Coronavirus panic is sweeping the country. Companies that already have a remote working culture opine that, eventually, all companies will be working remotely. Meanwhile, companies that frown upon teleworking scramble to prepare for the time, which may arrive sooner than later, when employees are ordered to work from home. How can a company that doesn’t have a remote culture pivot to protect employees against a highly contagious virus for which there’s no vaccine?
Although people are freaking out about Coronavirus, companies should relax about equipping their employees to work from home. There are a set of relatively easy steps that any company can take to facilitate remote work. The first change that’s required is cultural. Some companies begrudgingly permit teleworking one day a week, often accompanied by a belief that the real work only happens under the supervision of management who can actually see employees. That is, these companies offer a telework option to show some goodwill to employees but don’t really believe they’ll actually perform effective work when they’re not in the office. In a time of forced remote work, employers have no choice but to trust the integrity of their employees. The odds are that if employers take the following steps, they will be pleasantly surprised by the productivity of remote employees.
- Encourage employees to obtain and expense the best possible home internet connections. If a company wants to nickle and dime, the company should specify a set amount to subsidize fast internet and let employees foot a portion of the cost.
- Buy everyone noise cancelling wireless headphones with good microphones (like this Plantronics Headset). This enables teammates to join a call, even with noisy children underfoot, who may be schooled from home. Phoning into a meeting and having a crisp connection enables the employee to be heard.
- It’s always better to have a video presence than just voice. Adopt a video-first conference tool like Zoom that has a great phone app.
- Utilize one of the modern collaboration hub tools like Slack or Basecamp. The cross-department communication channels enabled by tools like these justify their use even if everyone’s under the same roof. For offsite workers, these tools help to provide inter-team and intra-team structure and community.
- Adopt a collaborative, cloud-based file authoring tool like Google Docs or Microsoft 360. This avoids the necessity to pass files as email attachments.
- Encourage community. Having a few virtual, video happy hours and lunches together builds esprit de corps during a stressful time.
Even if, somehow, Coronavirus is stopped cold and employees aren’t forced to work from home, there’s no downside to implementing these measures. The norm nowadays is that many of us want to flex our work hours to accommodate our personal lives. It’s not just parents who knock off early and put in a couple of hours after the kids are asleep. Others may take midday guitar/scuba/exercise/you-name-it lessons, have a long lunch with a friend, or other various and sundry appointments.
In normal times, weather or traffic emergencies sometimes necessitate employees working from home. For companies that adopt a remote-friendly culture, a day when everyone’s working from home should result in zero productivity loss. Companies with remote-hostile or remote-suspicious cultures will face the same weather emergency day where employees are constrained and productivity will suffer.
It’s unfortunate that a pandemic is what it takes to force some companies to support working from home. Truly enlightened companies should celebrate each and every opportunity an employee takes for personal enrichment because it makes for happy, productive, and loyal workers. Providing employees the means to be effective outside of the office will do nothing but improve a company’s bottom line while at the same time build a dedicated workforce.