With the drastic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, vast numbers of companies who have the potential to create a remote workforce have been thrust into it—instantly. For businesses without an emergency remote work plan already in place, this transition comes with little warning and few resources to support this sudden shift.
This emergency pivot will bring to light your organization’s underlying strengths and challenges. Perhaps you are gaining confidence in your company’s ability to face crises, or maybe it raises concerns about your business’s emergency preparedness strategy. Either way, here are some key tips to implement an emergency remote work plan and prepare for crises like it in the future.
1. Plan for the long term
The reality of the situation is that the COVID-19 crisis is not ending anytime soon. And its impacts—economic and otherwise—will persist even longer if we are unprepared. To prevent this crisis, or any other emergency, from slowing down your business operations, your remote work plan must be able to go the distance.
Now is also a good time to identify and implement a strong crisis management strategy that includes:
planning for the death or incapacity of the CEO or other strategic leadership
anticipating shifts or gaps in your supply chain as businesses around the world are affected
Don’t get so caught up in the minutia of today that you fail to plan for the long haul.
2. Prioritize security and employee support
A crisis has struck, and you are forced to have your workforce go virtual, leaving their in-office setup behind. Within your remote work plan, consider whether your team has the equipment and technological infrastructure needed to perform all of their duties remotely.
Does the security of your company allow for personal computer use, or do your employees need work laptops purchased and assigned? Do they need remote access to secure servers, through a VPN? Take these questions into account as you consider how to set your employees up for success and protect your company in the process.
Even if your team has the hardware tools (such as laptops and phones) to continue their work remotely, what about their access to the internet? In a pandemic, where entire families are stuck at home—all needing access to the internet to continue work and school—everyone must fight for bandwidth. Adjust your expense policies to account for cell phone and data use employees may incur when transitioning to full-time remote work.
In times of uncertainty and change, connecting with your employees is crucial, especially when they are forced to work remotely and likely face additional self-isolation measures. With the lack of social and physical interaction that accompanies both remote work and basic levels of self-isolation for the pandemic, ensure that you are intentionally empowering and engaging your team both in work- and non-work-related ways. In emergency remote work there is no such thing as over-communication.
Implement a tool such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Workplace by Facebook to allow for more seamless, real-time communication. Email simply won’t cut it when it comes to optimal workplace communication with a remote team—it was not meant to replace the physical office, and never will.
Intentionally reach out to ensure that none of your team members feel lost in the shuffle. Don’t assume that your employees are doing fine if you’re not hearing from them. Make it a point to initiate conversations both internally, to check in with your team, as well as outside of your organization within your network of professional connections. The power of feeling connected will go a long way to reduce isolation and form creative connections that many businesses will need to stay afloat.
For more ideas about how strong communication creates connections, boosts creativity, and builds trust, Business Insider writes about adapting to the work-from-home-force.
It is important to remember that when emergencies arise, people’s entire lives have flipped upside down—not just their professional lives. Kids are suddenly out of school, we worry about our parents, and physical support can be difficult to find under directives for social distancing. Be flexible with your leadership and how you structure your team’s work responsibilities at this time.
When it comes to holding virtual meetings, take a hard look at whether communication really needs to take place live, and at a particular time. If real-time feedback isn’t necessary, accommodate different schedules and employee needs by providing a few different times to join a video call, or record your talks. Then team members can choose to participate when they have a moment to focus, rather than when they are trying to juggle personal responsibilities with their partner or help children with math homework.
5. Learn from the experience
Finally, use this unprecedented time as a learning opportunity to strengthen your emergency work plan for the future. With everything that is currently shifting within your company, ask yourself which changes you want to hold onto and integrate into your overall brand strategy. At minimum:
- Codify the work-from-home strategy that you develop during this time to enable a rapid shift to remote work in the event of a future crisis, so that future teams don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
- Take COVID-19 as an opportunity to cement your company’s overall disaster plan for the future.
When the dust settles in coming few weeks, use the time to ask big-picture questions about the role of remote work in your business. While it’s your company’s current reality, perhaps you are looking at the role of the physical office from a whole new perspective. Take time to ask what needs your physical office fulfills, and examine how you may want to permanently shift your organizational dynamic to one that is more cost-effective and forward-moving. How might remote work be a key piece of your company’s future?
Seeking additional insight on how to empower your team in the “new normal”? Check out my blog about remote work culture here.
- Plan for the long term: Don’t get so caught up in the minutia of today that you fail to plan for the long haul.
- Prioritize security and employee support: Adjust your expense policies to account for cell phone and data use employees may incur when transitioning to full-time remote work.
- Communication: In emergency remote work there is no such thing as over-communication.
- Flexibility: Be flexible with your leadership and how you structure your team’s work responsibilities at this time.
- Learn from the experience: Ask what needs your physical office fulfills, and examine how remote work may be a key piece of your company’s future.