How to enable employees to work from home

Even though home-working has long been on the rise both globally and in the UK specifically, COVID-19 (aka the Coronavirus) has given it a substantial boost. Hopefully, the virus will be brought under control quickly but the sad fact is that, in an age of global travel, the current situation may well turn out to be a sign of what’s to come. This means that companies have to work out a short-term strategy for dealing with the current problem and a longer-term one for dealing with what the future might bring.

Short-term strategy

Now would be a good time to have all your employees double-check their personal details on your system, including their next of kin. Having correct addresses for your employees will enable you to keep tabs on who might be exposed to the virus as it spreads and hence who should keep out of the office even if they haven’t been diagnosed with it.

You will also need to take stock of who is currently able to work from home in a practical sense. In other words, who has appropriate home-office facilities (and a reasonable environment in which to get work done) and who can already do most, if not all, of their job remotely. Care workers won’t be able to avoid heading out to work but software developers and HR probably can.

Once this has been done, you can survey the rest of the employees about the barriers that stop them being able to work from home and see what can be done to remove them, starting with the low-hanging fruit.

In the context of the coronavirus outbreak, you might well need to consider “quick-and-dirty” workarounds like just forwarding work phones to personal mobiles rather than implementing a full-blown VOIP system. You might also want to think about what work could be suspended (or outsourced) if necessary.

Making sure employees have laptops they can take home, and make sure they take them home every evening in case they start coughing overnight and can’t risk coming in.

Longer-term strategy

Although home-working is not necessarily the idyll office-based workers may think it is, the Coronavirus outbreak has really highlighted the dangers of being totally reliant on employees being able to make it into the office. Similarly, the recent floods have highlighted the dangers of assuming that your office will always be available to them.

This means that companies should really be doing everything they can to be able to support home working even if they only use it in extreme circumstances.

In practical terms, this really means doing as much as possible via the internet in general and the cloud in particular. For smaller companies, shifting to public cloud platforms (such as Office 365, Azure and AWS) may be sufficient, although even the smallest companies are well-advised to undertake additional backups of their data (possibly to another cloud platform). Larger companies might wish to implement private clouds or use a hybrid-cloud strategy so that sensitive data is kept in a private cloud and everything else uses a public cloud.

Companies will also need to look at the health-and-safety implications of having people work from home and recognise that these are both physical and mental. Some people can find it a strain to work in isolation, but this can often be alleviated by facilitating communication, including voice communication, through digital channels.

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