Like it or not, many businesses have been forced to send employees home thanks to COVID-19. That has left a lot of business owners and managers stuck with a whole new paradigm to deal with.
First thing first - don’t panic!
Yes, totally switching gears to allow most or all of your staff to work from home is no small feat, but it can be done. In fact, many organizations offer it as a perk or encourage it to keep office expenses down. Granted, they were able to transition at their own pace instead of having a global pandemic force their hand. Still, it’s not only possible, but it can result in more productivity in the long run.
There are a few things you need to know when you’ve sent your entire workforce home.
Just because everyone is home doesn’t mean your IT isn’t at risk. It just means that suddenly, your IT footprint is a lot wider, and the edges are pretty fuzzy. What do we mean by that? If you have 20 employees who used to sit at 20 workstations at the office, and suddenly they are sitting at 20 personal computers instead, the risks grow exponentially.
Those 20 employees on 20 computers are connected to 20 home networks, some with other devices. Some of those networks have unsecure Wi-Fi. Some of those networks have more devices on them - do they have kids, spouses, roommates, or family members on the network or computer too? You don’t control access to all of that.
This isn’t meant to prevent you from sleeping at night, but to show you how important it is to provide a safe avenue for doing business in what is essentially the wild west of IT.
Fortunately, the solution isn’t nearly as complicated as the problem. Instead of contending with all of those personal endpoints and whatever mess or risks the end user might have at home on their network, you can just have remote staff access the company network over a VPN.
Setting up a VPN on your network is a relatively simple task, and educating your users how to use it doesn’t take a lot of time. It’s important that they understand how the VPN works and why they are using it - it’s to protect and secure all company data. You don’t want them emailing files to themselves or doing work directly on an unsecure device.
Good news! If you are addressing your cybersecurity for your remote staff, you already have the tools needed to grant access to all the applications and documents they need to do their job. The VPN will allow workers to gain access to all of their usual applications as if they were sitting at their computer in the office. No need to help them install anything, they just need to be taught how to remote in using the VPN.
There might be some exceptions to this - a video editor or graphic designer might have a little better luck being able to work directly off their own computer versus remoting in. If that is the case, then you might need to issue company-owned and controlled hardware for them to work on. For most office workers though, this usually isn’t necessary.
We’ve been talking about scenarios where your staff are working from their personal desktops and laptops at home. Although most consumers probably do have some kind of computer at home they can use, that might not be the case for everyone.
This gives you some options. Outside of a crisis, you could restrict offering remote work to those who have their own device. You could also issue out work devices to specific departments or individuals as it makes sense. You could offer a bonus to help supplement the costs of a device, provided that the user keeps it for work.
It’s always been a good practice to have an extra workstation or two put away in a closet at your office in case someone’s work computer were to need to be replaced. It’s starting to make a lot more sense to have a few laptops in stock as well, ready to go in case you need them.
Every business has different needs for communication, but every business NEEDS the ability to communicate. That might include taking support calls, making sales calls, setting up meetings with clients, and holding internal meetings.
First off, if you aren’t using VoIP, you are doing yourself a disservice. VoIP is a massive improvement on the traditional phone system, and in a situation like we are in now, it will really shine. Most VoIP systems allow you to make and receive calls from anywhere on any device. Many even work through an app on your smartphone. This means your workers can pick up their phone without being at their desk.
Since we’re all trying to avoid face-to-face interactions with people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it’s also important to have a replacement for the in-person meeting. Sure, a phone call works wonders, but there are plenty of tools out there that make things even more dynamic. Applications like Slack, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, and many more can not only give your staff an avenue for internal communication, but it can give you the ability to oversee communication. There are plenty of professional services for screen sharing and video conferencing as well.
If you have regular department meetings and staff meetings, don’t postpone them for after the pandemic. Now is the time to double down on internal communication, and encourage it between staff. Managers and department heads should do friendly check-ins throughout the day. The goal isn’t to babysit your staff, but to keep that line of communication open.
Keep up the old habits - if you hold a department meeting every Tuesday at 3 p.m., keep that meeting at the same time, send out the meeting notes, and treat it no differently than a real face-to-face meeting.
We can’t make you the promise that 100 percent of your staff are perfectly diligent when you aren’t looking. That said, a two-year Stanford University study shows that in general, remote workers are as productive, if not more.
Take this into consideration, and simply keep encouraging good communication. Every business and every employee are going to be different, but in many cases your good workers will strive from home. Workers that tend to get distracted at the office may find opportunity to focus.
It’s important to find the best way to measure productivity and success within your business. It’s going to be different for everyone. For sales, it’s having appointments set and opportunities closed. For marketing, it’s conversions, subscribers, or clicks. Each department should have someone responsible for making sure productivity doesn’t lapse.
If your business is struggling to get your staff situated working remotely, you aren’t alone. We’ve been helping Northern Virginia and Washington DC businesses stay productive during the global pandemic. If you need help, we encourage you to reach out to us at (703) 821-8200.