For us, remote working was potentially better than being in the office, since security, service, collaboration and productivity remained high. But then as an organisation that supports its clients to enable the modern workplace, you would hope that we are able to ‘practice what we preach’.
While we are experts in the technologies that are central to remote working and a truly modern workplace, I wanted to share a bit more about all the other lessons learnt on mobile-first as a strategy.
Ahead of the UK going into lockdown, Atech wanted to be certain that it would maintain business-as-usual if/when all staff were made to work from home, as some aspects outside of the scope of our infrastructure and operations could only be tested live. So a week before lockdown began, we cleared desks to work from home.
These are unprecedented times: The CEO of Cisco reported that in the first 11 days of March, the company facilitated 5.5 billion minutes of meetings through its conferencing platform Webex.
- The UK’s mobile networks were struggling to maintain their services with some customers unable to connect to service providers, and vice versa.
- Microsoft Teams, suffered downtime and outages as remote workers logged on in their masses.
- Not a single video conferencing tool has been spared from headlines, and screen shots of calls flood social media timelines. We know, you’ve all been on a Zoom call in the past two months.
- Outside of work, our entertainment was not immune. Even streaming service Netflix was asked by the EU to switch its service from high definition to standard to reduce the strain on the Internet.
At Atech we have the IT infrastructure already in place to support our team in maintaining business-as-usual when working from home, so largely, the results of our test were as imagined. But we also experienced several unexpected benefits – powerful ‘lessons learned’ that we can highlight to clients who are thinking about undertaking a digital transformation to enable their modern workplace.
Here we share some of these with you:
Maintain a remote working routine
Our industry is relatively familiar with working remotely.
However, some feel that ‘working from home’ is an excuse to not work, instead choosing to get on with things you’d never dream of doing while sat in the office. So, it’s worth establishing remote working hygiene and etiquette where these are not already present.
When communicating the remote working test to the business, we stressed the importance of turning up to work as usual, ensuring they took regular screen breaks and a lunch hour, as well as finishing work on time.
Then on the day, to set the right tone for our ‘new normal’, we still conducted the daily standup, only this time it was via video conferencing. Everyone was aware of what everyone else was doing and had the opportunity to flag up areas where they might need help.
In terms of employee wellbeing, the whole team seemed in good spirits as if it was just another day in the office, and we made it clear who they needed to contact if they were to encounter any issues throughout the day with their equipment, accessing systems or authentication. They never felt like they were on their own.
Rethinking remote working communication to stay connected
Evaluating what had happened throughout the day, it was interesting to hear that the biggest impact was to the micro communications that you perhaps don’t even realise are going on.
“Because people are not physically within sight, you don’t know who’s available, or when they’re back from lunch. The office reminders we’d normally use were not available, you can’t just pop your head up and check if a colleague is by their desk.”
For this reason, the team became more aware of the need to keep a closer eye on incoming communications, like messages, email and tickets, to ensure they were responded to in a timely manner.
In addition, the team shifted the way it normally communicated, so rather than looking around or listening for cues, they had to write this information down so we knew when our colleagues were at their desk and available to talk. Everyone started posting more detailed statuses on Teams, for example: ‘Having lunch, back at 1.15pm’ or ‘on a call, can chat’
Creating mobile first environment to thrive
While some people may feel that working from home frees them up to do other non-work related activities, others feel equally distracted in the office – the constant background noise, people wanting a ‘quick chat’, ringing phones interrupting your train of thought, air con / heating wars…
Working remotely highlighted just how different everyone is and the importance of creating a working environment that plays to the ways in which they prefer to work and are most productive.
Most organisations have performed some sort of group exercise, such as Myers-Briggs or colours, to identify their teams’ personalities. With the modern workplace, we need to reflect these traits within the environments we work in. For example:
- Creative people will probably thrive when working remotely as they can work in different spaces, indoors and outdoors, perhaps altering their core hours so they work when they feel most mentally active.
- Entrepreneurs need a more active space. Working remotely this could involve regular check-ins online, from morning standups to discuss priorities, an afternoon brainstorming session or virtual coffee breaks with other members of the team.
- More technically minded ‘architects’ need to ensure they have dedicated space for deep work, shutting down all communication and notifications, but then make themselves available to other team members at specific times during the day.
In this new normal, where remote working sits right at the heart of how we now operate, the emphasis is on how people, process and technology all work together for the greater good.
- People: there will be a cultural shift in HOW we do things that needs to be embraced, but WHAT we’re doing and WHY remains constant.
- Process: we need to enable people to get on with their job and provide opportunities for them to collaborate.
- Technology: this needs to underpin the way we work, providing that seamless, connected experience between office-based and home-based working.
Embracing remote working and staying productive
After being forced into this new mode of working, we took the time to connect and talk about how we were finding it, and as the weeks wore on, we started to think differently. Working on various projects and business-as-usual with our clients and the advantage of a completely new point of view, I started to reflect on whether I actually ever wanted to go back to how things were before.
Being on the move for most of the time, going from one off-site meeting to another, I found myself having more productive time, and more time to focus. I also enjoyed the work life balance, and while currently, building works may make me hark back to the office, I am achieving a more balanced approach to my working day, which starts early in the morning after my allotted hour of outdoor exercise, with more time throughout the day to spend with my wife.
Many of our clients have pivoted, and so have we. However while our objectives remain the same, it’s the opportunities presented to us, and the resources we have access to have changed, as have the modes of working and the ways in which we must achieve business objectives. It takes a great deal of creativity and fortitude to rise to these challenges, and it is a momentous task that cannot be done alone, even though we may be in isolation. The most satisfying projects to work on have been those where we have not only been able to save our clients £50,000 of ongoing IT costs per month, but also put roadmaps in place which mean that when the business goes back to normal, there is absolute clarity on what they need to do on their IT strategy.
As the saying goes right now, ‘we’re in this together.’
New remote working modes
Back to what happened to our all-remote test. After stress testing our business, the consensus was that there are no drawbacks to remote working and it will continue to be the way Atech operates for the foreseeable future. Once the initial novelty (or teething pain) wears off, and working from home becomes an everyday reality, it’s important that your business is set up for success, with a mature security posture at the heart of it.
Remote working isn’t new, but almost overnight, it has become ingrained in the way businesses now operate. At the moment, different companies will have different maturity levels around remote working. And of course, there will be times when it’s simply not feasible – within our own business we send our engineers to customer sites as part of our services, which they’re now unable to do.
Taking the time now to properly plan will set your people, processes and technology up to enable you to maintain business-as-usual in the coming weeks/months, and will stand you in good stead when the current uncertainty has passed.
Here’s your checklist on what to think about:
- What is within your control to change. Communicate this clearly across the business to help manage stress and anxiety within your team.
- Encourage your team to start and end their day as if they were in the office. Dressing for work and having a walk around the block before sitting at the computer puts you in the right mindset. By creating transition periods and routines, your working day will be more alike the one you were used to.
- Creating a dedicated workspace at home helps to boost productivity. Some employees may already have a home office, but a spare bedroom or even a quiet corner of the lounge works just as well. The key is to make the distinction between home and work.
- Scheduling time. Parents in particular are facing a challenging time ahead balancing work and home schooling. Mapping availability helps to plan resource and sets expectations.
- Regular screen breaks and a lunch break are vitally important to maintaining good health and wellbeing.
- Switching off at the end of the day. Employees may be used to logging in during the evening but as a remote worker it’s important to turn off completely and separate work life and home life to maintain your sanity.
- Plan social time during the day. The quick chats while you wait for the kettle to boil are now gone so encourage your team to schedule virtual coffee breaks so you don’t lose the social ties that are so important to company culture.
- Exercise is good for the body and brain so check that your team is leaving the house everyday – even a brisk 30-minute walk has proven positive effects on our health and wellbeing.
- Check-in with people. While some individuals will thrive working in a remote environment, others will struggle so make the time to talk.
- Learning and planning. It’s likely that workloads are going to dip during this period, so use the time wisely to put in plans for the rest of the year and upskill your team so you emerge in a stronger position.
- Last but not least, be security aware. Keep on top of your security training, be mindful of what you share and how. If you see anything suspicious, report it to your infosec and/or IT team. By putting security at the heart of your remote working model, you are protecting your business and ensuring that you bounce back stronger.
Make the time now to think about how you can come back stronger – what does your new modern workplace look like? How can your technology investment go further? Could your IT budget be optimised?
If you have any questions about how to optimise your remote collaboration, your security or your budget, our team is here and ready to listen and help. Please call 020 3757 7500 or contact us.