Article provided by Westcon
Even though some might say that working remotely is the future, the reality is that it is already happening. Statistics show that working from home has increased by 173% since 2005 and is one of the fastest-growing segments of the workforce. Even traditionally-minded South African businesses are starting to see the merits of following this approach. In these challenging times with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting home, this could very likely be the reality of work for some time to come.
So, instead of asking whether remote working should be done, the real question is how it can be integrated into existing business practices. Of course, this does not mean that every employee or worker can do so. Certain job functions, think manufacturing, require people to be physically present and still do the job. But when it comes to information workers, the lines are more fluid.
“COVID-19 has put the spotlight on reducing physical contact and exposure to the virus between people. While some might cheekily point out that this has highlighted how few face-to-face meetings are necessary, the reality is that technology has evolved to such an extent that virtually everything can be done remotely or via digital teams,” says Prebashini Reddy, Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) Product Manager at Westcon-Comstor Sub-Saharan Africa.
For example, Microsoft Teams is a hub for teamwork in the Office 365 productivity suite. Using this solution, people can manage their work, their chats, their meetings, their files, and even their apps live from a single work environment.
“Sadly, it is often at times of disaster when people re-evaluate what must be done to keep business operations going. While few could have anticipated the crippling impact COVID-19 has had, it is frightening to think how few companies see business continuity as a critical component of their corporate strategy,” says Pete Hill, executive director at Greendata.
And for small businesses already struggling to survive in challenging market conditions, the current crisis could push them over the edge if technology is not embraced in a more effective manner to maintain a semblance of normality.
This is where the cloud has a critical role to play.
The cloud is the foundation on which to build a work from anywhere mindset. It provides a company with a secure and always available environment from which to guide operations. This online repository for essential work functions, programmes, and documents can more easily be shared to employees wherever they are in the world.
“Working in this way is all about communication and collaboration. Teams need to ensure they are aligned to the objectives of the business, and managers must be aware of which employees are working on what projects. Being able to digitally link teams through the cloud ensures that job performance can be optimised using a variety of online tools. But more than that, it gives employees the freedom to manage their time more effectively and be flexible to still take care of their loved ones in times of crisis,” says Reddy.
Of course, irrespective of the technology used, if people do not take responsibility for their work, then this all comes to nought.
“Employees must understand that despite the advantages of working remotely, they must still adhere to corporate requirements and ensure the job gets done despite any distractions that may occur. Fortunately, solutions such as Microsoft Teams make this an easier proposition as it integrates with Office 365 and even non-Microsoft products to provide a collaborative environment underpinned by communication tools. This ensures all team members know what is going on at any given moment in time,” says Pete Hill.
So, instead of viewing this as a different way of working, businesses of all sizes should consider it as the new way of working. Those sceptical about the merits of such an approach will reconsider their viewpoints in the wake of current events. In the past, the argument for telecommuting was that people could avoid traffic and be more efficient. Now it is a health issue where they can still do everything expected of them in a safe environment away from the office and not rely on public transport or physical interaction.
“Companies must review their existing team structures and identify those employees able to work remotely. In order to mitigate the risk of infection, all non-essential personnel must be allowed to do so. Throughout this period, employees must be made aware of the expectations from a business perspective and what their responsibilities in this situation are,” adds Reddy.
This can take the form of a quick daily online meeting first-thing in the morning to discuss deliverables or even a weekly session to provide a status update on the progress of projects. Employees should also flag any concerns or issues with their team leads as soon as they are aware of them for plans to be put in place to overcome them.
“By embracing a collaborative, online working environment, businesses can equip themselves not only for a more digitally-friendly approach but also one that helps ensure continuity during times of crisis. Throughout this, employee education will be key. Hence, every person understands his or her roles and responsibilities, and managers can have oversight of the success (or failure) of such a strategy,” continues Pete Hill.
Beyond the health benefits, companies can ensure significant cost savings are realised. If more employees work remotely, the size of the office space can be reduced with hot desks available to people who come in when needed. Projects will also be easier to manage as everything will be visible in the online environment. Furthermore, with documents stored in a single place, data replication becomes a thing of the past. And because sensitive information is not saved on a local hard drive or flash drive, the integrity and security of information can also be managed better.
“And let us not forget an increase in employee satisfaction as people will have the flexibility to find a better work/life balance. Because the company treats them as responsible workers, they will invest the time to ensure projects are a success,” concludes Reddy.