Phase Shift Consulting Founder Tony Warner explains how you can fast-track and augment your company’s telework strategy
With COVID-19 making headlines around the world, almost every organization in the United States, if they haven’t already, is looking into remote working strategies and policies to protect employees, slow the infection rate and maintain productivity. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just sending out a company-wide email telling everyone to work from home; there are important considerations that every company needs to take into account before implementing a widespread telework policy. Here are 4.5 things to consider.
1. The Right Policies and Communications
If your company has waited for a global pandemic to think about putting a telework policy in place, you are already way behind the eight ball. Let this be your wake-up call, but remember that you’re not alone; forty percent more U.S. employers offered flexible workplace options than they did five years ago, but only 7% make it available to most of their employees (Source: GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com and the American Community Survey), which means that millions of people are likely scrambling to figure it all out in the face of public health headlines.
If you don’t have an employee mobility plan, get your IT, HR and Communications people together and make one. First and foremost, think about equipment, software and security (see below). Then, put your plan in writing and don’t even think about burying it on page 87 of the employee handbook; employee communication about your digital and telework policies should be front and center across multiple channels. Every employee should know what’s expected of them and how the organization will measure their productivity while teleworking. One more tip from my experience: you can’t write your policy based on the one or two employees that you think might abuse it. Write the policy to work for your best employees and then address issues with specific people if they arise.
And don’t forget about details like home internet requirements and reimbursements. If you’re going to equip people to work remotely, the company needs to assume some ownership to make sure no one is trying to work with large files over DSL.
2. The Right Hardware, Software and Security
At this point, most companies have had to grapple with teleworking to some extent. Once an organization goes down that path, they realize that the right equipment is one of the biggest steps. In 2020, it doesn’t need to be too complicated—any company expecting employees to telework needs to issue laptops. An employee’s home computer is not set up to work in an enterprise environment and likely is not configured for VPN and other necessary software. To that end, your company needs a VPN and a Unified Communications (UC) platform to keep productivity and morale up.
The selection of a UC platform is more important than many people realize because your company will be pulled into the ecosystem of that platform. All the available platforms include IM, video chat, distance collaboration, and a soft client phone (calls to a direct desk line can be taken through the laptop). Whether you choose Cisco, Microsoft, Google or Zoom, make sure to pick the one that works best for the way your employees work.
While you’re working through hardware and software selections, you also have to worry about keeping data secure. Most small and medium businesses don’t have a centralized network and store everything in the cloud. The cloud is great for mobility but make sure your VPN is secure and that you’re working in a safe environment with dual-factor authentication on all employee accounts.
The risk of human error (an employee accidentally sending a client a link to the wrong Dropbox folder, for example) is one every business owner has to take, whether the workforce is remote or not. One of the best ways to mitigate that risk is communication, training and periodically reminding everyone on your team how important it is to double check everything before pressing the SEND button.
3. A Mobile Culture
Successfully managing a remote workforce is a state of mind. The right attitude and culture from the top down will determine whether a company will succeed or fail at telework. Ideally, mobility should become part of the cultural fabric of a company before the next public health reason arises.
Trust is the backbone of remote working and it’s a two-way street. Companies and supervisors need to know that the people on their team are doing what they say they’re doing and producing results. Employees need to know that they are respected as adults, capable of getting work done without being in a traditional office.
At some organizations, the inclination is to ask how to control employees’ every move through webcams and software that calculates the exact amount of time each day an employee is sitting at the computer. From my perspective, both as a technology expert and as the leader of a 100% remote workforce, you’re asking the wrong question. If you don’t trust your employees without spying on them, or your employees aren’t getting their jobs done, then you either need to have an in-depth discussion or find new employees.
Your culture needs to be telework-friendly to succeed but don’t underestimate how much extended teleworking can change your company’s culture and social cohesion. As a supervisor, keep in touch with your employees consistently and try to get everyone together IRL on a regular basis, or at least a group video chat; it really does make a difference when you can connect with your team on a personal level.
4. The Bigger Picture
Public health crises aside, there are some extremely compelling reasons for every company to consider offering telework for as many employees as possible. By the numbers, and according to Global Workplace Analytics, if everyone with a compatible job and a desire to do it worked remotely just half the time, businesses would save on average $11,000 per person, per year, and the employee would save $2,000-$7,000 per year. On top of that, “the greenhouse gas reduction would be the equivalent of taking the entire New York State workforce permanently off the road.” Those are compelling statistics.
Even once this pandemic gets under control, it’s inevitable that another event will put companies with solid telework policies and cultures in a great position to continue being productive, not to mention that employees generally consider working remotely a great perk. This really is the future of work that we’re talking about here. “Hoteling” and “Desk Sharing” are buzzwords that have been going around for a while, but it really all amounts to the same considerations. Your company has likely already been doing a lot of things to facilitate telework during a crisis, but now is the time to discuss to what degree you can push it so we, as a society, don’t crush productivity.
4.5 A Bright Future
Whether public health concerns and social distancing efforts continue to push companies toward more widespread telework options remains to be seen, but there’s no question that flexible work options and telework are becoming non-negotiable to younger workers. If your company wants to attract top talent, especially Millennials and Gen Z, the future of your company has to accommodate telework options.
For our part, at Phase Shift, we work with our clients to integrate secure and reliable collaboration areas within the office with UC platforms, so any remote employees can seamlessly work with those in the office. This means expert technology strategy, design, hardware and software, and it makes companies more flexible and more adaptable to any challenge or crisis that comes up.
About the Author
Tony Warner CTS-D, LEED AP, CDT, is the president of Phase Shift Consulting and leverages decades of hands-on experience and industry service. Having co-managed a technology practice within a top-five global design firm, he has both a strong grasp of technology trends across market sectors and a fluency across all aspects of technology in today’s built environment. A past President of Avixa and a former board member of Integrated Systems Events (ISE), Tony has played an active role in shaping strategic direction of the industry around the globe. A 100% remote workforce, Phase Shift Consulting provides top-tier clients with no-nonsense technology consultation and design, including audiovisual, IT/telecommunications and security systems.