by Alexandra Goger, SharePoint and Office 365 Evangelist at Iflexion
When it all began, we all did our best to adapt. Companies turned to telecommute, looking for an instant remedy to promote social distancing and protect their employees. And while many of them handled the abrupt switch reasonably well, they were counting the days until work comes back to normal.
Only it never did.
Already a few weeks into the lockdown, many business owners started realizing that the office as we knew it would never return. Among those businesses, the Big Five tech companies established work-from-home policies to help the global workforce adjust to the new reality and then extended them until mid-2021.
Recent research by Harvard Business School suggests that when COVID-19 recedes, at least 16 percent of Americans will switch to remote or hybrid work. Another study using the data from The U.S. Bureau of Statistics estimates that as many as 37 percent of US jobs, accounting for nearly half of all wages, can be performed entirely remotely. The pandemic has normalized remote work.
Helping employees adapt to remote work in the long term.
Adapting to the changing work environment has a handful of challenges. Equipping your workforce with a brand new set of skills and talents will allow your employees to deal with these challenges more effectively.
Here are five essential practices you can apply to help your staff keep at the top of their game, in and out of the office:
1. Encourage time-consciousness and good work organization.
While excellent organizational skills are always welcome, in a home-based work setting they are a requisite. Telecommuters are expected to deliver quality work on time without much hand-holding and in an environment prone to distraction and procrastination.
You can help your remote workforce improve time and work management skills in several ways:
- Introduce project management and collaboration tools like Basecamp, Trello, or Asana to facilitate coordination of tasks and projects among home-based teams and individuals.
- Assign realistic deadlines to all activities to make it easier for remote staff to plan work.
- Use clear and concise direction to reduce confusion and misunderstanding. This is especially vital as communication in remote teams is restrained and fragmented, and accountability more challenging to manage.
2. Unlock lifelong learning.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have appreciated the importance of upskilling employees to build a future-ready workforce. To soften the crisis’s impact, they started moving workers to fill out completely new roles, requiring a new breed of skills covering areas such as AI, digitization, and automation.
The deep restructuring of the established job functions outside of a traditional classroom environment has put double pressure on employers and employees. Lack of face-to-face supervision, ubiquitous distractions, and increased difficulties with getting quick access to information are just a few common challenges.
Remote corporate learners need to become much more self-sufficient and dedicate themselves to lifelong learning to stay relevant. Training departments have to prioritize learner engagement and adjust training programs to cover for the new skills. Delivering lectures via online meeting tools and sending out 50-page PowerPoint slide decks will no longer do. Companies need adaptable solutions that enable self-driven learning, empowering remote employees to be efficient in their redefined roles.
Open-source tools such as Moodle or Google Classroom can cater to small teams, but larger organizations need more robust, collaborative platforms, like a SharePoint learning management system. These solutions offer a full set of out-of-the-box features:
- Centralized, well-organized learning content available in a variety of formats
- Rich learning assessment features to keep remote learners motivated
- Self-paced learning to allow remote workers to keep to their learning speed
- Learning analytics and reporting to evaluate individual and group progress
- Role-based access and compliance with global learning standards
- AI enhancements for personalized, engaging, and outcome-based learning
3. Spread awareness of cybersecurity threats.
In an office environment, employees take security for granted. Ensuring necessary safeguards is the employer’s responsibility. But when people work from home, the situation changes entirely. Remote workers become the first line of defense against cybercrime yet quite often it is them who are the weakest link.
Stripped of corporate security controls, remote employees are much more susceptible to phishing, malware, fake login screens, and other cyber-threats. By sharing the same devices for personal and work-related activities, they become an easy target for cybercriminals looking to compromise business information. Negligence, distraction, and lack of understanding of safe practices among home-based staff lead to a surge in insider threats.
You can address these emerging risks by implementing a comprehensive security policy. It should define a scope of permissible BYOD practices and mandate security controls such as VPN, strong passwords, and multi-factor authentication. Systematic security awareness training is another crucial strategy to advise your workforce about existing threats and help them reduce accidental or unintentional breaches.
4. Get workers more comfortable with digital tools.
Research confirms that COVID-19 has had a negligible impact on employee productivity. Even so, concerns about productivity drop prevail among managers faced with the abrupt transition to teleworking. One factor significantly impacts the efficiency of remote work — familiarity with digital tools.
There are several ways to facilitate the switch to enabling technologies for your remote teams:
- Inform employees about all the essential tools they need to work from home efficiently.
- Communicate best practices and the most common use cases.
- Highlight the benefits of each platform to encourage more frequent and consistent usage.
- Build a knowledge base to speed up onboarding and make it easier to find relevant information.
- Leverage user feedback to understand which solutions work best for your remote staff.
- Enable knowledge sharing among colleagues, not only to spur faster technology adoption but also to strengthen integration in distributed teams.
5. Build a framework to enhance communication skills.
Social distancing imposes a whole new way of working and communicating. It shifts the focus from on-site, face-to-face, instant communication to online-based and primarily asynchronous interactions. As business meetings, daily catch-ups, and regular appraisals have moved online, employees need to build on their communication skills, and you can support them in this endeavor.
First of all, ask your employees for their communication preferences and tailor available channels accordingly. For example, email can make more sense for independent roles that don’t involve day-to-day cooperation. On the other hand, managers who need to keep in touch with teams daily will benefit more from instant messenger apps and project management tools.
Secondly, set up communication policies that specify the available and preferred channels for formal and informal exchanges. The guidelines should also detail the cadence of communication and determine maximum response times for each channel. Finally, conduct online workshops to help your remote workforce grasp new tools and offer digital training in effective workplace communication.
The workplace has changed tremendously throughout the last few months, following the pandemic that compelled companies to adopt remote working. As many employees have gotten used to working from home regularly, telework has evolved from a temporary arrangement into a permanent work pattern. A more structured approach is needed to embrace efficient telework on a large scale, which will be a long and complicated process. Applying the above best practices is a recommended way to start.
Alexandra Goger is SharePoint and Office 365 Evangelist at Iflexion, a software development and IT consulting company headquartered in Denver. Sandra focuses on the SharePoint and Office 365 capabilities, challenges that companies face while adopting these platforms, as well as shares practical tips on how to improve SharePoint and Office 365 deployments and take maximum benefit out of them.