Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, millions of people have suddenly had to relocate their office to their own homes. In normal times, around 8 million Americans work from home, but in just a few days, that number has multiplied, and then multiplied again.
People who have worked from home for years won't have any trouble continuing as the crisis bites. But what about people who have never set up a home office, grappled with security issues regarding home connections, or interacted with colleagues remotely? That's a whole new ball game.
Working from home can be hassle-free, productive, and safe. But it can also lead to serious security breaches, lost time, miscommunication and - in some cases - physical harm. So let's run through a few essential tips to guide workers as they adapt to this, hopefully, temporary phase in their careers.
Firstly, most people relocating their workspace will find that work competes with childcare and general domestic life. This makes it important to set aside a place in the home which is dedicated to work, and work alone.
Make sure everyone in the house is aware of your office space, and try to govern access. But don't expect to be without interruptions - at least while everyone gets used to being at home.
Managing time is equally important. You're not at work now, but it's still vital to create a schedule which includes daily work tasks, along with project milestones, check-ins with other team members, and breaks.
Print out a template, and place it in a visible location. It's a good prompt to help you stay focused on what needs doing. And don't be too harsh on yourself about adapting to the schedule. You'll get there in a few days, but settling in isn't easy, even in normal times.
There's no excuse for being out of touch with what others are doing. Thanks to apps like Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts/Meet, Skype, BlueJeans, or Cisco WebEx, teams can be connected at all times, and organize video meetings every day if required.
Find a tool which works for everyone, and delivers key features - such as number of users, or the ability to stream presentations. Don't be tempted by cheap apps which have recently come onto the market. Video conferencing can be highly insecure, so be cautious and stick to reputable providers.
It's a good idea to be available to colleagues as much as possible, while setting aside breaks and time to be with kids. And be ready to be there for colleagues with mental health issues. It's not easy self-isolating, and work colleagues can be a real comfort.
It's also vital to create shared systems which enable remote workers to collaborate effectively on their various projects. Otherwise, chaos can result, with duplicated work, confusion, and - in many cases - complete project failures.
Slack is one of the most popular apps right now, offering a mix of video conferencing, workflow management, connecting with Office 365 and Google Drive, along with file sharing facilities.
ProofHub is another good option. This time, it has a more technical project-oriented approach, assisting managers as they try to share tasks, set milestones, and stay in touch. Basecamp is also worth a look. It's pure interface is easy to digest, and features neat "to-do" lists and status updates.
Most come with free trial periods. So try a couple of trial packages, just to see whether they actually deliver what you need.
If you haven't been issued with one, creating an NSP should be one of the first things you do. NSPs are formal documents which set out best practices for workers to follow when working from home. And they aren't an optional extra.
A good NSP covers areas like mandatory virus checkers, the use of Virtual Private Networks, secure password practices, and what apps can be installed on work devices. It doesn't need to be long, but set aside half a day to write one for your team members. If necessary double check with in-person calls to ensure that the contents have been absorbed.
VPNs are commonly used by remote workers, and with good reason. If you don't already know, these tools create secure connections by encrypting traffic, routing it through global servers, and assigning a fresh IP address to data packets - rendering it much less vulnerable to hackers.
With huge quantities of sensitive data being beamed into and out of home workspaces, having a good VPN is a no-brainer. Pick one that's fast, has the strongest possible encryption, and offers excellent customer service.
In this age of viral anxiety, it's easy to forget the digital variety. However, that's not an option for remote workers. You can bet that malware infections will rise as opportunist attackers seek out vulnerabilities, leading to financial or data loss, and serious reputational damage.
Because of this, the final stage in ensuring safe remote working is to install a reliable anti-virus package, and to update it regularly. Use trials to find a good provider, but upgrade to the paid versions when possible. The level of protection they offer is much higher than free alternatives.
COVID-19 is disrupting the way we work, but it doesn't have to knock you out of your stride. With the right home working practices, you and your co-workers can make the best of the situation, and stay productive until normality resumes.