When Temporary Becomes Permanent: Corporate Vision Extends to the Home office
In March, nearly two-thirds of Americans worked remotely due to the novel coronavirus. June has arrived with the country largely opening back up for business but seeing a different business landscape. Many questions emerge, with one of the most important should employees return to the physical office- at all? Is it worth the risk of infection to meet in the office when Zoom has worked so well? How will the open office plan, so popular for communication, fare in light of social distancing? Will handshakes go the way of the rotary phone? Employees are conscious of the prospect of carrying the virus back to their families; business owners are examining the expense of outfitting offices to appropriately accommodate the protection of employees while staying productive and avoiding liability. What about the fact that employees are enthusiastic about the perks of working from home, and may resist returning to the office? With all these things accounted for, many businesses are extending the work from home option as a longer-term or even permanent strategy for their workforce. Whatever the reason, there are considerations businesses should take if they are considering a long or longer-term work from home arrangement for their employees.
Companies can’t do business without focused attention on security. Communications and data privacy are significant considerations. In the hurry to accommodate employees working from home, connectivity was the focus- for instance, the use of VPNs to access the office and Zoom for meetings using employee’s personal computers. For longer-term work from home situations, consider investing in company-issued computers and monitors that are webcam enabled. This will ensure that there are singular configurations managed by IT staff who secure those endpoints and the ability to effectively use video to communicate. Home wifi connections must have a password; “free” wifi from coffee shops are an invitation to hackers and should not be used. Employees working from home tend to add additional stress on in-house IT groups. Managers should plan to have frequent, regularly check-ins with their IT team to monitor concerns and workload so that they are not overburdened. One major concern when employees use their personal machines is that they may not be staying up to date with the latest patches, running antivirus protection, or may have even inadvertently installed malware. Without regular management of these systems, organizations are open to a breach. Phishing is at an all-time high: employees should be trained in how to recognize phishing emails, vishing- (voice calls) and even text messages that prey on employees to divulge data that could lead to a breach.
Employees should be briefed on physical security; for instance, machines issued from the company should have strict employee-only use, complete with password-protected login with multifactor identification enabled, and doors should be locked. Invest in password managers to avoid vulnerabilities that could occur from a lost phone or notebook where passwords could be listed. Being at home does not mean relaxing security best practices. Other safe practices should be encouraged: locking the screen even if stepping away for a minute will minimize the risk of sensitive information like health or financial records or company privileged information being shared with family members. Employees should also be advised to save printed documents to dispose of once they return to the office or have them shredded at home to minimize the sharing of personally identifying information or private data.
Business leaders who lead with their charisma may find it difficult to translate that style remotely- it will take more work to connect with their team, but there are ways to it. Emphasize the mission and be transparent with the vision of the organization to keep focused on the big picture. Special attention to junior members of the team or recently onboarded employees through the use of more one-on-one video chats and phone calls can help. There is a risk for cross-team discussion to get lost. Regular all-staff meetings and smaller group meetings with agendas and with encouragement for open discussion are one way to encourage communication, and you can use the tools you already have: Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, etc. Birthday parties with cupcakes may no longer be in the break room, but celebrations of milestones can still happen with a bit of creativity! Monitor mental health; with the unexpected events of the last months, individuals are suffering. As an employer, you have the distinct honor to be able to assist them in seeking help and also lighten their workload as appropriate.
In some ways, one may think that operations costs will be minimized without everyone in the office. However, support for employees to work from home will introduce new costs and need to factor in any long-term planning. Many products such as Zoom, Teams, and SonicWall VPN licensing are currently free or offered initially at a reduced price to help companies cope with the transition to work from home, but at some point, they will go back to their normal fee structure. Companies who may already be financially stressed from the effects of the pandemic should take this into account, so they don’t have to scramble a few months from now to put infrastructure into place. There may be other smaller expenses: noise-canceling headphones, phone headsets, ergonomic chairs, and office supplies.
Home life balance
New data is showing that employees are working longer hours since COVID than when they work from the office. Encourage employees to have hard stop and start times to avoid burnout. It may be helpful for employees to have a designated work area in their home that they can close the door to, as well as giving them a physical change of scene.
Businesses are operating in a new landscape: and the view from the home set-up can be just fine with the proper preparation and maintenance.