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Equipping your remote workforce for success during the pandemic—and beyond

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As the world adjusts to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have additional challenges to face and overcome. As state after state has issued “shelter in place” orders, companies have had to quickly adjust and strike a delicate balance between the safety and security of employees and customers and keeping the business afloat.

Organizations quickly pivoted to a “work from home” (WFH) model, forcing an accelerated response to equip their employees with the tools and resources required to do their jobs when they’re not in the office. This is no small task when you consider many employees not only had to adjust to working remotely, but had to do this in tandem with homeschooling their children, often times sharing office space with a significant other.

In addition to the untold hardships individuals across the globe are enduring, COVID-19 has also put the strengths and weaknesses of today’s corporate information systems in the spotlight. The need for businesses to react, share information, and make consequential decisions much faster and on a much wider scale than ever before means information agility has become absolutely critical. Organizations have had to turn on a dime to scale their cloud systems and empower remote teams with enterprise-class tools—all without overwhelming existing IT resources.

It’s clear the pandemic has brought on the need to rethink how knowledge management should best be addressed in a WFH world. This is especially true since the possibility exists that our “new normal” may include a permanent move to a more remote-based and distributed workforce. Research from cloud communications provider Intermedia claims that 57% of small and mid-sized business owners who increased the number of employees who work from home during the pandemic said they are likely to maintain this approach in the long term. The survey also measured the biggest benefits of shifting to remote work: employee availability is up by 19% and life satisfaction up by 7%, while overhead costs have gone down. This is a significant shift in mindset as well as geography.

Many large technology companies are also on board. Google, Facebook, and Twitter have all indicated they will keep a WFH policy for the foreseeable future. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey notified employees they can continue working from home as long as they like. Dorsey was an early proponent of a distributed workforce; COVID-19 just accelerated the policy.

While many companies may already be in a good position to fully support remote work, others that have built their culture around a centralized workforce may not be there quite yet, and are struggling to equip employees with cloud-based tools that allow them to be effective, efficient, and collaborate from pretty much anywhere. But there still needs to be a work-life balance in this new world. Leading this charge, Google recently gave all of its staff a compulsory day offhopefully staving off any potential for burnout in the always on, new world.

The must-have tools for WFH

Providing secure, remote access to core business systems allows employees to remain productive and engaged during this shift to a remote work environment that happened within days and at an unprecedented scale. While knowledge management plays an important role in supporting a productive remote workplace, it is just a small piece of the puzzle. Other essential tools include:

  1. Video/web conferencing
  2. Shared file storage/access
  3. Secure, remote access to core business systems
  4. Ideally, some form of social space to discuss the non-work stuff that we as humans need to discuss (i.e., a Slack channel for homeschool horror stories)

Controlled enablement is vital here. Take a step by step approach to make sure that everyone has access to the systems and resources to do their job without opening all the doors at once. Also ensure that systems work, that servers don't get overloaded, and processes can function remotely in an optimal manner. Common sense perhapsor perhaps not.

Equipping employees with technology that allows them to connect and collaborate remotely is key. However, it’s equally as important that the tools provided are easy to use. Without an IT manager down the hall to ask for on-premise troubleshooting, easy and reliable solutions are not just desirable, but necessary for a distributed workforce to function successfully.

Controlled chaos requires (calm) leadership

As we begin to return to some sense of normalcy, the priorities will shift to not just functioning in a distributed work environment but also adapting and flourishing. This will mean adopting new tools and technologies, and it goes without saying that these tools will HAVE to be delivered via the cloud.

In times like these, there’s no support engineer to come and install a new system tomorrow. New solutions will require remote training approaches (again, there won’t be an in-house employee available to deliver "kick-off" training). Plus, procurement and payment processes will need to be streamlined in order to move things forward quickly and efficiently. All of this poses unique challenges for organizations, but also presents huge opportunities for the internal IT and change management teams to show their true value.

This is also a time when great leaders shine - and unfortunately bad ones get worse. During this national and global crisis (and in other times of adversity that impact the workplace), employees look to leadership to provide clear direction and to focus on enablement rather than management. For many teams, the move to a virtual work environment has little impact on how they were already workingthey’ve always had daily/weekly web conferences to review progress and they’ve always used technology to collaborate on documents, projects, etc. However, for others this sudden change in the daily routine is more of an issue and will represent a major challenge and hurdle to surviving this crisis. Effective leaders recognize that there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach for helping employees adapt to adversity, and continuously ask for input and feedback on the new tools, systems, and strategies for helping everyone in the organization adapt to this unprecedented environment. This is the time for good leaders to come to the fore. Challenge your leaders, and if you have a good one, they will rise to that challenge and everyone will benefit.

As we all continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is clearputting the safety of employees and customers first is always the right thing to do. Luckily, organizations have many technology tools at their disposal to effectively support a distributed workforce that can enable them to strike the balance between maintaining a safe and secure workplace and continuing to build the business.  As JFK famously said, “In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.” Never has one sentence had so much relevance, nor has IT ever had such an opportunity to enable real change within our organizations, homes, and the world. Let’s make the most of this challenge/opportunity.

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