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Will working from home become the new normal? Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, a 2019 study1 reported that 43% of U.S. companies allowed some degree of remote work. Some companies encouraged it because they lacked physical space while others offered it as a benefit or an occasional perk. However, many business leaders have been slow to embrace full-time work-from-home policies due to beliefs that employees are more productive at the office and that it is easier to keep employees engaged when the team is physically together. The COVID-19 crisis is quickly testing these theories and could lead to permanent changes in remote work policies.

The COVID-19 crisis forced businesses to quickly close their offices and require employees who could work remotely to do so on short notice. In most cases, the decisions were mandated by shelter-in-place directives or reports of possible Coronavirus cases in the workplace. The rush to remote work resulted in multiple challenges for organizations and, leading the list of challenges, was technology. Converting an entire office to a virtual workforce overnight is a herculean task for any IT team, but many companies that were prepared from a technological standpoint accomplished it rather painlessly, while unprepared companies, were left scrambling to catch up as quickly as possible.

Key Requirements

Having the right technical infrastructure in place to allow secure access to the services and information needed to support remote workers is critical. Thanks to evolving technologies, most employees were already well-versed in the use of email, chat, and texting to communicate with colleagues and business associates in other locations. Many companies were already using technologies like cloud computing, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google to give employees access to each other and allow them to conduct their business activities both in the office and remotely. However, the necessary infrastructure is key to a successful transition and many companies fell short in this area.

Here are Some Recommended Guidelines:

  • Access controls must be in place to manage each employee’s access to the systems needed for their roles.
  • Sufficient network capacity is necessary to handle all employees accessing systems remotely.
  • MFA (multi-factor-authentication) for critical systems and information access must be implemented.
  • Each employee must have access to the technology they need at home. (This includes, but is not limited to, laptops and phone apps, an internet connection, and a dedicated space to work.)
  • Work schedule policies and expectations must be communicated by management and additional updates to the team should be delivered to increase engagement.
  • Secure procedures for performing all necessary business processes remotely, including the collection of automated digital payments from customers, must be in place.

Encouraging Collaboration Keeps Teams Engaged

Technologically savvy companies are going a step further and working to replicate their office cultures virtually. These additional steps can be taken to encourage collaboration among teams and increase engagement:

  • Implement Office 365/Microsoft Teams to allow users to work and collaborate efficiently from home while maintaining security.
  • Deploy and configure secure dedicated virtual desktops that users can connect to from home computers and then function as though they are in the office.
  • Implement a videoconferencing solution to encourage face-to-face interaction.
  • Set up a “virtual water cooler” to allow employees to exchange ideas and “be together”.

Technological Challenges

While many organizations did not have all the requirements in place when this crisis struck, most are quickly catching on to the importance of implementing remote work capabilities and ensuring that their system access is reliable and secure. IT teams are working overtime to support the increased need to monitor system usage and activity. Some companies have, understandably, faced greater technological hurdles than others from the sudden need to implement remote work plans. Issues include:

  • Dealing with sensitive data that cannot leave internal servers.
  • Use of virtual private networks (VPNs) to access office networks. (The demands of a remote workforce may require more network bandwidth than is available.)
  • Implement a videoconferencing solution to encourage face-to-face interaction.
  • The technology that makes remote work possible is a long-term investment that must be budgeted for.

While nobody knows how long the COVID-19 crisis will require employees to work from home or if it will lead to remote work becoming more commonplace, one thing is clear, its impact will be with us for a long time and should serve as a wake-up call for all organizations. Companies now know that they must have plans in place for unanticipated work-from-home mandates and must prioritize investments in the technology and infrastructure that make remote work possible.

For more information on how to prepare your service organization to work remotely, check out our  W@H Best Practices Guide.

Are you having trouble identifying the right technology solutions to optimize your remote workforce or support your business needs? During the COVID-19 crisis, The Northridge Group is focused on the health and safety of our clients, staff, and associates, and we are ready and prepared to immediately serve our clients’ needs. Contact us if we can be of assistance.

  1. Condeco Software, The Modern Workplace 2019: People, places & technology.
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