With news of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading into even more communities, talk of the need to work from home is high on everyone’s minds.
While some offices are easily set up with the flexibility to work from home, there are many organizations that are not. Can your organization continue with “business as usual” if everyone is working from home?
In cases where closing an office altogether isn’t possible or practical, maybe consider reducing the in-office headcount. This could mean maintaining the minimal amount of in-house staff while allowing others to work from home. Or rotating work from home days or staggered 4-day work weeks. There are definitely options for reducing social contact.
Now for any organization facing the possibility of transitioning your employees to remote work, there are many things your organization should be doing NOW to prepare.
Start with a clear communication plan with your employees about what your plan is if they are not able to come into the office, and check out our guidelines below on where to get started.
Hardware & Software
What is your organization’s existing policy for staff working from home and/or using personal equipment? Start there. And note that you might have to make some updates or temporary exemptions for this situatiton.
If possible, try to avoid having your staff attempt to work using their personal equipment. Besides being a data and security risk, this is also likely to lead to support challenges for your IT team.
This means you will need to figure out how to provide the necessary hardware and needed software for your employees, especially if you do not have enough laptops for every employee. Now is the time to look into purchasing some more laptops. Or, at the very least, figure out how to help your employee set up their office desktop computer at their house. Although if that is the case, please keep in mind that not everyone is tech savvy so you will need to have a technical person on staff prepared to help with this—before the need to work from home is necessary.
It is also important to make sure the software your employees use are up-to-date and ready to go. Is Microsoft Office loaded on their laptop? What about any design programs? Email accounts?
If most job functions are accessible via a browser (email, communication, database), then folks might be okay from a personally-owned computer for a while. But this is far from ideal. However if this is the only option, it is important to check in with every single one of your employees and make sure they have access to a working computer (including monitor, keyboard, and mouse) at home.
Other hardware to think through is a webcam for video conferencing and additional hard drives for employees that need a powerful computer to get their job done (like video editors or data processors).
Most people nowadays have access to the internet at home, but not all. Does your employee have access to reliable wifi at home?
It is important not to assume and make sure your employees are able to do their job with the internet available to them. Most employees can get by with a basic internet plan or even phone tethering, but employees who work with graphics or video files need to have decent upload speeds and their basic internet plan might not cover that.
If your employee does not currently have access to internet at home, you need to work with them ASAP to start putting that into place. Many companies that provide internet take some time to get set up, so keep that in mind and start getting that set up now.
Internet access also creates an additional personal expense for your employees, especially those who do not work from home regularly. Think through your planning about cost reimbursement for their internet usage if possible.
Server & Phone Access
Make sure your most critical tools and data are cloud-accessible or available through a virtual private network (VPN). Even more importantly, make sure every member of your staff can access these portals from home. Have them find the login pages and practice signing in with their usernames and passwords.
Decentralized organizations and organizations whose staff already works from home (or on the road) occasionally or frequently will likely already have this worked out, but it is always good to double check that your employees have access to what they need to get their job done.
An upfront assessment of critical documents, equipment, etc. for each team/role that can only be accessed from the office should be done ASAP. This is even more critical for organizations where staff all work from a single office and don’t have laptops and equipment that can easily be taken home.
Don’t forget about your phone services as well. Can phone calls be forwarded to employee’s mobile phones? Do your employees have access to their voicemails even when they are away from their desk? If not, consider working with your phone company to provide this. If that is not an option, make sure at the very least your employees update their voicemails with instructions for another way to contact them—whether it’s by email or their personal cell phone number.
What is your organization’s culture regarding communication? Online chat, face to face conversation, emails?
If everyone’s used to being in the same place and having face to face conversations, switching to online chat as the main form of communication is going to likely be a harsh adjustment. Well, except for some people who will love it.
Make sure everyone is using the same system and communicate about what communication looks like moving forward. Do you ask employees to keep chat open during business hours, etc.? Again, now is the time to check that everyone knows where to login and is set up with a username and password.
You also need to check that your current online communications can manage your users. For example, some video conferencing tools have caps on how many people can call in. This might be fine when there are a couple of people working remotely, but it might not be able to handle to whole team calling in from separate locations. Do your research.
Communication tools considerations:
- If you’ve already got something that does chat and/or video conferencing, USE THAT!
- If you’re getting something new, consider how or if you could use it when we’re not in virus-aversion mode. For instance, Slack is a terrific team online chat tool, but if you’re not going to use it long-term, it’s not likely worth implementing just for a temporary work-from-home situation.
Once you get all of the above in place, now it’s time to give this a trial run. This will help work out the kinks if someone is having difficulty running a software program at home or forgot something critical in the office.
There are a lot of uncertainties right now and it’s unclear how much notice you have to put this plan into place. Give your employees peace of mind that they have everything they need to get their job done at home. Even if it doesn’t come to actually working at home. I know I will be hoping for that.
And lastly, make sure your employees are as equipped as possible to handle the transition from working in an office to working at home.
For some, this will be a well-received change of pace. For others, it will be difficult to focus at home and navigate a different work environment.
Remind employees to take short breaks to get up and walk around. Getting dressed every day and having a designated work space can also be very helpful. Check out these other tips we put together to help you be as productive as possible while working from home.
Be sure to give yourself and your employees some grace as you transition to this temporary situation during the coronavirus outbreak. Although, you might find you just like working from home.