Many businesses are scrambling to set up a remote workforce across all departments and lines of business. Even those with pre-existing work-at-home policies likely haven’t rolled out anything on the sheer scale we’re seeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The focus now is on quick-fix solutions, trying to set up remote workers and smooth out the glitches. But, as IT pros are well aware, it’s not just about setting up laptops and PCs; a remote work strategy must also take into account security, productivity and even employee wellbeing.
While the weeks ahead will be filled with business disruption, CIOs can respond to the crisis with both short- and long-term actions “so that you can increase your organization’s resilience against future disruptions and also to prepare for rebounding growth after we are out of this immediate stage of the pandemic,” says Roberta Witty, Gartner VP analyst, in a recent Gartner webinar.
Short-term fixes for a remote workforce
Organizations aren’t necessarily thinking about a long-term remote workforce strategy—they’re scrambling to ensure they have business continuity, particularly in light of mandated work restrictions. “Some of the key business impacts we’re seeing include supply chain disruption, reduced employee productivity, falling sales, obviously travel disruption—so we are facing challenges times,” says Witty.
So how exactly do you roll out a secure remote work program in a matter of weeks—perhaps even days?
First, Witty recommends identifying your use case requirements. Which employees are in charge of mission-critical tasks? Which tools are required for business operations, such as general communications, file sharing, instant messaging, meeting solutions and access to enterprise applications? Match solutions to use cases.
Security, bandwidth and redundancy
But this needs to be done with security in mind, particularly as we’re seeing the rise of another type of virus—the malware kind—as cyber criminals take advantage of organizations at their most vulnerable.
Here are some questions Witty recommends IT teams consider when deploying remote workforce security:
- Do employees have enough network bandwidth in the home?
- Are they using their own devices or work-issued devices?
- How do you secure those devices through endpoint security management and identity and access management?
- Are you using two-factor authentication in the workplace and how do you replicate that when people are working from home?
- Do you need tools like keystroke monitoring and cameras for certain transactions?
Bandwidth also continues to be a big issue. “That’s a challenge lots of organizations are facing—that last mile problem,” says Witty. It requires understanding which business applications or processes are mission-critical and, if necessary, setting up redundant connectivity.
“In an environment where there’s a lot of focus on cost, putting in redundancy and duplicate connections is not something we’re all thinking about doing,” she says, “but it’s so important at this point in time.” It might mean upgrading employees’ residential Internet service with commercial-grade connectivity for mission-critical workflows.
Leading your remote workforce
People are on edge; emotions are running high. Leading a remote team also means supporting that remote team—particularly when those team members may be anxious, frustrated or scared. That starts with establishing clear expectations, says Witty, from defining key priorities, mapping those priorities on an ongoing basis (as the situation changes) and ensuring team members connect on work.
Then, focus on performance outcomes, such as setting goals and well-defined lines of accountability, providing regular feedback and encouraging collaboration. But it’s also about building those lines of communication, such as holding regular virtual meetings, huddles or scrums, even virtual happy hours (it’s quarantini time!).
Another way to support your remote workforce is through flexible work hours. “Everyone now has their kids at home, [so] how do you manage your kids while you’re trying to work? You might have to ease up on the eight-hour workday because there’s other demands on people’s time now,” says Witty.
Building a long-term remote workforce
Right now it’s all about getting remote workers up and running. But eventually we’ll return to the ‘new’ normal, so it’s also important to think long-term—to build resiliency so your organization is better prepared for the unpredictable.
Besides, your remote workforce is here to stay. Employees may want to work at home on occasion, even after they return to the office, “so you have to plan for this to be a persistent pattern for your workforce and prepare for this long-term shift,” says Witty.
“You want to make sure the remote work solutions for the short term can last over the long term,” says Witty. Once your IT team is able to take a breather, develop a long-term strategy around uses cases, security implications, network connectivity and managing multiple end points that will support a remote work program in the long term.
This pandemic has been a stressful, even traumatizing, experience for many employees. But it’s also an opportunity for CIOs, according to Witty—to demonstrate leadership, increase organizational resilience and prepare for the ‘new’ normal.
To find out more about Allstream business communication solutions for effective remote working capabilities, please contact Allstream.