Now that we’ve addressed the need for a strategy and workplan in positioning your company to keep systems and operations up and running, let’s look at the approach and tools that will enable success in Part 2 of this three-part series.
If you do not already have remote access and collaboration tools in place with your company, start now. Some tools are intuitive, comparably priced, and can be deployed with effective coordination and communications without a ton of effort. Central to success is setting expectations and continuously refining your toolsets through honest feedback.
Every worker’s remote situation will be different, and they must be encouraged to tailor their situations to allow for a productive environment. How many calls have you been on where a dog or child interrupts? In the age of video conferencing, the distractions can be amplified. Quality of individual internet connections can vary greatly due to local demand and other factors.
Organizations may have to make accommodations or provide extra support for some workers or meeting attendees who may not have appropriate Internet connectivity or may not be familiar with group conferencing. The 2020 COVID-19 scenario forced many meetings to be held 100% remotely for the first time for many organizations.
Providing a laptop and mobile phone will allow a worker to keep in touch with the office but often will not be the same experience or offer the same level of productivity due to fewer monitors, latency in the connectivity stack, or other communications issues. Something as simple as network connectivity and/or bandwidth issues are huge disruptors when working to continue business operations during times where critical resources and/or an entire company is thrown into remote work situations. For example, a phone failover group taking customer calls may not work properly if workers are remote. It is important to identify these variations and work to provide solutions for collaboration.
An organization needs to ensure their remote access infrastructure is secure and sized to handle what is expected of the remote staff. When possible, provide an alternative collaboration option for teams to leverage when the primary option slows. Remote workers should be provided with security best practices which can include:
- Use only company-provided hardware or pathways vetted by your security staff like mobile email via mobile devices
- Enforce strong password practices and MFA (multi-factor authentication)
- Require VPN connectivity
- Use encryption on remote file systems
- Lock down your browser by removing extensions.
- Maintain a strong security suite on all devices and validate the system is up to date as part of the authentication package as remote resources connect
- Protect your company assets and report all losses immediately
Be cautious that the team does not work to burnout. It is far too easy to go from bed to office in the morning and lose track of time late in the day. Workers may need to be coached to:
- Establish a designated space for “work”
- Manage time “at work”. Of course, when there is a lot to do, extra hours are needed, but there needs to be a limit
Remote Teams Management
In cases where an entire department or team is remote, it is important to over-communicate yet be specific with e-mail requests. Sending an e-mail request to a list of people can result in confusion on who is responsible for task completion. Use a plan with action items, assignments, and due dates to be tracked.
With a remote workforce, especially across time zones, set expectations of when team members are to be available and online. Is the rule to follow a typical workday?
It is important to emphasize cross-functional communication during these isolated times. In addition to departmental update meetings, there should be a regular cadence to discuss departmental priorities, potential impacts to cross-functional activities, resources, and other technical concerns.
Action Plan Management
While working remotely, it is critical to have oversight covering all project plans. Action items need to be managed and updated daily to ensure projects stay on planned timelines. With the inability to walk to the neighboring office while working remote, there needs to be more focus put on planning and coordination of teams and meetings to confirm current state.
Please check with your IT and Legal Departments for approved applications for your particular organization. Where Microsoft 365 is utilized, employee files can be cloned in their OneDrive cloud storage allowing for remote access. Other shared drives are available for accessing data and files when working remotely:
- Other Shared Portals/Drives: SharePoint, Dropbox, Google Docs, Citrix ShareFile, etc.
- Video Conference: Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, Cisco WebEx, GoToMeeting, Join.Me, Apple FaceTime, Microsoft Slack, Google Hangouts, RingCentral, etc.
Regularly scheduled meetings can provide some structure and assist in setting expectations through various telecommunication applications
- Standard agendas will guide expectations
- Project / work effort report-outs become more formalized with scheduled meetings and tracking work efforts
- Be prepared with a backup application in the event that the primary one fails. This will allow attendees to quickly switch to the secondary solution and continue the meeting
Manage competing priorities with cross-functional business alignment teams and ensure business engagement and accountabilities remain in place. Using video conferencing versus just voice teleconferences motivates team members by giving them much needed interaction, especially when remote work is a typical work environment. This also encourages interaction and discourages multitasking while on calls.
- Task Management / Collaboration Tools: MS Project, Smartsheet, Zenput, Excel, Zoho, Slack, Monday, Basecamp etc.
Communicating priorities and changes in business direction is important to cascade across the organization and can be increasingly difficult in a distributed or remote workforce
- Communicating key updates on company decisions and go-forward plans also helps all resources plan for shifts in direction or priorities
There are many media vehicles to communicate to specific groups or more broadly across the organization
- Electronic bulletins via email
- Portal landing pages
- LMS – learning management systems
Several collaboration tools have communication modules including Slack, Smartsheet, Basecamp, Zenput, etc.
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