Analysis: more and more employees and companies will be remote working due to the coronavirus outbreak so where do you start?
Many companies and individuals are being forced to introduce social distancing to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The result is many people suddenly find themselves working from home at the last minute and many are doing so for the first time. Some may be finding this change a shock and are struggling about where to start.
Those who already work from home and those who advocate for remote working are conscious that a hasty and poorly planned exclusion from the norm could result in a bad first experience for many, but working from home could be a life-saving measure. The introduction of successful remote working at a company level under normal circumstances takes time, structures, policies and a considered approach so you may need a steer on where to start. The Irish Workplace Relations Commission has recently issued advice about Covid-19 and working from home. But you can also check out the list below to guide you on how to approach the situation. The earlier you begin to plan, the more prepared you will be.
Yes, it's a challenge
Firstly, acknowledge company-wide and team-wide that this is a challenge. There will be a period of flux, change and new learnings for all. It is an unpredictable situation for many, some of which may be working from home whilst self-isolating from the condition and/or with children around and under other stressful conditions.
From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, comedian Gearoid Farrelly and Wikimedia's Dr Rebecca O'Neill on the benefits of working from home
Then, agree the terms, even at a basic level. Start by documenting a short statement of how operationally your remote working arrangement will function. Share your version of "Remote Working Operations During Coronavirus" on a shared drive with your colleagues. Ask for comments and feedback - hey, well done! this is your first step in remote collaboration ;) Just look at RoRemote's list of resources and support, ranging from Slack channels to Q&As to whole guidebooks and policies available for you to adapt and adopt.
Give your staff and colleagues autonomy. Experienced remote teams and workers know that a culture of trust is the foundation to good remote work practices. Enabling and believing in the autonomy of your staff is the first steps towards this. For example, the terms you have agreed above may outline using a core piece of software for business operations and you must believe your team will do this.
Mental approach and attitude
Going remote is not just about software tools, policies and practices. It is about your mental approach and attitude to the situation. You will need to test and trial practices; you will definitely need to re-iterate and review and you will continually be improving yourself and your teams operations. Accept it! And get on with it, but most importantly do the work needed to be productive.
From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, recruitment firm Abodoo co-founder Vanessa Tierney and occupational psychologist John Deeley on the positives and negatives for employers and employees of remote working
Stay in touch
Many self-isolated remote workers began working from home suddenly and felt the loss of their connections. Plan to keep in touch every day, several times a day by phone or Skype. Have a work-buddy or team that you can rely on and use the technology tools to hand to help feel connected.
Encourage and support explicit and concise communications. Use video communications as much as possible to talk directly to team members and colleagues. Video software such as Whereby is free for up to four participants for video calls and can support sharing screens for collaboration and chat interactions.
Collaboration is key to remote success. There is a lot to be said for standing at a colleague's desk and discussing a file while making edits. You can mimic this by sharing screens on a video call (see above). It is not intended to fully replace the value of in-person interaction, but using the right mix of tools and technology, at the right moments can come very close.
There is a whole world of experienced remote workers out there waiting to support you and welcome you into their (remote) community. Remote workers in the main are trusting and open. They default to supporting each other and believe in welcoming anyone else into the fold! They will embrace you into the community! A thriving Irish community for information and support is Grow Remote, which even has its own Slack channel which you can join to seek advice or ask questions.
From TedX, why working from home is good for business
Remote advocates quote benefits including more opportunity to concentrate and get into deep-work, better control over their work day and structure of how they approach tasks. Many studies, like this one from Stanford University, have confirmed that remote work is more productive so keep your mind open to its potential, alongside a strong dose of enthusiasm and commitment to try a new way of work.
Trust your team
No article about remote work can be published without mentioning trust. Managers, colleagues, founders and team members all need to trust each other to get the job done. Remember trust also works for all stakeholders, so make sure you comply with GDPR when working remotely.
Remember the need for business continuity. Managers need to be conscientious in relation to business continuity, but within realistic timescales. Create some short-term goals and check these regularly on team calls to monitor and review, as required.
One way to build trust amongst a team of remote workers is to treat the whole experience as a trial experience with regular checkpoints, reviews, communication points and very honest discussions. If it is a trial where everyone is testing, reviewing and reporting about the same remote experience, all feedback needs to be honest and transparent at all times.
YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen on how to be productive working from home
Check the tech
Last but not least is the technology and tools you need to work remotely. From email access and video conference software to collaboration tools, whatever it is you need to use to get your job done. These tools will be new for many and one may face a steep learning curve, but there is a wealth of info available for free online, from tutorials to how-to guides. It is also easy to track how you're dealing with new technology tools, both on an individual and team level.
While nobody expected it, working from home may ultimately help to save lives and slow the spread of Covid-19. Yes, it's a big change in behaviour for some, but you never know you may like it.
Maébh Coleman is a lecturer and teaching fellow at the School of Business at TU Dublin. Marian Jennings is a law lecturer at the School of Business at TU Dublin. Rowena Hennigan is a lecturer on the Future of Work module and various marketing modules at TU Dublin and a freelance consultant.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ