The COVID-19 emergency is putting unprecedented strains on the global economy and on individual businesses.
Regardless of size, employers are having to adjust to a big change: going from seeing workers on site every day to having most employees working from home.
Getting it right means you’ll minimize downtime, anxiety and lost productivity over the coming weeks through preparation, communication, and implementation.
Challenge and opportunity
But, explains business advisor Michelle Coussens, founder of Plan B Consulting, moving to a more dispersed workforce that includes both onsite and remote workers should be more than an emergency response.
That’s because the tools, processes and structures you put in place now can pay off in greater efficiency and flexibility after the crisis passes.
And that will improve your competitive position for years to come.
Steps to take right now
Without a robust plan in place, employers’ ability to respond is slowed, and they risk creating additional confusion and panic among both employees and customers.
Work from home prep checklist
- Cross-train employees
- Develop a list of critical business functions and essential personnel
- Create and disseminate temporary authority back up designations
- Have a communication tree with updated contact information and directions
- Determine alternative sources of supplies
- Review insurance policies and opportunities for adjustment or enhancement
- Test your plan through drills/simulations
Specific steps for the current Coronavirus emergency:
- Encourage sick employees to stay home
- Conduct workplace deep cleaning, and repeat as appropriate
- Prepare in advance for additional potential event cancellations
- Identify back-up people and processes should they become needed
- Reach out to vendors to coordinate your plans with them and be clear on their resources
- Line up extra resources for when “normal” work resumes in order to catch up
- Establish a daily update protocol, along with a number employees can call to speak with an authorized company representative about concerns or questions
Setting remote work expectations
For many workers, this crisis will be the first time they have worked remotely for more than a day or two. And managers are just as inexperienced at managing a dispersed workforce they aren’t seeing onsite every day.
That means establishing and enforcing policies and expectations around work hours, deadlines and attendance at meetings.
The more structure you put in place, especially at the beginning, the more smoothly operations will run. Once you get everyone settled in and working relatively well, you can work on how to scale online collaboration and enhance results.
Keeping connected when working from home
Both your managers and employees need to feel that they are still connected, visible and up-to-date on assignments, deadlines and inevitable changes. According to the Owl Labs 2019 State of Remote Work Report, 14% of remote workers in normal work situations have 10+ meetings per week, including:
- Standard check-ins
- Project planning and updates
- Ad hoc, informal discussions
Those don’t have to be hours-long all-hands meetings. In fact, a quick old fashioned phone call to check-in is often all that is needed.
But some meetings will need to include a large group. Make sure everyone has connections fast enough to keep meetings productive. Provide remote employees with meeting software and hardware (headsets, etc.).
Set remote meeting rules
When everyone is not in the same room, it’s easy to miss details. With everyone at home with family during this crisis, the distractions will be even greater than usual.
To address those issues, Coussens suggests taking these important steps:
- Allow time at the beginning of the meeting for information socialization/catching up
- Record meetings and/or take formal minutes and distribute them to everyone afterward
- Set down firm rules about closing email, social media, and other applications during the meeting (or give meeting leaders the ability to force shutdowns)
- Get everyone using a shared calendar. That will let meeting organizers consider schedules and time zone implications
- During the meeting have everyone participate, if only to give a quick yes or no opinion on a proposal
Fostering innovation when employees are working from home
Collaboration tools are critical to keeping your team’s creativity flowing. Shared electronic white boards, online simulations, joint training sessions across multiple teams are all ways that you can leverage remote work to help your team to brainstorm, share learning and learn about each other.
Leadership needs to make sure they have the tools, training, and time needed.
Also, set expectations that your team will continue collaborating regularly. Follow up to make sure they know how to access and use the tools available.
All of those moves will pay dividends now and after the crisis has passed, helping create productive habits and increasing your employees’ flexibility.
For more information on remote work
Coronavirus & Remote Work: Pivoting from Bricks to Clicks, available on demand. Join internationally-recognized business consultant Michelle Coussens to get tools and information to help your organization make the leap from having employees work in the office to working remotely from home – while minimizing downtime and anxiety and maximizing productivity.
Coronavirus & Influenza: Obligations Under FMLA, ADA, Title VII & More, o available on demand. Please join Dr. Jim Castagnera, labor and employment attorney as he explains what employee-related actions the ADA, FMLA, and other relevant federal regulations permit employers to take before, during, and in the aftermath of an outbreak.
Coronavirus in the Workplace: Employers’ Duty to Protect Employees, available on demand. Join Adele L. Abrams, Esq., a nationally recognized authority on Occupational Safety and Health law for this 60-minute program explaining what OSHA requires from employers, and steps you can take to protect workers.