Working Remotely over the Long Haul: Living with COVID-19 as a Business

Richard Long

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of the organizations we work with have now had their work-from-home programs running for a week or two. In today’s post, we’re going to look at how to make such programs succeed over the long haul.

As coronavirus continues to spread, many organizations and their workers are beginning to grow accustomed to having a sizable portion of the staff work from home.

We’re in a transitional period, where working remotely is coming to be accepted as the new normal.

This period will in many ways be the most challenging of all, especially if the need for social distancing continues for longer than a few weeks.

Now is the time when most people and organizations will and should begin transitioning away from an emergency management approach to working from home to getting their regular work done. This is important for their organizations’ well-being since no organization can survive for long by simply doing enough to survive.

With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to share some tips on how to make working from home work over the long term.

11 TIPS TO MAKE WORKING FROM HOME SUCCEED OVER THE LONG HAUL

1. Assess how things are going with your remote workforce.

Presumably, a large number of people at your organization have been working at home for a couple of weeks now. How’s it going? Are people still putting out fires related to the current emergency or have they moved on to doing their normal work? Many people have a lot to deal with at home right now. Children are home, family members might have lost their source of income, and relatives might be sick. The situation is what it is, but you should try to understand objectively how things are going. Question your assumptions. Are people being as productive as you anticipated? Look at the data. Talk to your people. Find out what they’re doing and how they’re doing. The first step in making your work from home plan work is to understand how it’s going.

2. Learn how to manage a remote workforce.

Managing a remote workforce poses unique challenges. Gone are the watercooler encounters and post-meeting chats that formerly helped managers keep tabs on things. Those encounters also aided employees in getting their questions answered. Your organization’s success depends on finding new ways for everyone to stay in touch and on track. Managers and supervisors may need more frequent and scheduled email, chat or phone call check-ins. Try to keep the impression and style similar to what occurs in the office.

3. Update your risk assessment.

The organization needs to do a new risk assessment that takes into account the new reality. Specifically, this means the new reality of having lots of people working from home at a time of social distancing, closed schools, and a pandemic. Keep in mind that coronavirus is hitting some areas especially hard and that social distancing and working remotely might turn out to be necessary for an extended period. Your risks may have changed around your vendors’ capabilities or how and when customers are serviced.

4. Assess the security risks from an IT perspective.

Having lots of people working from home for a long period is a recipe for IT security problems. This method of working increases the risk of malicious software infecting the network. Make sure your network monitoring and protections are sufficient. This might be a good time to have a cybersecurity firm look at what you’re doing and give you some advice on how the organization can tighten things up.

5. Ensure that confidential client, customer, and patient information is being protected.

Does your organization deal with confidential HIPAA (health), PII (personally identifiable information), or PCI (payment card information) data? If so, your legal and other obligations to keep that information away from unauthorized eyes continue when people are working remotely. At the same time, your organization has little to no say over what goes on in employees’ homes. Your organization must implement the training, policies, and technology necessary to safeguard its stakeholders’ confidential information.

6. Review the technology being used.

Can your work-from-home technology handle the new demands being placed on it? Will it be able to carry the load as your workforce shifts from getting used to the new situation to doing its regular work? This could affect everything from your organization’s VPN to its IM tool to its use of video conferencing. The technology companies report they are seeing spikes in demand every hour and half-hour as remote meetings startup. As well as being a good reason to schedule meetings at an off-time, this illustrates how technology is facing unique pressures under the current work-from-home emphasis. Don’t let your organization get choked by a technology limitation. Keep track of your demand trends and update your capacity monitoring.

Don’t forget about your customer-facing technologies and the potential shift you may see in both the type and duration of usage.

7. Assess the state of your supply chain.

Definite information about the security of your supply chain is probably hard to come by now. Find out what you can. Communicate with your suppliers about their remote work plans. What will they do if social distancing goes on for several months?

8. Make the most of your regular facilities.

With many people staying home, there might be sufficient space at your office to let a limited number of people come in while maintaining social distancing. This can help those who lack a viable work-from-home setup. And for those whose jobs require them to be onsite, do what is necessary to ensure they are safe.

9. Consider the legal implications of the new normal.

Shipments of various products are taking longer all over the country. Could this or other factors cause your organization to be unable to meet its obligations? Consider the legal, regulatory, and contractual impacts of the current situation, especially if it goes on for longer than a few weeks.

10. Get back to doing the laundry.

In the beginning, the focus for most people who were sent to work at home was doing the high-priority tasks associated with getting through the initial emergency. Over the next few weeks, your organization should try to transition from emergency management to doing the laundry—that is, taking care of the routine tasks that keep the organization running long-term. Maybe you can even get back to initiating new projects. The sooner the organization can move from just keeping its head above water to actively swimming forward, the better.

11. Be prepared to scale your workforce back up.

This applies to organizations that furloughed or laid off sizable numbers of workers. The organization needs to be ready to staff up again, if and when things get back to normal. Being in a work-from-home posture in the meantime might make the process even trickier than usual.

READY FOR THE LONG HAUL

There’s a significant difference between having staff work from home for a couple of weeks and having them do so for an extended period. Keeping a remote-work program in effect for a long time brings challenges in terms of management, security, technology, and more. As the coronavirus crisis continues, we face the possibility that staff might need to work from home for a long time. Managers can and should take the steps necessary to ensure their work-from-home programs are viable for the long haul.

FURTHER READING

For more information on working remotely and other hot topics in business continuity and IT/disaster recovery, check out the following recent posts from MHA Consulting and BCMMETRICS:

About
Richard Long is one of MHA’s practice team leaders for Technology and Disaster Recovery related engagements. He has been responsible for the successful execution of MHA business continuity and disaster recovery engagements in industries such as Energy & Utilities, Government Services, Healthcare, Insurance, Risk Management, Travel & Entertainment, Consumer Products, and Education. Prior to joining MHA, Richard held Senior IT Director positions at PetSmart (NASDAQ: PETM) and Avnet, Inc. (NYSE: AVT) and has been a senior leader across all disciplines of IT. He has successfully led international and domestic disaster recovery, technology assessment, crisis management and risk mitigation engagements.
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