It’s been an unforgettable few weeks for the UK, with the impact of Coronavirus progressively bringing many businesses to near breaking point. Leadership teams are activating their crisis management plans, but as restrictions on movement and social interaction are now expected to last for months, not days, businesses will need to adapt their processes to allow remote working to become the medium-term norm.
The guidance by the Prime Minister last week to encourage social distancing, was upgraded on Monday in efforts to further supress transmission of the virus. This led to businesses across the UK rapidly implementing new measures and bolstering their move to remote working, with staff normally based in company offices setting up to work from home. Scenes of office workers loading computer monitors and other office equipment into their cars were common as they attempted to set themselves up to be productive in a remote working environment.
Daily crisis management calls at leadership level combined with “business adrenalin” is helping to maintain productivity levels in these first few weeks of remote working, however it is questionable whether this is sustainable for the medium term. Simply put, the amount of management time and attention currently devoted to management of this crisis is not sustainable for the next 12 to 20 weeks. As organisations grapple with the very real issues associated with managing the cash flow impact of the epidemic, the impact of remote working on the workforce may be overlooked in the short term, but in the medium term will need to be addressed.
For many organisations, the whole way in which they operate is being turned upside-down. But as with all change, there are positives: time lost commuting to and from work is much reduced, meetings tend to start and finish on time as attendees dial in and these meetings are generally somewhat shorter as there is less scope for side conversations.
This move to remote working does also come with drawbacks, ranging from a lack of easy and immediate social interaction with colleagues to the increased challenge that remote working brings for people managers assessing the performance of their teams.
We recommend that organisations build a medium-term plan to make remote working as effective as possible including:
Internal Communication: Whilst internal “news” travels naturally within an office environment, with remote working there is a need for a more deliberate facilitated approach. For example, we recommend introducing the idea of a ‘virtual coffee break’ as well as building a “How am I doing?” social media blog area on the organisation’s intranet site to allow all employees to post their perspectives on what the epidemic means to them.
Technology: Working remotely drives high data volumes through VPNs, particularly for organisations that have moved to Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) telephone or video conferencing. We recommend increasing broadband and VPN capacity to handle a much higher number of connections sending and receiving high-bandwidth traffic outside of the core office-LAN network. Analyse daily and weekly peaks and put in place mitigations to manage peak IT capacity requirements, potentially by lowering video call quality or rescheduling large scale update conference calls for times of day when network capacity is higher.
Ergonomics: The safety and wellbeing of an organisation’s workforce remains a priority, even when working remotely. We recommend providing employees with guidance on how to set up an effective and ergonomic work area in their home. Communicate “hints and tips” to mitigate the risk of back pain or other ailments from poorly set up home working environments.
As some aspects of remote working may become the new normal for the long term, we recommend capturing and analysing how effective remote working is within the organisation and using this insight to determine how to adapt the operating model of the organisation for the long term, as some aspects of remote working may be worth retaining even after this current epidemic is behind us.
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