Crises bring opportunities, and by this I don't want to minimize the effect on society, or worse, justify it. COVID-19, not delving into the disease, but rather into the social effects on the community, has led society to adopt new ways of carrying out our activities and accelerated the need for remote working.
Working remotely isn't just an isolated trend that is happening right now. In order to attract different types of talent, such as people with obligations to be at home, many companies have shifted to a remote work set-up. Additionally, organizations have also considered the positive impact on the environment by reducing the need for commuting. However, the current situation makes this topic more relevant than ever.
In my personal opinion, I doubt that the effect of remote working will be completely reversed, even if we overcome the current crisis. Our perspective of ‘normal’ has now changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and this will force companies to adapt to a new reality.
I want to share some lessons learned from more than six years of providing technology consulting services remotely at ThoughtWorks, and more than 20 years of collective learning providing distributed services.
Organizations must look at developing remote working as a business capability, regardless of how widespread the practice may be on an individual or team level.
Some humans are able to play a musical instrument in extraordinary ways; at first the associated activities and routines require deliberate effort until the skill is developed. It is then when the melodies flow without much thought, which for the beginner may seem impossible while the expert may not even think about it.
Likewise, organizations that develop competencies can concentrate their efforts on more complex topics based on the skills they have acquired as an organization.
However, this is not a guide on how to develop a business capability; my intention is to bring up some remote working experiences that can make the adoption journey easier:
Encourage the organization's culture to adapt to a changing environment. Of course, this mode of communication brings changes and organizations must adapt to them. In the long run the mission and values of the company will remain the same so the challenge is to cultivate and promote them within the context of remote working.
Quick responses and a long-term vision. Although crises or emergencies can lead to immediate reactions, it does not mean that these actions and ways of working are sustainable over time. Adapting the vision of how the organization works will be necessary. The company must communicate the immediate actions and the plan or the desire to go beyond that, otherwise the collaborators may start to feel dissatisfied with the improvised way of working.
Take all individuals into account as part of the whole. Employees should know that they are supported by the organization, that they are not isolated, that there is a difference between being a “freelancer” who works from home and being a collaborator in an organization that works from home.
Create virtual rooms for group communication. Not only for official communications, but also places to generate discussion and spur active conversations between individuals and teams. Create space for debate and look for topics where people can present their ideas.
Generating face-to-face encounters regularly. Having the capacity to work remotely doesn't mean that you always have to do it, as nothing compares to talking to someone in person. The connections created in these types of meetings last over time, especially when the organization was not born to work remotely.
Trust teams and encourage autonomy. There is a belief that if people are not seen in the workplace then they are not working. At ThoughtWorks, we have seen that the level of autonomy increases when there is no direct supervision), as long as expectations are clear, the objectives defined, and the facilities established.
People are more burnt out by working remotely. Organizations must take into consideration that individuals work more when they are working from home; after a time of building the habit, distractions decrease and the time pls ability to focus on work is greater on the part of the individual. Topics such as stress or intellectual exhaustion (burn out) should be considered.
Remote from the beginning. When a new person joins the organization, they may not know how to work remotely. If you want new hires to acquire this capability, the organization must offer instructions, the standard tools and training during onboarding, as well as exposure to remote work environments from the beginning.
Choose official communication systems for your company, such as software tools for video calls, instant messaging, email, and more.
Accept that everyone can work remotely. Having the capability to work remotely means that every person or team in the organization can do it. Perhaps more importantly, it requires careful planning to provide the necessary infrastructure and supplies needed in the case of an emergency or crisis.
Provide employees with supplies and services to be able to work from home efficiently: headphones, speakers, cameras, microphones, laptops, monitors, high-speed internet, etc. Right now, we are seeing how even the provisioning of chairs and desks are necessary. Consider providing supplies to new employees in the form of work-from-home kits as part of onboarding, so they're set up from day 1. (at least high-quality headphones).
Safe networks and sign-up mechanisms. It is essential that companies have a formal plan (re: not improvised) and standards implemented for remote access to their servers, databases, applications, etc. NIST, for example, issued a guide in 2016 for companies on how to do it.
Install secure access software on all collaborators' computers to access the company’s internal network from day one, such as a VPN client, if the company has one.
Ensure access to service providers, not just to the employees.
Limits of recruitment are expanded. Companies will no longer be limited to hiring people who live in the same city.
Physical space. When a company begins to institutionalize remote working, physical space may not have to grow in the same proportion as before, which can result in significant cost savings.
Hours may change since many people will be able to optimize their commute time to the office and start their activities earlier or work later.
New contractors. Organizations will look for new suppliers to adapt remote spaces for their collaborators.