Before COVID-19, working from home was something only around 7% of Americans were doing, according to the 2019 National Compensation Survey. Since mid-March, however, that number has risen to an estimated 95% of all white-collar workers, as companies across the nation take steps to protect their workers and comply with shelter-in-place and lockdown orders.
The unprecedented speed and suddenness with which telework was implemented have created a lot of challenges, particularly for small businesses. Here’s how you can get through this period with your company intact.
Getting Properly Set Up
At first, you probably allowed your staff to simply take home their PCs or laptops and do whatever they could. Now that social distancing looks set to last a few more weeks at least, it’s a good idea to get your remote set-up solidified. The first step is to analyze what your workers need to do.
To get your remote working capability properly set up, you’ll need to be able to answer these questions:
- What programs do you need to access, and where are they hosted (i.e. cloud-based, software-as-a-service, desktop installation or server-based)?
- Where is your data stored (cloud, server or device)?
- What facilities do your workers need to have at home to keep them fully productive?
Obviously, companies already using telework will be well-equipped for the shift to working from home. That doesn’t mean small businesses with one or two office-based staff can’t do it effectively too. Some of the challenges facing remote workers include:
- Accessing Programs
Working remotely in Word and PDF is simple, and people have been doing it for years. Office 365 (called Microsoft 365 from April 21st, 2020) lets businesses choose customized packages for employees, for a low subscription fee. If your workers aren’t already using cloud-based software, it’s a good time to switch them over.
- Using A VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) extends your private company network to people located off-site, who can send and receive data as if they were onsite. The difference between using your local company network and accessing files over a VPN is like comparing a running time of 1,000 miles per hour with two miles per hour, so this impacts the speed of access. This can make working in Quickbooks or another database-type application slow and cumbersome.
- Maintaining Security and Privacy
Security is a huge risk for anyone who works from home. When you’re attached to a VPN from home, you can bring something into your company network via that connection. It’s important to do whatever you can to lower the risk, which includes making sure your virus and malware protection are up-to-date at all times.
- Keeping Collaboration Going
For successful remote work, you need to keep your team’s morale and collaboration going. It’s important to prevent interactions from becoming only email and telephone. Get your staff onto video, at least once or twice a week, so they can see others’ interactions and read facial expressions. Zoom has a free option for one-on-one calls, while workers with base-level Microsoft 365 packages can upgrade inexpensively to Microsoft Teams.
- Letting the Workflow Evolve
Be open to the way things evolve. In the past, you could stand up and walk over to someone else’s desk to talk to them. That’s no longer possible, but when you need to video-chat with someone, don’t be surprised if s/he just doesn’t answer right away. Remote work allows workers to focus more than they do in an office environment, and that’s a good thing. Try shooting over a text message before calling to see if the person is available to chat. It will help you avoid assuming s/he is not working.
Overcoming the Challenges
Small businesses have adequate technology to be able to work remotely, and your success depends on what you’re trying to do and whether your business is set up correctly to do it. Many of the challenges can be overcome without a huge cash outlay. Even if the methods you choose aren’t ideal in the long term, they’re right for right now. Let’s get through this together.