We are now several months into the COVID-19 Pandemic. Borders are closed, public venues are shuttered, and people all over the world are being instructed to shelter in place. Businesses, meanwhile, are being forced to make the shift to a remote workforce, whether they want to or not.
To be fair, we knew that a telecommuting revolution was coming for quite some time. Thanks to the advances in networking technology, it's now easier than ever to stay connected to both colleagues and clients. Moreover, the portability of modern computing hardware and the availability of distributed cloud applications have together created greater worker empowerment than at any other point in modern history.
Unfortunately, the reality is that for many companies, remote work, particularly at the scale demanded by Coronavirus, is extremely challenging. For some, it may even verge on impossible. Even WordPress creator Automattic has found distributed work at such a scale to be difficult, as founder Matt Mullenweg acknowledged in a blog post earlier this month.
"[The situation is] not ideal on any level," he explained. "Even at a remote-friendly company like Automattic, we rely on in-person team meetups and conferences to strengthen our connections and get work done. For now, we’ve canceled all work-related travel."
Given that this pandemic isn't likely to go anywhere anytime soon, your business will need to deploy the necessary frameworks and policies to support remote staff. Because the alternative is to simply let everything grind to a halt. That's not really an option.
In our experience, one of the most significant challenges with telework involves a cultural shift. When you support a remote workforce, you by definition allow everyone a certain level of flexibility. You also provide staff with much greater accountability and freedom than they would have in an office.
What we're saying here is that micromanagers have no place in a distributed workforce, nor do traditional office hours. Outside of scheduling occasional meetings and touch-bases, you should allow your employees to work when, where, and how they choose. Offer them your trust, and hold them accountable for meeting their deadlines and fulfilling their responsibilities.
You might be surprised at how well they excel.
That said, distributed work is not for everyone. You're bound to have a few staff who find the isolation stifling, even harmful to their mental health. Make sure to foster enough of a sense of community that people can easily connect with and reach out to one another, whether via a videoconferencing platform like Zoom or a chat app like Slack.
As you might expect, remote work takes the idea of the traditional security perimeter and blows it out of the water. While there's still a place for firewalls, access controls, and network security, these measures on their own are no longer enough. If you're to enable remote employees in a way that keeps your data safe, you'll also need the following.
The world has already been forever changed by Coronavirus. Even once the pandemic dies down and the dust settles, telework will remain a fixture in many businesses, not just a competitive advantage but a baseline offering. While some staff will most definitely leap at the chance to return to the office and get back to business as usual, many others will continue working from home offices and other locales.
Don't fight it. Embrace it. You have everything to gain from a distributed workforce, including and especially access to talent which might otherwise be inaccessible in a more traditional workplace.