The last few weeks have been unprecedented in so many ways. From a business perspective the sudden transition to remote working has been a shock.

In today’s modern business environment almost all organisations support flexible and remote working to some extent. However, supporting members of staff the odd day when they need to wait in for that new washing machine is a long way from the current circumstance.

The reality of having no physical office cruelly exposes that supporting flexible working and being a “virtual” organisation are two very different things. Some organisations simply do not have the hardware to allow home working. Providing laptops rather than desktop PCs has been the norm over the last decade, but for many it remains the preserve of a privileged elite.

Equipment and systems

Whilst many employees have laptops they take to and from the office each day, some don’t have monitors, docking stations or the other peripherals that prevent them being hunched over their laptop when at home. On the day Incremental closed our offices, we simply allowed people to take their equipment home with them – there was no point in having all that equipment sitting unused in an empty office!

After hardware, the next challenge is the basic services you forget about that you have in the office. Most organisations still have fixed phone lines running into office buildings and, whilst some may have remote pickup capability, the transition to soft or virtual phones is not universal but thankfully it’s not difficult to get set up.

The other challenge that amazed me was the use of printers. Even within my organisation it turns out there are circumstances when we simply need to print. Here it is always possible to “print to pdf” and now, with many modern browsers, you can easily add your “digital” signature if needed.

The core of most businesses are the applications and data that supports the core business and here too there are challenges. Thankfully the transition to the cloud for many organisations is well underway meaning that employees can access systems and information wherever they are. Office productivity suites such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google G-Suite do not require any on-premise hardware and both offer a strong platform for collaboration for almost all organisations. For some organisations business priorities have meant that they are still largely on-premise but here there are many companies out there able to support such a transition rapidly and reliably (find out more).

Productivity

For me though technology is not the most significant issue. The biggest challenge is that most organisations are not set up to support remote working psychologically.

The first thing that will have gone through many managers minds was a deep concern about how remote working will affect productivity.  There are numerous studies that show that remote working can improve productivity in certain circumstances. Office distractions are removed, as is the pain of being stuck in traffic, but of course you replace office distractions with home ones.

At Incremental I do not worry about the productivity of our people when they are at home any more than I do when they are in the office. The adage that work is a thing you do rather than a place you go, is important to remember. If you really don’t trust your people to work without in-person supervision perhaps there are some bigger issues to address.

Psychological impact

Productivity doesn’t need to reduce when folks are working from home, but a prolonged period of extensive home working does require us to prepare and adjust psychologically for it.

It is important to remember that working in an office is a socially engaging activity. Those idle chats about the weekend or the latest Netflix show build a sense of community that is difficult to replicate virtually. Businesses must be proactive in reminding people to talk with their colleagues regularly. People must continue to take breaks throughout the day. Managers and leaders must remind their people to start and (more importantly) stop work at normal times. In the office, social norms mean that you often don’t need to say these things but when you don’t have an office you must be explicit.

Understand that a face-to-face chat is different from a video call, is different from an audio call, is different from an email or instant message. Humans have evolved to communicate best face-to-face where information is exchanged both verbally and non-verbally.

Do not underestimate the huge difference that seeing someone makes to the effectiveness of your communication, so wherever possible turn that webcam ON!

Remember also that the written word is notoriously poor in conveying sentiment. The rule though is simple, wherever possible push to the richest method communication you can.

Regular communication

Finally, remember the importance of regular communication. In these uncertain times when people are working from home it is easy for them to become isolated. It is critical that organisations communicate as often as possible – much more so than in normal times. As a leader, people often see me wandering about the office but when there is no office how do they know I’m there unless I make the effort to communicate to them?

In these uncertain times our priority must be on the wellbeing of our people. Every business can make better use of technology to improve their productivity and where you need that support, Incremental can help. However, all the technology in the world cannot alleviate the stress your people feel or improve their engagement levels. Only by staying connected with people can you make sure everyone is being cared for. As the late great Bob Hoskins said: it’s good to talk!

To find out more about how Incremental is helping our customers during this time, visit our business continuity hub.