work/life balance. The balance between remote and office work will depend on the nature of the work, the need for social interaction and the demands of the customer.
Post COVID, there will be a push for employees to visit the office less frequently and for the office itself to be smaller, less costly, and more efficient. Greater use of communications and collaboration tools will enable the business to reshape itself and, in doing so, be more attractive to more talented prospective staff. The shrewd business leader will see the opportunity to achieve greater competitive advantage through people and technology.
5. DEVELOPING TRUST
The changing work landscape will not always sit well with everyone. Some employers will remain suspicious of staff who are not in the office. Some staff will certainly take unfair advantage of the greater freedom to work from home, particularly if they are engaged in work which is not closely tied to performance measures.
The technology employed to facilitate home working plays an enormous role in helping to develop a sound trust relationship and, in some cases, by allowing the employer to feel comfortable that they are getting value from their team.
Collaboration tools are critical to establishing and maintaining communication between and amongst remote workers. They should be driven hard and used as much as possible.
Discuss the tools and options with your IT service provider. Ensure that the tools you use meet all your requirements and can grow and develop with your business. Select tools which are clearly in active development, and which receive frequent feature updates, so that you can be confident that you won’t be left behind. Don’t use tools that cut corners of just barely meet your requirements on the pretence of saving money. This is false economy and will constrict your business activity.
If you would like more information or direction regarding the content of this article, please contact us. We’ve helped hundreds of people effectively work remotely and we’ll be delighted to help you too.