Think back to this time one year ago. If your organization was like most in our region, you and your colleagues were starting to hear rumblings about a new virus that was beginning to tear through country after country — and it had recently made landfall in the U.S..
Mere weeks later, a scenario came to pass that most people had never imagined: Just about every office employer in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia sent employees home to work indefinitely. Almost a year later, many professional services and office-environment businesses are still fully remote, following orders from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf that telework must continue unless it is not possible to do so.
Even once we finally beat the virus, we won’t be operating under the same rules as before. The last year has shown us that people can be very productive outside an office, and some are even happier being remote. Offering a remote-work option will become a competitive advantage for businesses, giving them the ability to attract and recruit top talent from anywhere in the world — and a well-designed, seamless remote-work strategy will help an organization become more agile in its response to future challenges.
If your business is looking to design a long-term remote-work strategy, there are four key areas to focus on: connectivity, tech training and support, security, and employee engagement.
Connectivity: While every business’s remote-work technology setup is a little different, there is one nonnegotiable: reliable connectivity that gives employees easy virtual access to colleagues, tools and applications. This can be challenging for some employees to achieve with their own home-internet connections, especially when everyone in their household is competing for bandwidth for remote work, schooling and entertainment — sometimes via dozens of devices at once.
To help their employees get the connectivity they need, business leaders can consider Comcast Business At Home. The new connectivity solution allocates budgetary funds to give employees credit toward their monthly bill for an in-home, enterprise-grade network solution that is separate from an employee’s residential network.
Tech training and support: At the start of the pandemic, some businesses had to fast-track rollouts (in many cases, over a single weekend) of new collaboration technologies or VPNs so employees could effectively work from home. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of time for training on these and other new tools at the start of the pandemic. But it’s not too late to course-correct.
Business leaders should conduct an internal audit to learn how people are using technologies and tools, and what they like or don’t like. If audits reveal employees are dissatisfied with a technology, they may just not know how to use it properly, and a training session could be a quick fix. Going forward, any new technologies or processes should be introduced through exercises that simplify the tools and get people comfortable using them.
Remote tech support is another critical element. IT staff need capabilities like remote access to an organization’s devices, and they must be versed in handling problems that are not physically in front of them. Organizations also must rethink how they manage and monitor their network from afar. Using a platform like ActiveCore allows centralized network control via software applications. Having virtual network functionality can automate many network functions, speed up application deployment and simplify resource management.
Security: With an increased remote workforce comes a proliferation of phishing, malware, and other online threats. As business and customer service operations increasingly migrate online, organizations will need to invest in network and endpoint security technology, and provide training and education on various threats and how to prevent them. Employees are the first line of defense against bad actors, and awareness is key.
Ensure employees also have the right protections on their residential modems and any personal devices that connect to a company’s network. This may require a company to provide security software or hardware to employees and walk them through home setup.
To help keep cybersecurity threats at bay, consider cybersecurity solutions like SecurityEdge that automatically scan for threats, unified threat management (UTM), DDoS mitigation solutions, and managed security services. And while cloud services enable remote work, increased reliance on the cloud has created cybersecurity concerns. Some options for securing access to the network and cloud applications include secure gateways, site-to-site VPNs, application-aware firewalls and network access controls.
Employee engagement: Thanks to technology, a distributed workforce doesn’t need to be a disconnected workforce. To ensure productivity and collaboration during work hours, adopting unified communications tools allows teams to connect and collaborate with screen sharing, file sharing, IM, call forwarding to a mobile number, and audio and video conferencing.
After-hours, you can use the same tools to help people connect and have fun together. Happy hours, trivia nights, holiday parties and more all can happen virtually, so don’t abandon these team-building opportunities just because some or all employees are remote.
At the same time, be mindful of “video meeting creep.” A recent study found 70% of respondents wanted one day a week with no video meetings, so make some virtual meetings camera-optional, or even simple phone calls, to give employees a break from the screen. The same study found 80% of respondents wanted one day a week completely free of meetings, so instituting a meeting-free day each week can give people time to focus while reducing Zoom/Teams fatigue.
Finally, remember: Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should — that is, while mobile devices and connectivity allow people to stay in touch with colleagues from anywhere, this doesn’t mean they should be working 24/7. Design performance metrics based on productivity and quality of work, rather than time spent online, and designate core blocks of time where employees must be available to colleagues, leaving the rest of the day open. This will help people get their work done on their own time, while allowing them the flexibility to care for their families, help with remote schooling, or run errands as needed.