How Can We Adequately Prepare
for Long-Term Remote Working?
As I begin this piece, it’s been well over two months since people were told in no uncertain terms that they must stay at home whenever possible to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The business world had to adapt incredibly quickly: some companies had to fire or furlough their workers and effectively go into hibernation (if they could survive at all), while others had to forget the traditional office and start figuring out how they could work efficiently at a distance.
The change came so quickly that we all had to focus on the immediate future. What would the next working day look like? How would clients react? In the back of our minds, though, we all assumed that the conditions would be short-lived: that we’d muddle through remote working for a few weeks, get the virus under control, and go back to how things were before.
We know better now. We understand that a full return to the old way of working might never arrive. The best we can hope for is a slow and careful migration back to physical offices, delaying every step to see how infection rates respond. In the long term, every business that doesn’t need in-person employees must at least be capable of productive remote working.
Given that, how do we prepare for a future of remote working being the paradigm? In this post, we will look at some core ideas for how today’s businesses can get ready for current conditions to continue indefinitely and the working world to remain altered regardless:
Invest in Digital Training
Technology has come a long way since the emergence of the internet, but the fact that there are adults today who had reliable broadband when they were kids doesn’t mean that digital literacy is no longer a concern.
Not only are there still plenty of older people who never fully got to grips with the world of computers, there are also many young people who can use smartphones very effectively but aren’t all that useful with personal computers.
Due to this, plenty of companies have had issues with their employees not knowing how to undertake basic tasks, particularly those concerning the cloud technology that has made it possible for so many companies to quickly start operating online. Ignorance damages productivity and requires the tech-savvy among us to set aside time for helping their colleagues.
By investing in digital skills, we can equip workers to make good use of the tools available to them, and the online world has plenty of resources. Look for free IT courses, particularly those concerning the software your company relies on. The other option is to bring in some expert trainers (more on that approach next).
Form Valuable IT Partnerships
Even if you get everyone familiar with how to use the software tools core to your business, you’ll inevitably run up against broader IT issues.
Hardware breaks down and software deployments encounter configuration and/or operation problems. When you’re working in an office and a system goes down, you can muddle through — but you don’t have that option at a distance.
This is why it’s important for businesses to form strong IT partnerships, teaming with hardware and software providers to ensure that they have support when things go wrong. Regarding cloud tech, it makes sense for a company to partner with a software reseller — that reseller will have access to niche expertise and low rates through its own partnership with a cloud solution redistributor (intY, for instance), but will have the time to handle small-scale problems directly.
For hardware, a business should consider renting computers instead of buying them, and going through a service that also provides support as a matter of course. Remote access software will allow many issues to be resolved (or at least diagnosed) without physical examination, and couriers can be used to collect machines for repair (and provide temporary replacements).
Optimize home offices
Working from a kitchen table with your head craned down to stare at a small laptop screen can work alright for a short while, but it isn’t a viable long-term option.
Not only will it make you miserable soon enough, but it will cause physical problems such as a sore neck and even repetitive strain injuries in your hands. You need a decent home office.
Some companies understand this and have invested heavily in ensuring that their employees have solid home office setups: ergonomic keyboards (Digital Trends has a solid list), lumbar-supporting chairs, large monitors to minimize eye strain, and convenient laptop docks to make it easier for people to move around when they want to change their environments.
Yes, buying all of these items can be expensive, particularly when done for an entire team, but it’s worth it. The significant productivity boost that stems from people being much more comfortable (and feeling more supported, both literally and figuratively) will easily return the value soon enough.
For more see our page on Ergonomics.
Prioritize mental health
The stigma concerning mental health has been addressed in recent years, and people are slowly becoming more comfortable admitting that they’re having difficulties — with businesses coming to accept that expecting employees to ignore their problems and work through them is ultimately rather less effective than simply trying to help them.
One of the best things we can do to prepare for long-term remote working, then, is make mental health a top priority. Consider that humans are tribal creatures by nature: we like to form groups, discuss things, work and play together, and generally feel community support. The traditional office model has some big problems, but grouping up is a huge benefit that’s lost at a distance.
Kept apart by circumstances, colleagues (even team members) can drift apart and start to feel lonely. This is a problem for everyone, and it clearly justifies making an effort to talk to workers: asking them how they’re doing, what they need help with, and what kind of support they’d like to receive. The healthier people are, the happier (and more productive) they’ll be working remotely.
We simply can’t know when things will return to normal, or even if they’ll return to normal. It’s entirely possible that this new paradigm will stick around after COVID-19 has ceased to be a major concern. We need to be prepared, and these tips should help us get ready for a future of online business.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
This eBook is designed to help you through the process of ‘going digital’ and managing other aspects of life during a pandemic.
From how to get yourself online, through how to keep safe, to working, learning and staying in touch with friends and family remotely, the Skills You Need Guide to Living the 'New Normal' in the Age of Covid-19 covers the key skills you need to survive and thrive.
About the Author
Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to giving through growth hacking. Visit the blog for your latest dose of startup, entrepreneur, and charity insights from top experts around the globe.