The COVID-19 crisis has left a trail of economic destruction in its wake, with few businesses anywhere remaining unaffected. Many, it seems clear, will not survive. For those that do, it is likely that those will have adapted to a business model which allows employees to work remotely from home.
With a bit of luck there will be no repetition of this kind of crisis within any of our lifetimes. All the same, if there was it would be reassuring to think that we would be more prepared next time, having learned from our experiences during this devastating pandemic.
Having adopted a home working strategy in a hurry out of necessity, hopefully if another emergency were to arise it would be easier to pull it off second time around.
1] Identifying the changes needed to become more adaptable
Converting your business operation to one that can be managed remotely from home requires an audit first of the functions which the company undertakes, and then of the tools needed in order to perform them. Priority should always be given to effectiveness, safety and security.
More often than not the biggest challenge will be in adapting your IT systems to allow for remote operation. In some cases this will present more logistical difficulties than in others.
Here are a few of the more basic requirements.
2] A connection to the internet
It may seem something of a no-brainer but a devolved IT operation is unlikely to get very far without an internet connection.
But this needs to be secure, and also fast and efficient enough to be able to cope with the demands of a dynamic business operation. An ability to host online computer games or YouTube videos may not be sufficient.
Increasingly businesses are investing in cost-effective 4G networks which can be adapted for routers based in a variety of locations. This technology is soon to be upgraded to 5G. These routers can house multiple SIMs, enabling business-level connectivity even when operated using a simple domestic set-up.
This can be achieved without having to call upon a great deal of technical expertise, and an intimate knowledge of network security on the part of the person operating the system from home is not required. In practical terms it is not dissimilar from managing and setting up a wired connection at the office.
3] The means to communicate
One obvious disadvantage with home working is an ability to communicate directly with work colleagues, whose advice and co-operation may be necessary in order to enable your work to be performed effectively.
What is usually needed to overcome this difficulty is a remote application through which employees based at separate locations can communicate with one another.
Slack, Skype, Zoom and a number of other services provide on-screen communication or virtual meeting rooms through which office-based interaction can be faithfully replicated. It is possible to configure these applications to enable separate, and if needs be private conversations to be held between different people and groups of people.
Apart from providing a viable alternative to personal contact, using a tool of this kind helps to avoid employees working alone from home feeling disengaged or detached from the everyday work of the business.
Studies show that retaining contact with colleagues during periods of physical isolation can improve productivity by up to 10%, which in business can make the difference between success and failure.
4] Cloud-based customer relationship management
Having an efficient CRM system enables you access all your data upon demand, and to manage every interaction with every customer or lead.
When this is cloud-based it removes the need for remote or actual storage, and makes your information available to anybody who might need it from any location.
And this is more than just a matter of convenience. Research suggests that customer conversions can be expected to increase by as much as 300% when a smooth cloud-based system is used rather than a cumbersome mix of alternative applications.
This in turn leads to improved customer satisfaction because a more streamlined service tends to be more efficient and effective in its delivery.
5] Remote access to a central system
Whilst sometimes individual home computers can be configured to operate using work systems, it is seldom more practical then being able to use your own desktop to gain entry to your familiar workplace applications.
Using a remote desktop service enables the employee to access company systems from any machine with a suitable internet connection, and as this is a remote operation there are of course no security issues to have to be mindful of.
Also, as more and more businesses start to use SD WAN systems that allow for virtual ‘hands on’ access to all devices on a network – central systems can also interact with otherwise remote devices.
6] Interacting with contractors, service providers and other third parties
Many of those who are involved with your company operation may of course not operate from your premises to begin with.
Contractors, MSPs, IT support, freelancers, legal services and a whole host of other entities which your business relies upon will probably be located elsewhere already, whether it be from their own company offices or, in the case of smaller operations, at the homes of individual providers.
Presumably you will have arrangements in place already for communicating, networking and conferencing with these important contacts.
What’s more, being able to operate remotely enables you to call upon the talents of service providers the whole world over, rather than being constrained by proximity.
These days it is commonplace for businesses to subcontract service provision or sometimes even whole departments to entirely separate organisations operating in far-off jurisdictions.
This can have financial as well as practical benefits. Really, having your own employees working from their own homes is fairly much on the same principle, other than possibly differences in the level of oversight that are required.
Working with remote teams has the potential to unlock an almost limitless amount of technical knowledge and expertise. It also creates new possibilities when it comes to hours of work, ensuring that your operation is supported around the clock and in accordance with your precise requirements.
Plus of course, when crisis calls you begin one step ahead.