The importance of being able to work from home.

Desk with a cup of coffe, notepad and a plant

Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit full-swing, many of us probably never considered working from home. Now, it has become a reality for many, with several small-medium enterprises scrambling to accommodate a wide range of needs and systems. While some businesses simply cannot operate remotely, many can. For those that cannot operate in a completely virtual manner, there might be a few lessons to help you through this crisis.

In the short-term, it is reasonable to expect some drops in productivity, delays, and maybe even a bit of confusion from team members who have never worked from home, but don’t worry! With a bit of tweaking, your organizational resources can be made to be flexible for both traditional and telecommute scenarios. Here are a few points to consider:

Work is an Important Part of Our Identity

Before we get into the technical stuff, remember that work is an important part of our lives and identities; we tend to crave the routines and socialization that work provides, so don’t lose focus of this as you build, design or tweak your existing systems. You can use videoconferencing or regular phone calls to maintain some cohesion and still have a bit of fun.

Expect Some Downtime

Unless if you designed your systems for remote work or cloud access from day 1, then expect downtime for training, account setup, and refresher courses. Training will likely become an ongoing task, but after some initial downtime, the results will materialize.

Less is More

I’ve seen so many scenarios where people have complex setups with on-site Windows servers, several different apps (many out of date or poorly supported), and workflows that get in the way of working offsite. Modern operating systems do great for supporting many functions out of the box, and unless if you are running a massive operation with several unique roles, you probably don’t need to worry about restricting user access too severely.

Effective Use of Social Media is Never a Time Waster

Many companies seek to limit the time that employees spend on social media, which aways confuses me. Social media is one of the most powerful marketing tools that we have available, and can also be a great way to communicate with stakeholders during this pandemic. It can also be another way to keep your team together – think of private facebook groups as just one way to use this for productivity and good.

Trust Your Team

Remember why you hired someone in the first place: you liked them, and came to trust them. So now isn’t the time to limit what they can do with their systems: users working from home can often find creative solutions that you may not have considered. Unfortunately, this creativity is limited when they can’t install printers, access USB drives, install practical apps, or access certain web resources.

Encourage BYOD

Don’t fall into the traditional mindset that a corporate, locked-down machine is most effective. If someone wants to use bring their own device (BYOD), let them, with one caveat: their setup must pass some basic security checks. This means an up to date instance of Windows 10 (Windows 7 hit end of life and is insecure), macOS, ChromeOS or Linux. Additional security software is always a plus, and if anyone will be working from somewhere like a coffee shop, then a VPN is always a good idea. This biggest challenge here is that many people still prefer Windows 7 over 10. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t cut it from a security perspective.

E-Mail is NOT a Conversation Tool

This is where I see most work-from home scenarios fall apart. E-Mail is not an effective way to have ongoing conversations. If you need to discuss something complex with your team, especially if you need quick feedback, then chat based tools are a good bet. Think of solutions like Skype, Google Hangouts, Slack, and Microsoft Teams. If all else fails, there is nothing wrong with a good old fashioned phone call.

Your In-House Setup is NOT Superior to the Cloud

Sorry people, but your elaborate windows server is likely not superior to the cloud, unless if you are Amazon, Google, Oracle or Microsoft. Even world class companies like Nintendo rely on Google to keep their infrastructure running. While you may have sunk countless dollars into server maintenance, training and updates over the years, it is time to recognize it as a sunk cost and move on.

This doesn’t mean ditch your infrastructure: this simply means moving it to the cloud where it can scale, perform and be managed in a secure manner.

You might think that your office is secure, but try breaking into Amazon’s data center.

Finally, during times of pandemic, you could lose access to your office space. A local non-profit recently lost access to its offices which were located within a municipally owned building. City Hall decided (rightfully so) to close this building to help fight the spread of COVID-19. This organization was left without physical access, but had virtual access to all of its data, records, and even its phone systems! Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to make sure that your servers are up and running from home, rather than trying to find someone to let you in to a locked down building?

The Cloud Can Be Cheap!

G Suite by Google provides your users with email, cloud storage and web-based document apps for less than $10 per user, per month. This has the added benefit of allowing your team to access all of their email, documents and other resources from virtually anywhere, and on any device.

Are you a Microsoft based organization? No problem – give Office 365 a try.

Less Really is More

This is something I can’t stress enough, especially when in the majority of organizations, most work can be done in a web browser. Chromebooks and Linux workstations can give you a modern, secure and high performing option. You might say “But I can’t get app X!”, but ask yourself, what are your typical users actually using on a daily basis? In my most recent digital transformation project, 80% of users were able to accomplish 100% of their tasks (yes literally everything they did on a daily basis) within Google Chrome.

Learn to Let Go

In challenging times like this COVID-19 pandemic, you can get by without your office. Sure, it may not be ideal, and even a little scary, but if you are willing to let go and put up with a few short-term headaches, you can transform your organization into one that can work from anywhere.

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