Preparing for the new normal of working from home

March 10th, 2020

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With the coronavirus set to cause huge disruption over the coming weeks, Charlie Lyons, General Manager of Beyond London, outlines some top tips to help companies preparing to enter uncharted territory.

As the spread of COVID-19 becomes an increasing threat to our public health, businesses are now having to confront new challenges of enabling a remote workforce, and operating their business in fundamentally different ways. This is a stark change for many organisations. In many cases, this means fast-tracking solutions which may not have been fully thought through. 

Over the last three years, Beyond has pioneered agile working practices in its London, New York and San Francisco offices in an effort to create an environment where people can work effectively wherever they are. These practices have developed into the Beyond Flexibility framework. The framework was devised as part of our commitment to DE&I to ensure that we create a working environment that can accommodate a range of diverse needs - without impacting on the quality of work we do for our clients. 

Obviously we hadn’t specifically planned for these practices to come in useful in the event of a pandemic. However, it does mean that we’ve road-tested a number of approaches and are ahead of many when it comes to avoiding major disruption. 

We’ve talked about these initiatives at many industry events and in the industry press. It’s always been part of our plan to share our learnings so that other agencies and businesses we work with can learn from what we’ve been doing. 

As we face up to the disruption caused by the coronavirus, this effort seems more important than ever. So, we wanted to share some of our top tips from the last three years to help you prepare. 

1) Make sure you have good tech

Working from home relies on having the technical infrastructure in place to deliver it. We’ve all been on frustrating conference calls when we could only hear every other word. If people are going to be working from home you need to commit to a good video conferencing system - seeing someone helps to create the feeling that they are more present in the room. Similarly, it’s important that files can be accessed easily from remote locations. Getting this right removes major pain points.

We use the Google Suite. This means that all documents are stored securely on Google Drive and colleagues can communicate seamlessly through Gmail wherever they are. This also means that when working remotely, employees don’t have to worry about logging into VPNs or similar. And of course, colleagues can still work collaboratively on shared decks and documents wherever they are. 

Another issue to be aware of is that not everyone has high spec tech in their homes. Sending teams home with a laptop is one thing but it’s worth considering what additional equipment you have available to help them do their jobs without disruption. In the case of designers and engineers, for example, this means ensuring that they have access to large screens which they can take home.

2) Keeping in touch

We’ve found that Slack is a very effective communication channel when people are working from home as it’s a less formal channel than email and allows people to quickly inform their teams if they are likely to be unavailable for a length of time. It’s also a quick communication method to exchange short nuggets of need-to-know information quickly and effectively. Where possible, we also encourage our clients to join collaborative Slack groups to help with speed and efficiency when co-location isn’t possible. 

3) Security is still key

At Beyond we’re very proud of our security accreditations, as they mean we can work with some of the world’s top organisations. As a company, we’ve implemented several measures to try to reduce risk/disruption to a minimum. 

We catalogued our hardware allocation, allowed employees to take screens home and increased the number of test devices. From a security perspective, amongst others, we ensured that our engineers are preemptively set up in our VPNs, enforced 2 factor-authentication whenever possible and stress-tested our infrastructure.

On the flip side, there is always the human component we cannot control. As such, we encourage employees to remember that they are responsible for ensuring that the company’s information is kept secure. Be wary of your surroundings. If you need to work from a place that other people can access, make sure you install a privacy screen or that, at least, you have a wall behind you. If you have to take a video/phone call, be mindful of the potential confidentiality of what is being discussed. Refrain from connecting to public wifis, as these may be compromised. If you do have to connect to a public wifi, immediately log in to your VPN before doing any work, so that your connection is encrypted.

4) Focus on wellbeing

Spending a long time away from colleagues can be difficult from a wellbeing perspective. It’s important that your HR and leadership teams are on hand to keep morale up via regular virtual meetups, group messages or updates. For example, remote workers always dial in to our Friday afternoon company meetings which are a celebration of the week. Holding on to some of these key town hall moments even when remote maintains the culture from afar. Light-hearted group Slack channels can also help to alleviate tension and make teams feel more connected even when they’re remote from each other.

5) Trust

And finally, working from home only works within an atmosphere of trust. Employers have to trust employees to take care of key priorities. Equally, employees need to trust us not to be constantly checking up on them. This sounds simple in theory but many companies struggle to put this into practice. Coronavirus is forcing employers to accept this principle - which may ultimately change the way many companies think about the concept of working from home.  

We know a lot of you out there will be coming to terms with what this means from a business perspective - and maybe even going remote for the first time. We’ve road tested many different approaches and know that it can be quite daunting. We’d be more than happy to talk to anyone that needs help implementing any of these measures. If you’d like to chat, please feel free to get in touch.