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Working From Home – What We Learned: 2020 Year in Review

We are about 2 weeks into 2021 and we’re all reflecting on what a crazy year 2020 turned out to be. We sure learned and experienced a lot in the past year! One of the biggest shifts we all went through was the huge surge of businesses having their employees working from home.

It has gone by many names – telecommuting, telework, remote work, distributed work, virtual teams, and others – but the debate has long existed as to whether to allow employees to work from home or remote – even if just part of the time, on a regular basis.

Many companies avoided this, thinking the technology was too expensive or complicated to provide for distributed work. Many also fell back on the tired excuse of “we can’t manage people if we can’t see them all in the same place” but due to a pandemic that turned everyone’s world upside down the tipping point was reached and companies had no choice.

So now that so many businesses have spent the last 8 months working from home . . . what have we learned?

Failing to plan is planning to fail

For any critical business situation that might arise it is much better to have a solid, well thought out plan in place rather than scramble to make one up quickly. Last March when COVID-19 exploded we were there to help many of our clients make the transition to work from home.

Most of them already had some of their staff working remotely, from home, or at client sites on occasion so they already had technology in place to facilitate this. Tools like Microsoft 365 (for easy access to email from anywhere), VPNs for secure remote access to network servers and resources, or file syncing through Dropbox or OneDrive made it much easier for these companies to pivot quickly and work remotely.

The biggest challenge for most was to expand these resources to the rest of the company rather than the small groups of people that were working remotely before.

For companies, without IT support or who did not have these systems in place, it was more of an uphill battle to quickly get this technology and the required systems in place.

LESSON: For business continuity, it’s important to review what systems you have in place for remote access. In the event an office must close due to weather, structural damage, or as we learned, a pandemic – make sure business can continue as usual. It pays to be prepared!

We CAN be productive working apart

One reason many companies avoided remote work or allowing employees to work from home was the thought that we could not be productive working apart. Well, guess what? The world has pretty much proved that theory wrong!

Are there challenges? Of course. However, with the right plan and tools in place like MS Teams, Zoom, Dropbox, VPNs, etc. everyone can access the documents and files they need. Once the technology is in place then you need a plan for how to use these tools to best encourage communications, presence, and teamwork while apart.

LESSON: One of my main mantras regarding the technology side of virtual teamwork has always been “It’s not about technology – it’s the right technology thoughtfully applied”. Make sure you communicate about how you are going to communicate. Are there shared folders to hold project documents? Will you have weekly or daily Zoom or MS Teams meetings? Come up with a solid plan for how you will share resources, collaborate, and keep everyone on the same page.

Traditional phones DON’T support remote work

One thing became painfully obvious during the recent pandemic – traditional phone systems do NOT properly support remote work. Sure, you might be able to forward calls or extensions to cellphones, but this is a less than ideal situation.

With a cloud hosted VoIP phone solution your phones and remote offices are all interconnected as long as each phone has internet access.  Gone are the days when you need to have the phones in a central office with expensive outdated PBX equipment on the wall. A cloud-hosted solution has minimal up-front costs and provides total flexibility.

LESSON: A cloud hosted phone system makes it easy for your company to have team members work wherever they want or need. They simply take their phone anywhere they have internet access. A modern hosted phone system has features like auto-attendants, voicemail-to-email, virtual faxing, and smartphone apps that let you make and receive calls using your business phone system from your cell phone. This brings the power of your PBX to your mobile devices and allows you to work from anywhere.

The hybrid work model is the new normal

Much like many of the schools around the nation, it appears most businesses are embracing a hybrid work model that combines working from home with time in the office.  This means your team doesn’t work full time in the office, at home, or at any single location. To stay safe these days most of us work from home when we can. There are times, however, when small groups of employees may need to work at the office, from a client’s site, or a project site depending on the work being done.

Based on our experience this past year it appears many popular misconceptions about hybrid working may be ready for retirement.

The great thing is if your company has made the shift to distributed work and put the technology and procedures in place, it no longer matters where your people are working. Your teams will get accustomed to virtual collaboration and it will become the norm.  You will use the same tools to collaborate whether you are sitting a few feet away at your desks or you are across the globe!

LESSON: Once you embrace “The Anywhere Office” model of working it doesn’t matter who is working from where (or when). You find a way to get everyone on the same page. Want to make sure your company is prepared for distributed work? Perform what I call an ICC Workflow Audit. Look at what your organization needs to function through the lens of Information, Communications, and Collaboration. Make sure you have the proper tools and strategies in place to handle each of these essential areas of your business. Once they are addressed you and your team can work from anywhere.

Focus on deliverables – not eyeball management

One of the most difficult parts of the transition for managers of remote workers or virtual teams is the shift away from eyeball management (knowing someone is working because you see them working). It often takes adjustments to your metrics and management style in learning to gauge employee productivity by measurable goals and objectives. The more fully you embrace this philosophy, the greater the benefit you stand to derive from a flexible workplace.

In today’s digital workplace it is normally not necessary for everyone to work the same exact hours (9-5). Thanks to email, MS Teams, and other online forms of asynchronous collaboration your team can work when it’s convenient or optimal for them. This increased flexibility benefits the whole organization.

LESSON: The thinking that everyone must work the same hours is outdated. The bottom line is that projects get completed in a timely manner. Are your clients and customers getting what they need? Does everyone on the project have the information necessary to move forward? Are milestones being met? Those are some of the most important keys to successful teamwork.

 

Hindsight is 2020

Working from home is not ideal for everyone. Some companies, and people, adapt to this style of work more readily than others. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we have all needed to shift to working remotely. We were hoping to have returned to “normal” again by now but clearly, that will be some time coming . . . and what normal looks like moving forward remains to be seen.

Take advantage of this wake-up call! Smart businesses will improve by looking back at what we learned last year.

  • Review your technology to make sure your team can easily access important documents and collaborate regardless of their locations.
  • Evaluate your phone system . . . can it seamlessly support your business no matter where someone is working? If not consider a hosted cloud phone system as a critical business communication upgrade.
  • Finally, evaluate your company’s management style and consider new forms of communication and collaboration that not only support asynchronous work but also help build trust and company culture despite everyone not working in the same location.

By taking the steps to do this now you will ensure your company is flexible and prepared to adapt to any situation that might arise. That is TRUE business continuity!

 

Ready to take the next step?

Want to make sure your business can work from anywhere? Contact us today to schedule a free Zoom consult. Find out how we can help you improve your use of technology and your phone system.

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Phil Montero

Phil Montero