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Key considerations for management around the shift to remote working

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Robert Kneschke)

Remote working has now been forced upon many around the world. For some of us this is business as usual (as much as can be possible in these strange times) since we’ve incorporated facets of remote working into our lives already. For some, it’s business as almost usual, as they now have more people and maybe children at home. However, many organizations have been scrambling around trying to find quick workarounds to keep the virtual lights.

Many organizations are still learning the ropes of longer-term remote working during this challenging period. This is often no bad thing since it is forcing organisations to find out quickly what works (and what doesn’t) for their unique circumstances. However, in general the challenges will fall into two camps – cultural and technical. Resolve both and most organisations will find that remote working is here to stay and will bring long term productivity gains.

Addressing the cultural challenges

Culturally, it’s important to understand that working from home for the first time can be a tough transition for some people. Employees should be encouraged to maintain a routine and try to get outside and take breaks. Try to keep virtual meetings to the same times as they would occur within the office. Consider a regular practice such as an end of the day check-in – this could be as informal as email or chat-based meeting but again this helps provide some structure to the working day.

Many will miss the office bonding that (hopefully) occurs in a physical setting. Some of this can be replicated within group chat functions or an enterprise social platform. These are good vehicles for sharing praise, good news or generally catching up. Particularly now many of us have an acute need for checking in on each other and these platforms are a good way of doing that.

Keeping productivity up

But how to maintain productivity? One tip is that when conducting meetings, video and screensharing give much higher engagement and productivity than just audio. It helps to ensure that people are not tempted to ‘multitask’ during a virtual meeting and concentrate as they would in a physical setting. Encouraging employees to ‘work out loud’ and remind them to overcommunicate on what they are up to can ensure that everyone knows what each other is up to in order to ensure a project stays on track.

Remember that once we are through this situation, culturally things may never be the same again and we will likely find that group chat collaboration platforms provide a great way for distributed teams to all say in the loop and face-to-face meetings will be saved only for the most important catch-ups.

Addressing the technical requirements

Some of the technical requirements can (arguably) be easier to address than the cultural dimensions but nevertheless the technology is vital to get right. To start with the obvious, now is the time to replace any ‘desktop’ (any non-portable computer) with a laptop for all employees that use one.

Modern laptops are now every bit as powerful as their bulky counterparts for most tasks. Users should be issued with headsets (ideally with a mute button and noise cancelling) to conduct calls since inbuilt counterparts typically offer a poor meeting experience for everyone. That said, needs must right now, so this might be a longer-term decision.

A reliable internet connection is of course vital. Firms that pay for this on behalf of their employees should consider requests for upgrades to better packages and in particular those that have better upload speeds, since a connection that is as close to symmetrical as possible will make for a better experience for all.

Software and services are also a key consideration. Right now, many firms might be ‘making do’ or experimenting with different solutions. This is not a viable long-term strategy, even if there might be some key learnings they have already found. Crucial questions to ask are these:

- Can users access all the line of business applications they need?
- Is your remote access secure and scalable?
- Do all tools and platforms scale to the number of potential concurrent users?
- Is there a calling and meetings platform that can be used already?

Finally, watch for on-premises unified communications platforms that may not have been architected to support 100% of workers being remote - they could be delivering a poor experience.

Additionally, using virtual private networks (VPNs) for all internet traffic might be considered good security practice but are usually not the best performance for unified communications.

We are living in challenging times but in many ways current events will cause change in organisations, people and work habits that could have long term benefits once this crisis is over.

Tom Arbuthnot is Principal Solutions Architect at Modality Systems