The new normal of remote working – five tips to make this new way of working sustainable

We are racing towards the end of the year, summer is coming and so too it seems maybe a vaccine that will help us put Covid-19 behind us once and for all.

But the huge shift to remote working the pandemic lockdowns and social distancing spurred all over the world isn’t reversing itself any time soon.

The dust has settled to some degree, so it’s worth looking at your company’s remote working set-up to make sure you are serving your staff, your customers and your company values well.

Here are five tips to make sure this new way of working is productive and sustainable for everyone concerned.

1. Focus on wellbeing

It’s been a tough year for everyone. The impacts of Covid-19 and the weeks of lockdown, health concerns and disrupted business and economic uncertainty have manifested themselves in a multitude of ways.

Many Kiwis have spent months working from home, juggling young kids in busy, distracting households without the tools and environment they are used to. Now is the time to be checking in on your people and finding out how they are coping with “the new normal”. What support do they need? What changes could be made to improve their wellbeing?

Could they do with some new equipment at home to make them comfortable and productive during the time they do spend working from home? Would noise cancelling headphone help them work? Is their sleep being disrupted by email alerts?

You may want to consider enforcing a policy of ‘phones turned off’ overnight or no ‘push’ alerts. Is more social time with the team needed to make sure people are still connecting on a personal level, work issues aside?

Burn out is a real risk. Your people are your business, help them start 2021 in the right headspace and with the right equipment to achieve their potential.

2. Re-visit your tech resourcing decisions

As you sent your staff home, you probably had the IT department calling tech partners to order new software licences and to scale up server and hosting capacity to make the transition to remote working as smooth as possible.

You may have spent over the odds in doing so due to an over-abundance of caution. That’s only natural, you were dealing with an unprecedented situation. Did you buy additional licences for applications that are now underutilised? Did you expand your bandwidth capacity with your networking provider to make sure there wouldn’t be a traffic bottleneck to your servers? As business returns to normal, you may be shelling out each month of capacity you aren’t using.

Those decisions need revisiting to make sure your investment in technology is appropriate to the new normal while giving your flexibility and headroom to scale up the next time we are plunged into crisis.

3. How well are you collaborating?

The biggest test we went through during the lockdowns was not how quickly we got devices out to staff or turned on new systems to meet surging online demand for services that suddenly became essential during the pandemic.

It was the nature in which we collaborated with and supported our colleagues during a stressful time. There is a lot of social science underpinning how teams collaborate together to achieve their goals. Much of that theory will need to be torn up based on what we experienced during the pandemic.

Now is the time to ask your staff: how did we work together well? What failed and how do we address it? How can we take the best from this experience and make it business as usual?

Your teams may have stayed productive during the lockdown, but if they can’t stand the sight of each other when they head back to the office, you have a serious problem. Enabling effective collaboration on an ongoing basis encompasses everything from the technical (can we get a wide-angle camera in the boardroom because half of the team is out of the frame) to the organisational (can we have fewer meetings and schedule them after 9.30 am so people can get the kids off to school).

Good collaboration leads to more effective organisations better positioned to achieve their goals.

4. Trust your people

My personal approach to people management is to trust people to get their job done and ensure they know how to ask for help when needed. I don’t have time to micro-manage! I’m also not a fan of implementing technology solutions to report on the time employees are “active” or logged onto their computers.

I’m more interested in outcomes. Drive accountability by clearly delegating tasks, explaining why they need to be done and being clear about the expected outputs.

That said, I do believe that technology has a place. The new Microsoft Productivity Score and Microsoft Workplace Analytics serve a useful purpose here. Neither are designed to identify individuals who are under-productive, or individuals working long hours, which is another problem.

Instead, they allow you to look at your organisation or teams and identify communication and collaboration practices, positive or negative.

With a bit of time for self-reflection, we can all learn from what we’ve been through in 2020 to enact the changes that will improve our wellbeing and productivity in the year ahead.

5. Do that security health check

Security experts have been hammering on about the fact that hacking attacks and attempts at data and identity spiked during the lockdowns. IT security indeed suffered as millions of people moved beyond the security of their company network and even switched to using home devices.

IT departments all over the country did well to achieve in the space of a week or two what would normally take a year. People took to using OneDrive and SharePoint from their dining room table for the first time and Teams and Zoom became our go-to collaboration tools. That’s great, but now is the time to ask yourself some fundamental questions: is our data secure? Are our devices and identities secure? Do our staff have the knowledge to keep themselves safe in the digital world?

It may not be the obvious things that catch you out. Take Microsoft Teams for instance. A large organisation is likely to have created dozens, if not hundreds of new Teams during lockdown to facilitate collaboration. Connected to those Teams are SharePoint sites and documents and Office 365 groups. Should everyone still have access to those Teams? Are you unwittingly sharing sensitive data externally?

Whatever the platform or application you are using, do a basic audit to see if you have the right governance in place to make sure your data is secure and remains accessible to those who need access to it.

Deptive is New Zealand’s digital workplace specialist helping companies bring together the applications, tools and data their people need to get their work done.

Get in touch with us to learn more about improving your remote working experience.

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