Working remotely in the age of COVID-19: Why your team can’t just wing it.

16 March 2020

Organizations around the world are increasingly turning to a remote working approach to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. However, remote working is not as simple as taking your laptop home with you. To effectively work from home or any location outside of the office for extended periods of time requires new collaboration skills with supporting policies and technology.

Here are three top things to consider:

1. Does your organization’s culture align with remote working practices?

By default, most managers and executives immediately start to consider remote working from a technological perspective – ‘what platform do we need to make use of and how do we all get on the platform’. What most managers often fail to consider, is that this is no quick-change process. To introduce a new platform for communication requires all the same principles of change management in and of itself which first considers the organization’s culture. If leadership enforces a top-down  / authoritarian approach to managing people and processes remote working will be challenging – leadership styles characterized by fear and micromanagement will not facilitate a culture that is conducive to productive remote working.

To work effectively remotely, employees need to be trusted with autonomy, flexibility and the associated accountability to scope and plan their deadlines and meetings. Goals and deliverables are a team effort supported by clear lines of responsibility. Organizations whose managers exhibit an effective collaborative leadership approach are best suited to implementing remote working practices.

2. Does your organization have the right internal policies that guide and empower employees to work remotely?

The following policies and standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be in place prior to adopting a remote working approach:

  • Cyber Policy or related. For most organizations, the Cyber Policy is a mandatory policy tied to the conditions of employment which guides appropriate behaviour on how to securely access company systems, data and information. The Cyber Policy is also particularly useful in specifying how to access company data from a network, connection or location outside of the office. Some organizations, such as financial institutions, often require that systems only be accessed specifically via a computer that has been issued by the organization to the employee.
  • A Risk-Response plan. Organizations that adopt proactive cyber security practices have a Risk-Response plan in place that empowers employees to make the right call or action in any foreseen eventuality. These scenarios can range from remotely navigating general IT Support queries to cyber security threats. Prior to adopting a remote working approach, employees have already received continuous training on the Risk Response plan and ‘what to do or who to call’ when things go wrong. Your team should feel empowered and supported, wherever they are.
  • Insurance. Businesses should review the current terms of their insurance policies, particularly Cyber Insurance, and if there will be cover for eventualities that may take place outside of the office. Keep in mind that Insurers typically require security aspects such as 2-Factor Authentication (2FA) as standard, meaning that the organization’s Cyber Policy requires employees to access company systems remotely via a One-Time-Pin / Notification from a second device to prevent unauthorized access. In a rush to implement remote working practices, these requirements are sometimes overlooked.
  • One page of truth. To lead an organization through uncertain and dynamically evolving situations such as COVID-19 requires clear, consistent and reliable communication. As opposed to tasking the HR or the PR department with sending emails and releases, the organization can instead create a dynamic page or similar on its internal systems for employees to access which points them to reliable updates, procedures and instructions to follow. Many of Kriel & Co’s clients follow such an approach already with the goal on remote working preparedness.

3. Has the organization established communication best practices and procedures?

Introducing new platforms to enhance remote working practices often leads to more unproductive employees. Endless distractions in the form of notifications from chats, emails and video conferences leave employees feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and short on time to finish their work.

Organizations should consider the following communication guidelines or best practices prior to considering any new or further communication platforms:

  • When do we use email to communicate? Best practices include assigning email to communication with external parties, formal confirmations and instructions. Email should best not be used for discussions or dropping surprises.
  • When do we use Instant Messaging (IM) platforms? Many organizations effectively utilize platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Slack and others to streamline internal communication and informal discussions among departments and teams. However, these platforms are set up with careful planning and consideration – therefore facilitating communication needs in the right group formats and integrations. Furthermore, employees know when a quick IM is appropriate and when it’s best to rather arrange a time to meet, avoiding endless chat-room style conversations that tend to absorb valuable productive time.
  • What are our internal standards for virtual meetings and conference calls? According to the Harvard Business Review, attendees often interpret virtual meetings as a license to multi-task. Meeting organizers tend to be less careful with the purpose and design of the conversation. And it’s not uncommon for one or two attendees to dominate the discussion while others sit back and “tune out.” Read more here