Millions of people around the world have been working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic and now experts are asking whether this “business as unusual” could be the future of work, at least for those people whose job doesn’t require them to be tied to a particular location.
Before the pandemic, there was already a lot of discussion on the implications of technology for the future of work. The message was clear, the future of work is not pre-determined, it is up to us to shape it.
However, that future has arrived sooner than anticipated as many countries, companies and workers shifted to remote working in order to contain the transmission of COVID-19, dramatically changing how we work. Remote virtual meetings are now commonplace and economic activity has increased on a range of digital platforms.
As the restrictions are lifted, a question that is on everybody’s mind is whether this ‘business as unusual’ will become the ‘new normal’. A few large companies in developed economies have already said that what has been a large and unplanned pilot (remote working) will become the standard way of organizing work. Employees need not commute to work again, unless they choose to do so.
The International Labour Organization estimates that in high-income countries 27 per cent of workers could work remotely from home. This does not mean that they will continue to work remotely. The question is how we can adapt work practices and reap the benefits of this experience with remote working for employers and workers while not losing the social and economic value of work as a place.
Types of Remote Work Models
- Centralized Office + Occasional Work-from-Home
With this model, employees are required to work primarily from the office, but with occasional work-from-home option. This model is attractive to just about anyone, but may be especially beneficial for busy parents or those who live further away from the office. The number of remote hours varies from company to company, but most who have this policy allocate at least one full remote day per week.
- Centralized Office + Work-from-Anywhere
This model takes the flexibility from model no. 1 and turns it up a notch. Companies who subscribe to this policy give their employees freedom to choose where they work, whether that be the office, their couch, a coffee shop, or far-away lands. Any place with a stable Internet connection and quality coffee should suffice.
- Fully Remote Work Without a Centralized Office
This model is by far the most advanced remote work policy a company can embody, as team members are distributed all over the world, across different countries, and time zones. Companies that use it have most likely been remote since day one with no prior physical office. So, leaders who are in the early stages of starting their venture, this model is a great one to consider.
Tips on Successfully Working from Home
- Get Dressed
Don’t underestimate the power of putting on clothes suitable for public viewing. It makes you feel human and confident and helps draw the line between being at work and being at home.
- Designate a Workspace or Home Office
Try to make your workspace comfortable with a chair you can sit in for eight hours a day and a few decorations. Find an area with good natural lighting if at all possible.
- Keep Clearly Defined Working Hours
You should be clear about when you’re working and when you’re not. You’ll get your best work done and be most ready to transition back to the office if you stick with your regular hours.
- Build Transitions into and Out of Work
Carve out equivalent routines to help you ease into your workday. You can do a work out before you start your work and you can probably end it by reading or listening to music. If you try to jump directly to work or end your work, your brain doesn’t have time to hit the reset button, which can make you less present as you transition back into your personal life. Give yourself something that will signal the end and start of work and serve as a buffer.
- Don’t Get Too Sucked in by the News or Anything Else
Set timers for any breaks you take. You don’t want to get too immersed and forget that you’re at work altogether. If you’re someone who’s susceptible to getting distracted every time you get a news alert, turn your notifications off during the workday, too. The news will still be there after 5 PM.
Communicate, especially with your manager and direct reports. Come up with a plan that lays out expectations for how often you should check in and how you’ll convey any changes or new assignments to one another. Do the same with anyone you usually work collaboratively with throughout the day.
- Don’t Forget to Socialize
Talk with your coworkers throughout the day through Slack, calls, text, Zoom, or however your company communicates. If you usually ask your coworkers about their weekends, keep that up. If you’d usually comment to them about a specific topic, reach out. These little interactions go a long way. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a coworker just to ask how they’re doing.
Combating Cyber Security Risks While Working From Home
- Create a remote working policy that can have guidance on storing devices securely, creating and maintaining strong passwords, and an acceptable use policy for visiting websites that aren’t work-related.
- Organizations should also explain the technical solutions that they’ve implemented to protect sensitive data and how employees can comply with them.
- Employers should also consider new applications that staff may need to work; new collaboration tools in the form of chat rooms, videoconferencing or document sharing.
- Make sure devices encrypt data at rest, to protect data on the device if it is lost or stolen. While most modern devices have encryption built in, it may need to be switched on and configured.
- Use mobile device management (MDM) tools to set up devices with a standard configuration, and also to remotely lock devices, erase data or retrieve a backup.
- VPNs: Make sure that VPNs are patched, remember that additional licenses, capacity or bandwidth may be required if your organization normally has a limited number of remote users.
- Make sure that staff know what to do if their device is lost or stolen. That includes who to report it to: staff who fear getting into trouble are less likely to report lost devices quickly, so make sure it can be done in a blame-free way.
USB drives can contain lots of sensitive data, but are also easily lost and can be an easy way for malware to find its way onto PCs. Companies can reduce security risks by:
- disabling removable media using MDM settings
- using antivirus tools where appropriate
- only allowing products supplied by the organization to be used
- protecting data at rest (encrypt) on removable media
- ask staff to transfer files using alternative means like cloud storage or collaboration tools
Disruption caused by COVID-19 is inevitable, and we have enough to worry about without contending with things like cyber security and unproductivity as we work from home. It’s therefore very important that you are well prepared and cushioned to face the future by implementing the above tips in your organization. This will help you feel motivated and energized to start a new work day and help your employees motivated to push harder to ensure they bring the best to the table.