While the number of remote workers has grown steadily over the past decade, the majority of employees are still bound to their desks. That may have made sense in the days when hard-wired connections tethered employees to physical workstations, but modern technology brings more freedom to all of us.
In the midst of a national emergency like the the spread of the coronavirus, embracing that freedom becomes more than just a good business idea. For many organizations, it’s now an imperative.
If your company is one of the many shifting workers to virtual roles right now, here are a few important tips to help make the transition as successful as it can be, even in this trying time:
1. Move to the Cloud
Optimizing your operations for remote work has to start with the day-to-day essentials — like the software and networks your employees rely on to do their jobs. Nothing hinders open and easy remote collaboration quite like gatekeeping software.
Many older programs can’t accommodate shifts in location, which is why it’s best to migrate from stagnant server-based software and storage to enterprise-grade cloud solutions instead. Equip everybody with access to a virtual private network (VPN) to keep sensitive information as safe as it would be over a hardwired connection. Be sure to look into Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems, which can be accessed anywhere, making for an efficient alternative to providing corporate cellphones.
2. Choose Hard-Working Hardware
These days, the price difference between a system of centralized computers and a fleet of docked laptops is negligible, but the differences in freedom are incomparable. These mobile tech solutions don’t just allow your employees to work outside the office, they also solve problems inside the office. It’s much easier to meet and share information when you can carry it all with you wherever you go.
Must-have peripherals can also be optimized for on-the-go work. Think: wireless mice and headsets for every employee. Go a step further by investing in branded messenger bags or backpacks so everybody has a quality, durable solution for transporting gear to and from the office.
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3. Home Sweet Home Office
Encourage employees to set up functional workspaces within their homes, perhaps by investing in monitors, ergonomic task chairs, and other add-ons to help maintain productivity and comfort when working from home. Consider reimbursing employees for some or all of their own home office expenses. These add-ons may not be strictly necessary, but if they add value to your employees’ workdays, they’re well worth it.
4. Thought Leadership Starts With HR
An empowered HR department is necessary to keep the entire organization on the same page as you make the transition to remote work. Clear communication is even more important when making these changes in response to something as serious as the COVID-19 outbreak.
HR must act as a trusted voice that can put employees at ease while explaining real risks. If your department can say with confidence that, yes, all precautions are being taken and the company campus is safe, that holds weight. If the department asks people to stay home, that too will be taken with confidence.
Moreover, it’s simply good practice to have robust communication structures in place. In any kind of urgent scenario, such as weather closures and local emergencies, you’ll need a way to keep employees easily updated as events unfold. Check to see if your human resources information system (HRIS) has a feature that enables mass communication. If not, a less high-tech solution would be setting up an office phone tree.
5. It’s a Philosophy, Not a Program
At its core, remote work requires immense trust between employers and employees. When embarking on new work-from-home initiatives, company leaders and managers may be skeptical. Encourage them to rethink their assumptions: Is it really that important to monitor employee work for eight hours a day? Isn’t simply finishing a project on time and on budget all that really matters, regardless of where and how the work gets done?
Depending on company structure, senior leadership and HR may have differing opinions on how to organize a remote work program. A more progressive company may trust its team leaders to craft their own best practices, while a more conservative company may want to establish sweeping policies. There’s rarely a on-size-fits-all solution to remote work, so the best bet is likely to be a combination of the two approaches that suits both your company’s overarching needs and the needs of individual teams.
6. Meaningful Connections Matter
How do you gather around the water cooler when there isn’t one? Working from home can become isolating, and it may even hinder those meaningful personal connections that help team members bond. Encourage employees to maintain relationships with one another beyond their job duties. Small talk takes up only a fraction of the workday, yet it can be a powerful motivator that keeps employees working together to support one another’s goals.
It’s also a good idea to incentivize visual communication over purely text- or voice-based alternatives. Can a meeting take place over a video call instead of a teleconference? Could you make it easier to FaceTime a coworker instead of opening a chat window? Face-to-face communication is always important, even when it isn’t possible to pop by a coworker’s desk.
No matter why you might be establishing a work-from-home program, there’s always going to be challenges when transitioning from an in-house team to a mostly remote operation. Making sure your staff feels supported, prepared, and organized is key if you are to succeed in your efforts. With a solid foundation in place, you’ll ensure your employees stay just as productive at home as in the office.
Desiree Carpenter is an HR professional at National Business Furniture.