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How to implement an emergency remote work setup

How to implement an emergency remote work setup

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written at March 2020 by Magda Sowierszenko

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, companies from all across the world are asking their employees to work from home. Implementing emergency remote-work setups will ultimately help combat the spread of the virus, but not all companies are fully prepared to have their staff work outside of the office.

In the future, we can imagine that more companies will have plans in place to not get caught off guard again. Creating a plan and ensuring that everyone knows what to do when these situations happen is key to minimizing any impact on your team or business. 

This article is a summary of the webinar we have delivered on the 10th of March, which you can access here.

Assessing remote readiness and the status quo

The first stage in creating an emergency remote-work plan that will work for your company is to assess your current readiness. It may be that you’re more ready than you realize, or that you identify areas that really need some work and preparation.

Check official work policies

To have a look at the status quo, see if there isn’t already some official remote work policy in place. Whilst it’s probably not going to be so suitable if the whole company needs to work remotely, it’s a good place to start. Processes and methods may already have been developed which will save you some work.

Then, take a look at the different teams in your company too. Some of them might be already working remotely to some extend (e.g. regular work from home), and they can share their knowledge and best case practices with the rest of the company.

Recognize differences and work on them

It’s also important to recognize that not every team can collaborate or work remotely in the same way. For example, developers may need access to certain hardware from the office. Some teams may need everyone to be working at the exact same time to make sure that they are able to work together. Every team will be different, so ask some questions and try to understand what is feasible for each team in terms of working remotely. 

As an extension of this, you should really create a cross-functional team that contains members from all across the business. This can be from IT, HR, communications, and business-line leaders so that you get the best cross-section of the company that you possibly can. This team can then be consulted when you’re creating your emergency remote policy, or when everyone is already working from home.

Map out roles

The last thing you should do is preparing an organizational chart. When you look at the roles in your company, place them into one of three categories: Jobs that can be executed completely remotely, jobs that can be executed partly remotely, and jobs that can’t be executed remotely at all. 

Once you have categorized all the positions in your company, there are some important questions to ask yourself. For jobs that can be partially executed remotely, is there a way to transition these roles into ones that can be executed completely remotely? This could be through implementing new software, hardware, or changing what the roles do exactly.

For jobs that can’t be completed at all remotely, think about how it will affect the business if the jobs aren’t able to be done. What will you do in an emergency situation with these workers, and how can you insure against the possible downsides of not having these people working?

Make sure you have the right software

At this point, it’s time to beginning auditing the situation you have with your software, hardware, and your company events. A lot of companies nowadays are using software that is quite complementary to remote work, such as project management tools like Asana, comms tools like Slack, or collaborative file-sharing services such as Google drive. You may not have all your bases covered, however.

Do you have chosen tools that people know how to use for:

  • Asynchronous communication?
  • Synchronous communication?
  • Project management?
  • File sharing?

These four areas will also need processes laying out on how they should be used too, to make your emergency remote-work setup a success.

Check on the hardware and VPN

If you supply your employees with work laptops or other hardware at work, it is absolutely crucial that you find out whether everyone will have access to the hardware they need when working at home. You may need to let people take hardware home with them so that they can still work outside the office.

Obviously not everything can be taken home, but where possible help your employees either use their own personal devices to work or borrow equipment from the office. This step should also include testing your VPN so that everyone can log into the systems they need to from home. 

Assess accessibility of the company events

The final step before summarising all your findings into a report is to check the remote readiness of your company events and meetings. Can your quarterly all-hands meetings be run remotely, or your brainstorming sessions? Daily stand-ups too?

Each type of event will need a plan to run remotely, noting the software you’ll need and whether everything is possible to do when working outside the office.

Once this is done, you need to create a summary that can be discussed with your cross-functional team. This will provide the basis for creating your plan and deciding on what your next steps are. Remember to capitalize on your strengths and address any critical weak spots you find.

Communicate remote work standards to your employees

It’s important to clarify that employees working remotely are doing the same work as when they’re working on-site (if it’s possible!). There is no difference to what they should be doing, just because they are outside the office. It really is just a different way of working, that’s all! Creating your emergency setup policy should communicate this fact, and exactly what remote work should entail within your company.

This should include who are the different points of contact for any information that workers may need when they’re at home. The policy and plan should also say who needs to work from home and under what situations this will happen.

Providing constant updates and revising your policies should be done throughout any emergency, to make sure that everyone knows what they should be doing and if there are any changes. If you don’t do this from above, people will simply turn to getting information from their colleagues or another distributed network of information. This won’t be as effective as you giving regular updates.

It goes without saying that you should always try to have a plan A, B, and C for an emergency. For example, if certain key figures become sick then what should happen next? How do you deal with possible power shortages, or people not having access to the internet? Even if things occur that you have absolutely no control over, you should at least have some guidelines in place about what your employees should do in such extreme circumstances. 

Monitoring and supporting remote employees

Now you’ve thought about your remote readiness, and how you can communicate and give out information in an emergency situation, you should move onto methods for monitoring and supporting your remote employees. There are some best practices that you will need to implement to make sure that you’re monitoring your employees effectively as they work from home.

Go all remote in communication

You can begin by asking your teams to go all remote with their communication. By doing this, your teams won’t be relying on comms methods that don’t translate well to a non-office environment. Synchronous communication (physical meetings, chats over coffee etc.) can work, but so long as it follows remote work policies such as having certain times where instant messaging/video calls are fine. An all remote comms policy will need planning and writing out to let your employees know in advance what works and what doesn’t.

Be mindful, stay empathic

Supporting your employees also requires you to be mindful, especially in the case of a more serious emergency that has caused the office to work remotely. Managers should be reminded of this too, as well as your employees. Support groups can be created if you already have employees who work remotely, or have more experience in doing so. They will make great candidates for helping provide support for people who may be struggling with working remotely. 

Try to keep the office culture as usual

Finally, trying to keep your office culture as unchanged as possible will help a lot in keeping the same atmosphere and spirit in your teams when they work from home. Plan ahead and think about what you could implement, such as having a virtual water cooler, team-building exercises, or even something simple like asking people to keep their cameras on when having video calls!

A key to your remote success

Remote work inherently involves being able to trust your employees. You can’t keep an eye on your team all the time, so stay focussed on the outcomes that you are getting. If you feel that you need to step in someone and help out, then do so! Planning and preparation are a huge part of implementing an emergency remote-work setup, but so is being actively involved.

Work closely with your managers

This is where you will need to work closely with team leaders and managers to ensure that you are collaborating well with them, and then managers with their teams. If your managers haven’t already got some experience or knowledge of remote work, then it’s worth investing in some training. This training should involve learning how to run virtual meetings and the best practices for them.

We also recommend including a small trial of remote work so they can see first hand what it’s like and help others learn from their experience. If trial is not possible, just ask your managers to be proactive with sharing what are their struggles and what works for them so you can help them to improve.

You can help facilitate all this learning by creating handouts with basic information on how to set up a home office, how to plan for the day, and how to avoid all the common pitfalls and mistakes that can happen with remote-work. Managing remote teams is a skill in itself, so consider getting your managers the proper training they need if you want to really create an emergency policy that is prepared for anything.

Creating plans for the future

A lot of companies are now scrambling to put together emergency remote-work policies, even though the possibility of countrywide shutdowns has been on the horizon for quite a while. There is a lot to go through, and it’s almost impossible to do it on the fly.

Hopefully, now CEOs and team leaders will have realized the importance of a good, well thought out remote work policy. It’s never too late to begin thinking and planning, so we should all learn from the experience that the coronavirus is providing to make sure we are all well prepared for the next situation.

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