Tuesday 29 September, 2020

COVID-19: A guide to remote working strategies for corporations

By Kandyss Trancoso

The Coronavirus (COVID-19), has begun to impact the dynamics of doing business.

The hyperspeed spread of the virus, lock-downs and quarantines are forcing companies around the world to rethink how they get work done. For many, this includes a quick pivot to remote work—a strategy that can help keep businesses on track regardless of what’s happening on the ground.

Challenges that are faced when creating remote work strategies:
1. How do you maintain communication and a sense of connection?
2. How do you support workers feeling isolated and excluded?
3. How do you choose technology that helps, rather than hinders, collaboration and innovation?
4. How do you keep business moving forward?

Five key elements your remote workforce strategy should address

Adopting a remote-first perspective means looking at every aspect of your business with the assumption that anyone may be remote at any time—whether it’s an employee caring for a family member or an independent professional whose skills are leveraged on an interim basis.

1. Who does your remote work policy apply to?

Some types of work are better suited for distributed teams than others. For example, you may
need to:
● Adjust team or organisational priorities for the quarter
● Include protocols for anyone who may need access to the office in case of a shutdown
● Purchase new equipment to keep projects on track

2. How should managers set goals and expectations?

Remote work may mean a shift in how you measure performance. In an office, it’s easy to conflate time spent at work with results. However, when teams are distributed, value is largely driven by performance vs. face time.

A Results-Only Work Environment puts the focus on what someone does, not how/when/where they do it. This empowers workers to get things done on their own terms, but it also encourages accountability: failure to deliver puts their value to the organisation into question.

3. How will data be protected?

Workers need access to information in order to get things done and maintain workflows. But how do you protect your organisation’s data when you have a tight timeline to get a solution in place? First, remember that all data isn’t equal: prioritise what’s needed now. Then rank the information by security level. It will typically fall within one of five categories: sensitive, confidential, private, proprietary or public.

Once you’ve mapped out your data requirements, the systems that are already in place, and any critical data, consider security measures that can be implemented quickly—such as a virtual private network (VPN)—as well as longer-term.

4. Do workers have the tools and space needed to get things done?

From a practical point of view, your employees may not be equipped to effectively work from home. Here are a few questions to consider:

  1. Do employees who need a computer have access to one?

There are several different ways to set workers up but for a more immediate solution, consider these ideas:

  • Put a policy in place to cover the use of personal devices for work, particularly,  to establish expectations around safety and security.
  • Equip teams with laptops or mobile devices at work, or make equipment available to loan.
  1. Do employees have a place to work?

Workers may not have access to an ideal workspace outside of the office, especially if they’re frequently in meetings or on the phone. Encourage managers to find creative solutions for their teams, such as flexible work schedules, alternate workspaces, or adjusted priorities for the quarter.

5. How will distributed teams stay in touch?

Effective collaboration for a team that’s spread across multiple locations hinges on good communication. As an immediate solution:

  • Identify how teams will stay connected and set expectations. A sudden shift to asynchronous communication can be jarring for anyone who’s used to real-time and in-person interactions. How will they get the information they need when they need it? Set expectations to help keep responses timely and predictable.
     
  • Create opportunities to connect. Find ways for your organisation to stay connected, share experiences, and celebrate even small wins. For example, video conferences for important announcements and regular updates; these can be recorded and shared later for anyone unable to join in real-time.
     
  • Pay attention to team communication channels and stay engaged. At the best of times, good communication means clarifying and adjusting messages as needed to avoid misunderstandings. In a dynamic situation, it’s even more important for managers to answer questions, correct rumours and listen.

Choose tools that are easy-to-access and reliable with a minimal learning curve. For the short term, platforms such as WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts, are widely used. For the longer term, using one full-featured platform across your organisation, such as Slack, G Suite or Jira Atlassian, might be a better option.

Encourage teams to avoid putting things off until they’re back in the office. Timelines are unpredictable so adapting to new circumstances, whatever they are, is essential to meet objectives.

How to manage your team from a distance

When team dynamics are forced to adjust on the fly, mistakes are bound to happen. Be patient with yourself and your team. In order to succeed, distributed teams need trust: Trust that each person knows how to do the work, that they’re accountable to each other, and that they’re doing their best in uncertain circumstances. Consider these tips to help support your team as you all move forward:

  • Be available. Communication is pivotal to your team’s success—and that includes creating space if someone needs to talk. Sometimes, people just need to feel heard, whether they have a conflict with a colleague, struggle with working on their own, or are anxious about news in their community.
     
  • Create a sense of community. Working from home can be isolating—something that can impact wellbeing as well as productivity. Find ways for your team to stay connected on a regular basis. A daily “coffee break” can give everyone a chance to catch up and talk about their day. A weekly team meeting can help everyone share successes and stay in the loop.
     
  • Use video calls to keep your team engaged. Meetings have different dynamics when you aren’t sitting around the same table. Circulate an agenda ahead of time so your team can be prepared, and call on each person so everyone has a chance to speak. Pause frequently so there’s room for questions that may come up.
  • Err on the side of overcommunication. Particularly while everyone adjusts to new working arrangements, share frequently, whether it’s updates from the executive team or a progress report on current projects.
     
  • Set clear expectations, roles, and responsibilities. Reduce duplicated efforts and cross-communication by defining individual roles and responsibilities. For example, you might be the only one with remote access to sensitive customer information; another person may liaise with IT to troubleshoot tech problems.

Overall, change in the midst of a crisis is never easy especially one like Coronavirus, which hits as hard at global markets as it does at life around our kitchen tables. But you can use strategies to respond effectively and continue to deliver against your business goals.

About the contributor

For several years Kandyss has led developer teams around the world in building cutting edge technology. Working with developer teams requires detailed monitoring of several moving parts at once. A task that is best done in person was accomplished with teams as far as Ukraine was done right here in Trinidad from the comfort of a home office with spare time to plan and execute a digital conference called Kanference focused on teams remotely building out disruptive technology in specific industries in two days.

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