Remote Working How technology can help remote workers
Working from home has been becoming steadily more popular as advances in technology make it increasingly viable for employers and employees alike—and now it has been given a massive boost by the COVID-19 lockdown. Here, we look at the tools available to make this work/lifestyle a success.
Many businesses and workers are making the most of the COVID-19 lockdown by setting up a 'work from home' (WFH) environment. While some participants find the enforced isolation unpleasant and difficult to accept, others welcome the freedom from the daily commute, and the new flexibility of their working hours.
In any case, WFH is set to continue, quite probably with elevated popularity even after the world returns to normal; according to an Owl Labs survey, 83 percent of respondents agreed that working remotely would make them happier. However, for this emerging reality to function successfully, several factors must be managed carefully.
Cybersecurity and electrical power quality
First and foremost, cybersecurity must be maintained more strictly than ever. Office workers moving out from the safety of their normal environment, with its built-in security and contact with colleagues, are creating targets for cybercriminals. It's important that employers set up remote access with multi-factor authentication, and provide laptops to avoid the risks of employees using their own. Communication should only be through secure routers. Generally, office-based 'cyber hygiene' practices should be continued at home.
Electrical power quality, and possibly availability, needs consideration. A power failure, or even a voltage spike, could damage computer equipment or destroy data. Accordingly, commercial and industrial premises usually have large-scale uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) to block transients and provide battery backup. While home users will lack this protection, it's possible to buy much smaller home-based UPS devices that plug into a wall socket, sit under a desk, and provide sockets with battery backup and surge protection.
Scalable cloud solutions
Cloud-based networking has evolved to provide great flexibility and scalability, so external workers can be supported efficiently. Storage and applications can be rapidly scaled according to need, so cloud solutions become extremely cost-effective. Users are supported seamlessly across devices within or outside the office and can collaborate with file sharing.
Conferencing and communications
Audio and video conferencing are other key requirements for collaboration. Various tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and join.me are available; of these, Zoom appears to be particularly popular. The rapid growth that it has been enjoying for a while is now being accelerated by the Coronavirus-enforced home working spike. According to an article published in Protocol newsletter, Zoom is popular "because it just works." Users can drop into a conference simply by clicking a link, and the package works equally well on computers or mobiles. Screens can be shared easily, and sound/picture co-ordination is good.
Zoom also has ambitious ideas for the future, with plans for Zoom phone, text-chat, and integration with calendar apps, contact systems, sales trackers, education platforms, and others. A more distant, conceptual goal is to support multi-lingual conferences, with Zoom translating between users in real-time.
If a situation doesn't justify a conference session, then instant messaging tools are available for fast exchanges in real-time. Slack, for example, supports conversations in dedicated spaces called channels, allowing easy organization for projects, topics, or teams.
While home workers engage in collaborating, generating and sharing content, it's important to manage the work in progress, and plan for ongoing work and collaboration. Monday.com is a visual team management tool to support this. Users can select from a list of templates for their particular project or requirement, and assign tasks to team members in a visual and transparent process.
Members can then capture and view information about time, assigned team colleagues, locations, and other data. For planning projects and tracking progress, members can look at overviews or go into the details of calendars, charts, files, Kanban boards, maps, or timelines. Conversations, files, briefs, checklists, and spreadsheets can be stored in one place for easy discussion and review.
Remote worker wellbeing
While assembling all the tools for home working productivity and safety, the wellbeing of the workers themselves is also essential. This is recognized in packages like Welbot, which is a workplace wellness app for remote workers. This enterprise software package includes daily physical and mental health exercises, online resources, and signposting with real-time analytics and management reporting.
Clearly, there are a number of issues to be addressed to ensure that working from home is a safe, agreeable, and productive experience for both workers and employers. However, in the last decade or so, the tools have appeared to make this possible. Even without the COVID-19 impetus, the practice has received growing acceptance across the workplace.
Some employers can be reluctant to embrace the new dynamic because of concerns about reduced productivity without direct supervision. However, there's evidence to suggest otherwise; a survey by Airtasker of 1,004 employees—505 of whom worked remotely—indicated that remote workers are actually more productive than their office-based counterparts. The study showed, for example, that remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than in-office employees, equating to nearly 17 additional workdays a year.