5 Things the COVID-19 Crisis Has Taught Businesses About Remote Working

Large and small businesses alike have struggled to weather the impact of the pandemic, but have learned important lessons in the process. Here, we examine steps that companies should be taking to ensure business continuity right now, and how they might become better prepared for future crises.

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has had an impact on every aspect of the economy. Millions of businesses have been forced to either change the way they operate, or go into a temporary period of ‘hibernation’.

Companies that already offered some level of flexible or remote working to staff would have been well placed to adjust. But for those to whom remote working was still an unfulfilled opportunity, the struggles to adapt to the whole business working from home – while maintaining good levels of output and service – represent a real challenge. Amy Robinson, senior brand development manager at telecommunications provider Esendex, tells CEO Today how businesses can improve their remote working practices.

Like most challenges, the best way for businesses to adapt and grow is to seek out the opportunity in the new environment. Even without the circumstances that surround us right now, flexible working is a key benefit for workers and offers businesses a way to grow sustainably and build the best teams; there’s really never been a better time to get your business remote-ready.

Whether yours was a business well prepared to go remote, or you hadn’t even started to consider it before now, here are some of the core areas of focus to ensure you get it right – now and into the future.

1. Invest in IT Infrastructure for Secure Protection

The IT infrastructure of your business has a huge influence over whether, and how, you’re able to go remote.

Security of data should be a primary consideration for any business allowing colleagues to work off-site. This means you’ll need to bring all IT security practices up to date, from the very basics of password management right through to the adaptation of security policies and the potential investment in accreditations such as Cyber Essentials or ISO27001.

At the most basic level, ask all of your colleagues at this time to maintain protection of their passwords and to change them frequently, using a range of capitals and special characters. At a deeper level, asking colleagues to only communicate and share documents via work email addresses or work chat rooms will facilitate further protection above and beyond that offered by free email services that they might use in their personal time.

It’s worth noting that the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has found evidence of cybercriminals exploiting COVID-19 online, with phishing attempts seen in several countries. Official bodies and organisations, including the UK Government, have also been impersonated. This led to the NCSC issuing guidance to help businesses manage the cybersecurity challenges of increased home working. The guidance is worth a read and covers everything from preparation to controlling access to corporate systems and helping staff to look after their devices.

At the most basic level, ask all of your colleagues at this time to maintain protection of their passwords and to change them frequently, using a range of capitals and special characters.

2. Develop Clear Communication Practices for Colleagues and Customers

Communication is so important to any business, and arguably never more so than during periods of uncertainty.

While the old adage suggests that ‘no news is good news’, the likelihood is that both colleagues and customers will feel the strain of periods of uncertainty like this one, and clear communication channels play an essential role in alleviating this strain.

On a colleague-to-colleague level, it’s important to invest – time and technology wise – into communication. A quick chat by the water cooler isn’t an option right now, so consider how best to get your message across in a way that makes sense for the content of the message and the people to whom it is expressed.

Some businesses, for example, may find value in company-wide video calls during which senior members of the team provide updates and invite questions. It’s worth noting that, though many video calling solutions offer a free option, for those businesses requiring larger numbers of attendees to their video calls, you may need to invest in paid subscriptions.

In addition, companies can use communication platforms such as SMS to keep employees in the loop with important updates, such as the Government’s daily briefing, or how long remote working may be required for.

On a customer level, it’s important here too that any uncertainty be alleviated; many companies have incorporated banners onto their websites, for example, which state whether or not they are still working at this time. Simply ignoring the current situation is not an option, so be transparent. It may be that a banner isn’t enough to communicate the message so additional channels are needed – text messages can also be used as reassurance to customers that your business is still trading as normal, with any additional updates such as new opening hours.

Given the shared experience we’re all having right now, it’s fair to say that we are even more aware than we might have been before that the people on the other end of our emails or web communications are just that – people. So give thought to the best channels for your customers as well as the tone and content of your messages.

3. Consider ‘Emergency Drills’ for Remote Working in Future

Some companies – and indeed entire countries – have struggled to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of remote working. But now that we have it, many are querying whether remote working will become much more commonplace in the post-COVID world.

With this in mind, it’s worth keeping on top of your company’s remote working practices by planning for ‘emergency drills’ 2-4 times per year. Much like a fire drill allows us to rehearse what we’d do in the case of a fire, emergency drills for remote working will allow you to act out a scenario where everyone in the office works off-site and, as such, highlight any flaws in your systems or processes that can be improved.

4. Create a Business Continuity Plan

While COVID-19 is the challenge facing us at present, it’s not unknown for businesses to face difficulties either on an individual or a global scale. It’s important to have a clear plan in place to ensure your business is well prepared for any eventuality.

Companies today face threats from a multitude of places, which is why it’s so important to have a well tested and detailed business continuity plan (BCP) in place  – even if you’re a sole trader or SME.

This plan should be an assessment of the most likely crises to impact your operations (and therefore cash flow), and what you should do to mitigate them. By taking the approach that it is not a matter of if, but when, and following these six steps to creating a business continuity plan, you’ll be in a much better position to handle the unexpected.

This plan should be an assessment of the most likely crises to impact your operations (and therefore cash flow), and what you should do to mitigate them.

5. Recognise the Benefits of Remote / Flexible Working Practices

The current situation isn’t ideal, for anyone. But it is affecting everyone. And the chances are that, as we get used to what is being widely referred to as “the new normal”, we’ll find that some of the processes and practices we put in place will benefit us beyond adapting to the current environment.

Remote and flexible working themselves are widely documented to be of benefit to staff and businesses alike, with those colleagues offered such working practices reportedly becoming happier and more productive.

Business owners have had to put their reservations about remote working aside in order to keep their staff safe, and some believe that COVID-19 will be responsible for a revolution in the way we work once this is over.

So while remote working has been thrust upon us ‘like it or not’ style, give recognition to the concept that it can benefit not just your workforce, but your business overall – not least through increased potential to operate further afield and to welcome colleagues who might not have otherwise been accessible to you. With remote working practices now in place, this could be the perfect time to make yours a remote-friendly business once all of this is over, too.

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