A woman working from home.

5 ways to stay operational during a health crisis

16 Mar 2020

Barry Fisher - Technical Director

Written by
Barry Fisher
Technical Director

The inspiration for this article came from a call with a client yesterday that was closely followed by another call. Both of which had COVID-19 (CV19) high on the agenda.

What really struck me was that when faced with a fundamental change to how a business needs to operate, things that might be obvious to me - as a long time flexible worker in the digital sector - might not be obvious at all to people in more traditional work environments.

So here are five things I think you could do now to help adjust quickly, to minimise the impact on your business' productivity.

A member of an IT team solving an issue.

1. Contact your IT team

Large organisations are likely to have an in-house IT team whereas for smaller businesses you may have an outsourced provider. Either way, give them a call and ask what they can do to help you prepare for remote working.

  • What systems do you need access to?
  • How many people are affected?
  • What are the alternatives?

If you need to access your company's network in order to work, you'll probably need a secure way to do this, such as a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or remote desktop solution.

If your business already provides online conferencing tools, it's worth asking how many licences they have as it's unlikely they will routinely have enough for high numbers of the workforce to work remotely and therefore they may need to buy extra.

A man on the phone.

2. Speak to key clients and suppliers

Just as you are making plans, so are your key clients and suppliers. So it makes sense that you speak to each other. At least then you can develop contingency plans that work cohesively.

Share ideas of ways you can continue to operate 'business as usual' where possible and agree to alternative arrangements for things like regular meetings that usually involve face-to-face contact.

A video conference call taking place on a laptop.

3. Implement stand-ups

In the digital sector, daily stand-ups are fairly standard practice, but when I mentioned them to someone in a different sector they weren't really sure what I was talking about.

Remote working is very common in the digital sector and, as a result, using alternative ways to build team connections and work collaboratively is something we're very familiar with. One such method is the daily stand-up.

Using your preferred platform (Skype, Zoom, MS Teams etc) you have a regular catch-up that takes the place of the kind of catch-ups that happen naturally in an office.

Each day, organise a time-limited and agreed upon time where as many team members can show up at the same time as possible. This can be at any time of the day, and will vary depending on your team and the nature of your work hours.

The key idea is not to go into the small details, but instead to get a high-level overview of what everyone is working on and where further smaller group conversations or one-to-ones need to happen that day. Each person takes it in turn to state the following:

  • What I worked on yesterday, and what were the successes and blockers.
  • What I am working on today.
  • Whether I need need anything from other team members.
  • Whether there is family or personal time I need to take today where I may not be available to the rest of the team.

For managers, this is also an opportunity to update the team on key milestones and priorities.

If you have teams that aren't used to working remotely, keeping communication channels open will be critical to helping people adjust and preventing isolation.

The great news is that there are lots of free platforms you can use for video conferencing so teams can be fairly autonomous in setting meetings up rather than waiting for large scale procurement exercises to take place. We've had great success using Slack and Zoom with our clients and internal team. We tend to use Slack for chat based communication and Zoom for when we need to use video conferencing and share sharing.

A Sean Bean meme which reads: 'Brace yourself; a spreadsheet is coming'.

4. Work smarter with tools that ease collaboration

How do you share documents and information with your colleagues?

Many businesses still rely on sharing vital information and documents like spreadsheets by email. However, if you use cloud or web-based services like G-Suite or Office365, you can collaborate with your colleagues more easily. Never again would you update a spreadsheet only to find a more recent version has been sent out and you were missed off the distribution list!

In all honesty, this is a sensible approach whether you're new to working from home or not. Version control is a common problem that can be eliminated through the use of collaborative systems.

A woman trying to work from home, but struggling due to her restless children running around.

5. Prepare to be flexible

Making significant changes to working habits, coupled with fast-changing advice from the government about things like school closures and social distancing, makes flexibility a watch-word!

Working hours -Could you allow teams to work alternative hours if your 'typical office hours' aren't practical because people have children or partners also at home.

Extra check-ins -People who live alone and rely on work for human interaction might need extra check-ins to keep them feeling connected.

Team configurations -Could you identify ways to reconfigure your teams to make remote working more effective?

🌟 Bonus tip for the future 🌟

Companies who are well prepared for large scale flexible and remote working through cloud and web-based services might find this is the start of a bigger shift in their working habits. Indeed they may never return to 'old habits'. This is certain to put them ahead of the curve and their competitors!

Conversely, if you are heavily reliant on systems only accessible at the office, you're almost certain to encounter limitations on how effective remote working will be for your business. Maybe now's the time to look at what you can change.

Of course, this is by no means an all-encompassing, exhaustive list and you may well have ideas of your own based on your own experiences. But hopefully, I've given you some food for thought and will, in some small way, help you weather the current CV19 storm which is developing hour to hour.

Barry Fisher - Director

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