At a time in which we are making significant changes to the way we work, remote technology can help us not only ease into a new normal of working from home but thrive in a post-COVID-19 world.
It’s safe to say that COVID-19 has had a turbulent effect upon our lives, both at work and at home. While many have been hoping for the world to return to the same state as it was before lockdown, the reality is many of the changes are likely to be permanent.
Rather than roll back to our old, comfortable behaviours, we will have to find a way to coexist with the long term effects of this novel coronavirus.
For businesses which exist in physical spaces by necessity such as stores and restaurants, this involves retrofitting to allow for safe distancing. For those who previously operated in office environments, remote operations have been a valuable way to continue functioning.
While there have been hurdles to overcome in implementing such a drastic change in a short amount of time, for many, the benefits of encouraging employees to work from home have become clear. Lower overheads, the potential for increased productivity, and greater employee safety have helped to ensure that many are considering making remote work a permanent feature.
This approach can be challenging. Not every workplace is adequately prepared to make these changes, even for the short term. Thankfully, our digital landscape has offered solutions to help ease the transition.
We’re going to look at the key ways in which technology can make remote operations a practical, safe, and beneficial option for businesses as we move into an uncertain future.
Embracing tools for communications and security
Perhaps the most important consideration when transitioning from physical to digital workspaces is keeping the team connected. In offices, this is easy as we’re surrounded by our colleagues and have the opportunity to make regular, meaningful contact with team members and leadership.
While maintaining this in remote operations can be challenging, there is technology in place that can help keep teams communicating and connected.
These include the following:
Project Management Platforms
As the marketplace for remote working has grown, various project management platforms have emerged, aimed at providing each member of the team with tools that provide both individual task tracking and an overview of how their work fits into the broad scheme alongside the efforts of their colleagues.
Asana, Trello, and Clubhouse are among the popular offerings here, giving not only visibility of project tasks but also integration with calendar and messaging tools.
Virtual Office Spaces
While there’s no practical way to mimic the atmosphere of a shared workspace, a range of platforms have been developed to keep colleagues communicating with one another throughout the day.
Slack, Cisco Spark, and Hive all provide options for teams to communicate together in rooms which can also be tailored for specific purposes such as discussing individual projects or a more socially-oriented breakout room.
Since the onset of COVID-19 lockdowns, the switch from in-person meetings to video calls has become a cultural touchstone. Popular platforms such as Zoom and Skype have pushed development that help fit current demand, including the option to display branded backgrounds behind you.
Scheduling regular team group calls can be an important tool in keeping teams connected to one another. Among the things remote employees care most about is the ability to catch up over video rather than the primarily functional text channels such as email and Slack.
While easy, practical communication via emerging and established platforms is important, we must also be wary of how this affects the business’s security protocols. When employees utilise their own devices and network connections, the risk of data breaches or virus exposure rises.
Business leaders need to work with the IT and cybersecurity departments to make sure that workers have access to equipment and software that ensures safety. Some options include providing them with access to a virtual private network (VPN) to ensure work communications are encrypted.
Use cloud network document storage to limit access to sensitive material. Even providing employees with devices that are purely for work use can reduce the potential for breaches. Sufficient education on secure practices can also be just as crucial as giving them technological tools.
Adjusting our approach to interviews, onboarding, and training
Successful remote operations rely on making certain that standards and organisation are consistent throughout the company. This can prove to be a challenge for human resources (HR) departments, but technology can provide support to implement these from each employee’s earliest contact with the company until their last day on the job.
Hiring remotely offers incredible opportunities for diversity; it means we have access to a global talent pool. But there are challenges not only in making certain you choose the right candidate for the role but also in confirming that they’re cut out for remote operations.
Rather than utilising traditional platforms to source candidates, human resources (HR) personnel should post vacancies to services that experienced remote workers are using to specifically search work-from-home positions.
AngelList, WeWorkRemotely, Stack Overflow, and Remotive are some of the most popular in the field at the moment, targeting candidates across a variety of industries.
The on-boarding process is an important time to set expectations for new employees regarding the culture of the business and their new team.
With in-person operations this can be simple: showing the employee around, introducing them to their new colleagues, and walking them through on-boarding documents. For remote scenarios, it becomes a case of trying to replicate that initial connection using online tools.
Software such as Trello, Talmundo, and BambooHR can be tailored to provide new hires with a self-guided introduction to the company and the key leadership with options to chat with a supervising member of staff to address any issues.
These can often be tailored to include company branding while still providing a secure platform through which employees can read and sign contracts and the employee handbook.
This approach can be carried throughout your employees’ time with the business, with eLearning becoming an increasingly popular training tool. According to one report, in 2017 around 77% of companies used online learning methods with their employees.
This is an approach perfectly designed for remote employees. They are self-paced, and their scope can range from fully tailorable course curriculum using platforms such as Coursera, to industry-specific modules taught by independent experts through Udemy.
Making remote technology a part of company culture
COVID-19 has forced many companies to utilise remote tools as a knee jerk response, putting emphasis on those tools which allow workers to continue being productive without causing unnecessary disruption.
However, once those initial, practical hurdles have been overcome, it’s imperative to consider how remote technology can be implemented to take the business beyond mere survival. How can this new way of working make the company more successful?
Research can be key here. Prior to the pandemic, there were businesses that were successful because they embraced the unique opportunities of remote operations. Take a look at how they implemented key aspects such as employee performance reviews without a static workplace.
How did they accurately measure overall performance, and make those important regular connections that help to build loyalty and trust? Look at the practical elements. How did they track company accounts and manage payroll? Did they outsource accountants, or did they use cloud software such as Sage or Xero?
One of the most important steps in remote success is making it a part of company culture rather than a compromise we were forced by circumstance to make. Use technology to develop and express how our company values are informed and enhanced by employees who are able to work from home.
Use our social media channels to make connections with other remote entrepreneurs and create content that demonstrates our commitment to a diverse, global workforce. This can not only help improve visibility and credibility for our brands, but it can also have the cyclical effect of attracting partners and potential employees who also share our values and can contribute to our success.
In order for businesses to move beyond the challenges of COVID-19, we must understand how the tools that have helped us to survive can also help us to thrive.
Take time to explore which communication platforms best suit the business’s goals, engage with HR and training software designed for virtual spaces, and — ultimately — embed remote working as a key part of company culture. The technology is available to help ease our journey, but it is our approach to these tools that will determine success.
About the Author
Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer from the lovely “city of trees”- Boise, Idaho. Her love of writing pairs with her passion for social activism and search for the truth. You can follow her work on Contently.