How To Coronavirus-Proof Your Business And It's Technology

Part 1: Working From Home

These are crazy times we are living in. Do you have a coronavirus-proof business? Can it make the necessary adjustments to survive?

But when we are done with all the shutdowns and lockdowns, and emerge, pale and blinking into the light, we can finally begin the long and arduous job of getting everything back to the way it was. Right?

WRONG.

There is no getting back to the way things were. For better or worse, those days are gone, and they are never coming back. The world has been changed forever. Many businesses have staunchly opposed letting their teams work from home in the past. But now that they are forced to, those that are willing to embrace remote working have discovered some interesting things… such as significantly reduced overheads for utilities, rent, support services, connectivity, and more. And they will make these discoveries noting that the immense drop in productivity that they expected simply never happened. In fact, once the dust settles, they will see an average saving of $11,000 per employee per year1, an average 13% increase in productivity2, an average 4.5 additional hours of work output per person per week3, and a reduced number of sick days4. And on top of all that, you can bet they have also realised that the senior financial controller they have been struggling to find for their Sydney office, can be found for nearly half the price in Brisbane!

Those businesses that survive will come out of this with a realisation which many of us already know: that remote working is not only feasible, but actually desirable for a business. Those that don’t survive will likely be the businesses that failed to embrace remote working.

So how can a business shift to remote working? Some of the main steps are listed here, in approximate order of increasing complexity. Start small and gradually work your way up.

Write Guidelines For Your People

Many of them will be new to remote working, and will appreciate clear guidelines on how to do it. In 2020 you can expect everyone to know not to write ALL-CAPS emails (say), but this is not about that kind of guide… No, write them a guide to practically running their day. For example:

  • More frequent communication: Workers can no longer rely on catching up in the corridor. Catch-ups will need to be more frequent, but can be very quick, because they mostly just need people to check-in and confirm that everyone is on the same page. Tools like Slack are great for this, because you can ask a quick question and get an instant answer, just like if you had put your head round the door and asked.
  • More context hints: Encourage the use of emojis, gifs, etc. Written communication is dry and workers will need to add emotional content above and beyond what feels necessary, in order to convey their emotional state.
  • Keep work separate from home: It can be all too easy for dedicated workers to lose track of this separation, and just work all the time. This should be avoided, by encouraging routines that help delineate the separation of work time from home time. For example, shower and eat breakfast before sitting down to work. Some people even like to get into work clothes in order to highlight this separation. Write down your break times and keep to them. Know when it’s the end of the workday, and switch off when that time rolls around.
  • Post your hours of work on your office door, and stick to them.
  • Don’t engage with interruptions: If a friend or family member calls for a chat, save it for your lunchtime, or after work. Some people pretend they are not home, and simply don’t answer the door or take personal calls during work hours.
  • Arrange a dedicated space to work: Set a side a study, outside office, available bedroom, etc. It needs to be somewhere with a door that can close, so you can attend meetings without bothering the rest of the family, and vice-versa. Explain to your family that when the door is closed, you must not be disturbed.
  • Embrace flexibility: This may seem contrary to the advice of sticking to working hours, but sometimes you need some flexibility to unstick a stuck creative process, or invite new ways of solving a problem. If you’re stuck, no need to stare at a screen all afternoon without doing anything – just go a for a dip in the pool! Return to work refreshed and invigorated and (very often) full of ideas about how to move forward.
  • Beware the kitchen! For many people, one of the underestimated issues of working from home is constant snacking. Some discipline is needed here, and one way to do it is to prepare your meals and snacks in advance, put them in labelled containers in the fridge, and simply don’t touch anything else.
  • Share more stuff with your team: Working in the same physical office allows you to get to know your co-workers through a wealth of contextual information. This then becomes the pathway to to greater trust and empathy. But remote teams don’t get any of that, and so you should over-share where appropriate. One great tool for getting to know people is the “GAINS” profile, as devised by BNI. Everybody should have a page on the company intranet (accessible to others in the business) with their GAINS profile.

Create Opportunities For Socialising

The big issue with remote working (bigger than kids, dogs, and neighbours mowing their lawns) is the potential for isolation and loneliness. Use informal meeting tools like Google Hangouts to create a “virtual watercooler” or similar, where people can drop in and out at will. Encourage your people to take breaks, and to use about half of those breaks to chat to their colleagues. Larger organisations should consider a separate virtual watercooler for each team, just as you would in real life.

Organise Health+Social Activities

Use some of those savings to book instructors for physical activity classes online, such as yoga, pilates, TRX, and more. $11,000 per person per year is a lot of money saved. Maybe you want to buy everyone a Peleton bike and run a daily online spin class. Any non-work group activity that can keep your team connected while also contributing to their health and well-being is a win.

Allow Flexibility

The very basis of remote working is flexibility. So while you may want to encourage an 8:30 to 5pm workday, don’t force it. Make it clear that if someone has worked an extra few hours one day, they should feel comfortable starting later the next day, or taking a longer lunch break. Trusting your team to do the right thing is crucial in this case, and the buy-in from this added trust can sometimes give workers a huge boost. Also be aware that some consequences of working from home are unavoidable (eg: kid falls off bike, needs to see a doctor) and you need to be ok with that. Think of the significant extra hours that everyone will put in, as well as the increased productivity, and don’t be concerned with the occasional absence.

Encourage (And Shift To) Asynchronous Communications

Along with increased flexibility, teach your teams how to communicate more asynchronously. For example, if you have a question that is likely need some clarifying points, email the question along with all the points – always aim to make communications “action ready” so that the recipient can act without needing further discussion. An email is a very respectful form of communication, because it will wait in an inbox until it is convenient for the recipient. For simpler questions, or more urgent issues, just drop them into Slack. They will be more of an interruption than an email, but for quick matters this is not a problem.

Adopt An “Agile” Methodology

Studies show5 that for teams working together on projects, an Agile Methodology makes projects twice as likely to succeed (ie: meet the 3 constraints of schedule, budget, and scope) and only one-third as likely to fail (cancelled prior to completion, or completed but not used). This comparison is made against traditional methods of project management. Agile is a HUGE topic, with hundreds of books published on the subject. You don’t need to read them, as an upcoming part of this series will focus on how Agile is well-suited to remote teams, and what to do in practical terms to adopt it (for any business in any industry).

Migrate To The Cloud

Since you no longer have a building full of people… Instead they are distributed. So why bother with centralised IT? Do you really need everything to be on-premises if you no longer have people on premises? More cost savings, greater security, less downtime, less headaches, and less operational staff. These are just a few of the benefits of migrating your workloads to the cloud. An upcoming part of this series will focus specifically on how to migrate to the cloud, and why it would be in your business’ best interests to do so.