It’s been hard not to get caught up in the conversation about coronavirus recently, despite my efforts to take the news with a healthy dose of scepticism.
Last week it was schools closed in Japan and city corporates encouraging ‘home working’ in London. Today business networking events are being cancelled in the South West, my colleague’s pre-booked flights with Flybe are clearly not going ahead, and our local school are postponing skiing trips. Throw in a few photos of empty soap, sanitiser and toilet roll isles in the supermarket, and everyone is feeling just a bit shaken.
Perhaps I’ve been overly relaxed? It might be because our team have been working remotely for the last decade. We don’t find ourselves contained in an office 40+ hours a week wondering if one of our colleagues might be inadvertently passing something on to us.
My tips on making remote working a success
Our clients can be confident it is ‘business as usual’ with Wessex Commercial Solutions. However if you are largely office-based, what does it take to work remotely? Digital connectivity tool Zapier shared their take on the ‘7 biggest remote working challenges‘ today in their regular email newsletter. Here are my tips.
Fully paperless technology
Every office function from sales and marketing, to project management and accounts can be digitised. At the heart of our business sits Xero, with a range of apps used to connect with and compliment it.
We’ve increasingly been supporting clients with their digital transformation projects, reducing paperwork coming in from construction sites and their customer premises.
Secure Cloud Services
Ideally you’ll be working from secure cloud services. G-Suite or Office 365 are perfect for SMEs. Remember to set up two factor authentication (2FA), alongside device controls, passwords and PINS wherever possible. We haven’t seen evidence yet, but you can be sure that when people let their guard down on systems and security, hackers will be ready to exploit.
Something to replace office chit-chat
Have a problem in your office? Someone will pipe up with a solution. Want to commiserate on your team’s result last night? It’s vital to replace those ‘water cooler’ moments in a virtual environment. Google Hangouts Chat, Slack and Microsoft Teams all provide an environment where you can communicate quickly and effectively with your colleagues. Separate channels for different topics and general chit-chat keep everyone informed and focused. Loneliness and isolation is a risk with remote working, particularly for people who live alone. However this can be mitigated with good quality face-to-face interaction (online or in person) and networking.
Flexibility … requires discipline and boundaries
One of the big attractions of remote working is the perceived flexibility it offers. Staff immediately gain the time they’d normally spend commuting. If you’re working five days a week and travelling for even 30 minutes each way, that’s the equivalent of nearly 6 working weeks a year!* Remote working also makes it easier to fit in an appointment or start work a little earlier or later if required. It means you can get work done when you have a brilliant idea after hours, or get ahead when you have plans which will take you away from your desk.
However to work effectively, remote working also requires discipline and boundaries. If changing into and out of ‘work clothes’ helps us get into the right mindset, remote working requires its own equivalent. For some people it will be working at the same time or place. It may be stepping into your home office, or it may be putting on workwear. Full time working from home is certainly not about days in pyjamas or binge-watching box sets, but it can work around family and home responsibilities, health and leisure activities.
For managers and employees alike, it’s essential to ensure work doesn’t become a 24/7 activity. Everyone needs time to switch off. Be clear on what response times you expect. Here’s what I work with:
- Email: same or next working day.
- Chat: between meetings / projects.
- Text: returned as soon as possible.
- Call during the working day: returned as soon as possible.
- Call out of the working day: returned immediately.
- LiveChat on our website: immediately wherever possible.
It’s always worth checking when a response is required if it’s not clear.
Accountability is vital
If staff are not in an office, how do you know they are working? Because the work you’ve allocated is completed and recorded on your project management system. It’s essential to have clearly defined roles and operating procedures, and timesheets show you what activities are taking up everyone’s time. We use this information to assess capacity, monitor project performance and help identify training requirements.
It’s also vital to get your team together regularly. There is no substitute for face-to-face contact, but the great thing with remote working is that it means we value the face-to-face time when we have it, rather than taking it for granted. When face-to-face isn’t an option, services like Google Hangouts Meet and Zoom can bring everyone together.
Will remote working stick around?
I suspect that when more office-based employees get a taste of remote working, it will be difficult to go back to purely office-based work. That means it’s vital that businesses who are considering allowing more remote work get it right from the start. I’m always happy to talk to local businesses about the issues they should consider.
* I have just double and triple checked the maths – the figure seems so crazy!
Linda Carrington is our Practice Management Director, and advises clients on their business processes.