How to manage the monumental shift to remote workforces
Asha Purohit talks to several business leaders about how to manage the global move towards remote working.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused mass disruption across the entire globe for individuals and businesses alike. With the UK government having imposed a lockdown apart from key workers and essential travel, all organisations from small local businesses to enterprises are now required to either make their entire workforce remotely capable or face closing business operations completely.
The task of shifting a whole nation’s working habits and practices regardless of the organisations’ size or industry is no small feat; here, multiple tech industry experts tell us how businesses can ensure they deploy and maintain an effective remote workforce.
Make this the new normal
"There’s no escaping it – we are living and working in a new reality,” says Tom Cotton, Agile Workspace Technical Director at Six Degrees. “Remote working, once viewed as a ‘nice to have’, has become essential to a huge number of organisations’ ongoing viability.
"Conversations with friends and family may well bring up tales of dusted-off laptops, desktop PCs being taken home on the train, and any number of home working horrors. Many organisations already have a robust remote working platform in place, and are therefore geared for ‘business as usual’ in terms of continued productivity, staff satisfaction, and customer brilliance.
"Some organisations, however, may have been slower off the mark, with mission-critical remote working (or lack thereof) very possibly keeping them up at night.
"Working from home may well be a big change for a number of users in your organisation, so it’s important to put processes in place to establish the remote working culture as soon as possible, which will help to make that transition easier.
"Set out clear expectations for users when they work from home. Just like in the office, users will need time to focus on tasks throughout the day. Just because you don’t see a green tick beside their name doesn’t mean they’re not working. Communicate, be flexible, and be understanding.”
At its core, this is about enabling constant communication and preserving relationships between co-workers, customers and partners.
“For many of us, working from home is now the 'new normal',” Paul Zuidema, Managing Director EMEA at Ergotron agrees. “As the world prepares to face a new reality for an extended period of time that includes working from home, it's vital that we work comfortably to stay healthy and efficient.
"While it may not be possible to create exactly the same space that you have at work, implementing a few practical measures will go a long way towards looking after your health and wellbeing so that you can keep working productively.
"These include adjusting your computer monitor so that it's not too bright, and positioning it to be at, or just below eye level, about 20 inches away from your eyes - using a monitor stand or arm can help with this. Additionally, use a comfortable, adjustable chair and keyboard if you can, and for the sake of your eyes make sure there’s sufficient light around your workspace.
"Most important is to keep moving, every 30 minutes if possible, even if it’s just to stand and stretch your back and arms. Another way to add movement is by changing any existing work surface into a workstation using a sit-stand converter.
"This will help you to move from sit to stand, then back to sit again, ensuring that you can always spend time standing, stretching and moving, irrespective of what the workday brings.”
Pandemic planning: how tech can make the difference
“A significant portion of the U.K. workforce are now working from home. For some organisations this won't be an issue, but for others, the prospect of mobilising a remote workforce in a short space of time can be a challenge,” comments Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds.
“In the public sector for example, numerous organisations may still be using a combination of on-premises infrastructures as they transition to cloud technologies, which can potentially be an obstacle for maintaining productivity and customer service, and present increased cybersecurity risks.
“Prioritising and implementing features such as Virtual Private Networks (VPN), SaaS solutions, virtual desktops, and endpoint security can support public sector IT teams in streamlining processes, minimising risk, and ideally preventing vulnerabilities.
"Also important to consider are remote IT support solutions––in the current reality, it's no longer a simple matter of fixing a system or computer issue at a desk or workstation, so it's important employees have remote help available to them during this crucial time.
"The public sector is now more than ever in the spotlight, so it's critical IT teams are enabled to do their job to support frontline staff doing theirs.”
“Coronavirus is affecting many operational areas across all industries and organisations are making contingency plans to ensure business continuity in the event that all of their staff are required to work from home,” agrees Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru. “While at this stage that represents an extreme precaution, it may well prove necessary as the situation evolves.
“The contact centre sector is a prominent example where businesses need to act fast. Contact centres employ more people in the UK than any other industry, so being unable to support a remote workforce presents a significant risk.
"For those businesses still relying on legacy on-premises infrastructure, and particularly those that have been sitting on the fence for some time, Coronavirus could well act as the catalyst needed for change.
"With the likelihood of mass quarantine becoming a real possibility, it wouldn’t be surprising to see most contact centres start looking at how they can adopt a cloud-first approach which allows agents to work from wherever they are based, as a matter of emergency.”
“Remote working is not a new phenomenon, at least to those who have been doing it occasionally or on a full-time basis for a while now,” explains Steve Wainwright, Managing Director EMEA at Skillsoft.
“Despite this, many organisations were still not prepared for the national – and global – remote working environment we are now facing. Ensuring an effective team strategy that allows employees to stay engaged and functional in a fully digital way will be paramount for successfully navigating the challenges we are facing.
“At its core, this is about enabling constant communication and preserving relationships between co-workers, customers and partners. But in the long term, business leaders need to ensure employees continue to feel valued, engaged and professionally rewarded.
"This means encouraging employees to embrace learning while working remotely, which will in turn boost their productivity, ability to collaborate effectively and help them seize control of their own professional wellbeing.”
“The global community is facing unprecedented challenges, and they’re serving as a wake-up call of how truly interconnected we all are to each other,” adds Nicole Sahin, CEO, Globalization Partners. “We can no longer close our eyes, our ears, or our borders, and pretend that what happens elsewhere has no effect on us.
“This global pandemic has also revealed that companies have powerful remote capabilities inherent within their organisations. As businesses successfully address the immediate needs of transitioning teams formerly working within HQ into working remotely, most are experiencing positive results in terms of productivity.
"In fact, you’ll likely want to consider expanding your remote workforce moving forward. And your business and employees could thank you.
“For example, Deloitte reports that almost 75% of millennials believe that a remote work policy is important. In a study by Owl Labs, 86% of survey respondents attribute working remotely to reduced stress and improved health.
"So, it makes sense that companies that allow remote work report a 25% decrease in voluntary employee turnover. With this decrease in turnover and increase in productivity, it is a short step to start thinking about the benefits a global workforce could contribute to diversifying your business in terms of target markets, target geographies, and creative thinking.
“A global perspective increases the overall performance of your business by providing invaluable insights into local markets and inspires new ways to look at a given situation or problem. But it’s the combination of the two that gives your business a true competitive edge, and the added measure of resilience that can be invaluable to get you through these trying times.
“Moreover, when you build a team that’s located everywhere, there is no longer an ‘elsewhere.’ We are all in this together.”
About the author
Asha Purohit is a freelance content writer.
Is now the time to start out on your own? Read on in this week's newsflash.
Jen Locklear gives us ideas for post-pandemic business success.
In an excerpt from her new book, Lucinda Carney outlines how to deal with some of the scenarios that threaten to derail culture change.
A report published today has revealed the extent of ageist attitudes across the UK, and how they harm the health and wellbeing of everyone in society as we grow older.
Emerald Works has launched a free COVID-19 Support Pack, which includes a suite of online resources. The pack has proved an immediate success, with...
Kate Pasterfield of Sponge UK urges L&D not to get stuck in the present.