woman working on laptop as child plays in the foreground
PHOTO: Charles Deluvio

When the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, it caught many organizations unprepared. Countries around the globe followed the announcement by adopting measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including "shelter-in-place," which pushed workers in the many industries to work remotely.

For organizations that traditionally did not embrace remote work, this transition hasn’t been very smooth.

The challenges went beyond just finding the right collaboration tools. They included scaling up the IT infrastructure, managing information security, and of course, managing employees, their productivity and fostering a culture of remote collaboration.

There is, however, a silver lining to this situation. Companies can use this opportunity to set up and optimize their remote work protocols and policies so they are better prepared for such scenarios in the future.

So, if you’re an IT leader implementing remote work at scale, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Start With the Right Tools and Solutions

Your workforce’s ability to go remote will only ever be as good as the tools you provide them with. IT teams, obviously, play a key role here.

For starters, IT teams should take stock of the tools needed to work remotely. If a certain tool/solution isn’t available, they have the authority to purchase it. They can then give their workforce access to these tools and ensure that required permissions are in place to avoid downtime.

Having a reliable arsenal of tools means two important things — your teams are equipped to be productive and remain in-sync with each other. Team collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, videoconferencing tools like Zoom and WebEx, project management tools like Trello and Asana, document sharing tools like G Suite or Office 365, and email collaboration tools like Hiver have helped team members go a long way in staying in tune with their day-to-day work schedules.

Related Article: Telecommuting Basics for the Newly Remote Workforce

2. Providing Extensive Documentation and Swift Complaint Resolution

This is a good time for your IT team to instate a process for documentation. Document everything: create how-to guides for your workforce, document your security policies, put out a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts when working from home, and create a fair usage policy for work devices and networks.

Moreover, when executing work from home at this scale, it’s common for workers to face technical issues and bottlenecks that hinder their daily work routine. What IT teams can do is create a structure for their workforce to report these remote work-related issues. Have a dedicated team in place for documenting these complaints and addressing them as quickly as possible.

It would really help if your IT team can derive insights from complaints and use it to further refine your documentation and policies.

3. Building a Secure Infrastructure to Minimize Security Risks

A rapid transition to remote work puts pressure on security teams to understand and address a wave of potential security risks. So make sure managed devices have the right policies for Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and virtual private network (VPN) access, as well as network certificates (for managed devices enrolled in your organization).

Your work network at your physical office offers a level of control that isn't possible for remote workers, so you may need to implement endpoint protection. Consider if you need an antivirus tool and set up tools that allow your IT and security teams to remotely access devices to assist in troubleshooting.

For added levels of security, consider enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) for tools that have it as a provision, using password managers to create unique, strong passwords and avoiding shared login account.

One of the most critical tools for implementing remote work is a good VPN —  we cannot stress this enough. When your workforce uses a public network, data sent from their work devices travel over the same public network as data from a consumer service, like a video streaming platform, online game or shopping site, exposing them to countless vulnerabilities.

A VPN creates an encrypted link between an employee’s work device and your work network, allowing data to move in a secure manner as if they were on a wired connection at your office. The pitfall here is that more often than not, most VPNs are not built to handle the entire organization working remotely.

It is also important to periodically stress test your network to see if it can handle the needs of your remote workforce and scale up your IT infrastructure accordingly. Switching commodified services like email, file storage and collaboration to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based platforms can to a large extent help ease the load on networks.

Related Article: You Rolled Out Your Remote Workforce in Record Time. Now Let's Talk Governance

4. Developing a Company Culture Suited for Remote Work

Companies transitioning to remote work need to strategize how to communicate and collaborate effectively across teams to protect company culture and meet the larger company goals. That’s because remote work, especially at scale, can easily turn into a recipe for chaos and hamper productivity and people's morale levels.

This demands a conscious effort from the leadership and managers. They need to set in place protocols and communication channels for employees to connect, stay social and stay productive.

Teams must connect, and connect often, almost as much as they do in the office. Having frequent check-ins via phone calls or chat, having regular meetings via videoconferencing, and sharing updates in real-time can help retain that feeling of togetherness and ensure that the team is always on the same page.

Frequent one-on-one meetings with managers can help team members voice their concerns, stay motivated and productive, and build healthy relationships. Creating a public workboard for team members to share their work pipelines and deadlines can improve transparency and accountability.

Once again, it is important here to stress the importance of documentation. Create playbooks on remote work policies in the form of downloadable content or intranet sites that help your employees navigate this shift. This documentation will serve as a single source of truth for your workforce and can make them feel less overwhelmed at such times.

A Move to Remote Work Takes Time

The bottom line? IT leaders need to understand the time it takes to make a successful transition to remote work. So set realistic expectations, communicate often, acknowledge mistakes, be open to feedback from your workforce and maintain a culture of trust and accountability.

Remember, social distancing does not mean social isolation. The way in which IT leaders enable and support their workforce during this transition and the knowledge they gain and document for future needs will help support everyone’s overall productivity and well-being now and into the future.