Top 5 Work At Home Vulnerabilities
Over the coming weeks, as we learn more about the spread of the coronavirus in the US, as CEOs and business leaders, we may be forced to have more work at home employees than ever before. Working at home can present some challenges. Some companies who tried it have abandoned the model claiming it didn’t work. It works but you have to understand some of the vulnerabilities and you have to change the way you manage your employees.
In 2001, I founded and ran a totally virtual organization long before most other companies were doing it. We had 50 employees in 4 states working from home giving 110% every day. We built an infrastructure and software to support it because nothing existed at that time. Today, there are many tools to facilitate working from home and most organizations have some number of employees working remotely. But there are still many vulnerabilities. I encourage all CEO’s and business leaders to identify and think about your organizations work at home vulnerabilities and plan for them now in case you have the need to move to this work model. Here is a list of what I believe to be the top 5 to consider.
1. SECURITY and IT
You may have a few employees working at home on a given day but when you have the majority of your employees working from home for an extended period of time, it is a whole new ballgame. The infrastructure needed to support this may be more robust than what exists today. There will also be technical support issues as people have to learn new ways to access information and may not have access to some of the information they need. It is imperative that your IT department performs an assessment of your vulnerabilities, what additional capabilities and staff may be needed and put plans in place to facilitate a 100% virtual environment? Something as basic as providing a list of important telephone numbers may be overlooked. Assumptions are the enemy. Try to uncover the baseline information everyone needs on a day to day basis and make it available over a shared online resource. Look at the bandwidth you have for remote work. Look at the IT staff you have. Can they support all the connectivity questions and other issues that come with supporting remote employees?
Security concerns are of the utmost importance when you introduce so many remote connections. Hackers, viruses, and access to sensitive information is always a concern, but that concern becomes compounded with each additional remote connection. Should there be a standard work at home set up with certain virus software or firewall software? Will the company provide it to all employees? What will the cost be? What is the cost of not providing it?
There is a lot of fear that swirls around change. Are you equipped to keep your employees informed? How will you facilitate communication with a staff that is remote? There are a number of considerations around communication that need to be discussed and laid out in a communication plan. This is a key step in keeping everyone productive as fear is an enemy of productivity. Frequent, honest and clear communication is the best way to quell the fear.
Be mindful of how your employees communicate up, down and through the organization today. How much of it is face to face? How will you facilitate that? What processes and communication standards do you need to put in place to be sure nothing falls through the cracks? At a minimum, every meeting should have a note-taker and a set of minutes should be produced to record all discussions. This is as or even more true for informal groups of two or three as it is for a formal meeting.
3. GETTING THE WORK DONE
It will be challenging to get the work done when the people you are accustomed to working with are no longer sitting around you. Things that are done routinely will become a bigger chore with different and perhaps more steps. Employees may feel isolated or confused about how their duties need to change. Some may feel overwhelmed by the change alone. This is a time for managers to assess the goals and tasks in their department and how they will facilitate getting the work done with the least amount of disruption. This is the time for managers to take an objective look at each employee’s strengths and weaknesses. What will an employee need to thrive in a new and unknown environment? Hold discussions with employees to gauge their comfort working at home. Do they have a suitable environment? Or will they be sharing their space with a crying baby or a group of roommates?
4. HOW MANAGEMENT MUST CHANGE
A different level of management will be required to deal with a remote workforce. The tendency will be to overact and put more controls and safeguards in place. This will further upset an already uncomfortable workforce. Professionals don’t need to be controlled. They need clear expectations, support and they need to be allowed to do their jobs. How management reacts and treats employees during any disruption will be under the microscope. Companies have the chance to score a lot of points with their employees by how they handle this. Handled badly and your best employees will leave as soon as the crisis is over.
Managers must move to a supportive role. Their new job is to remove roadblocks and obstacles to productivity and to support the physical and emotional needs of their employees. They need to think leadership, not management. Some employees will handle the changes well. Others will need more hand-holding and managers need to provide it. This is not the time to have a sink or swim attitude. The result of a sink or swim mindset in this situation could sink a project or the department. If ever there was a time to reinforce the team concept and get everyone on board, this is it. Leaders should be asking themselves which teams are gelled and which teams are not. They should be taking a hard look at their staff, talking to them to see how they feel about everything and reinforcing that we as a company are all in this together.
5. LEVEL OF TRUST IN YOUR ORGANIZATION
Trust is key in any situation where we need to depend on each other for success, even survival. If your organization has an “every man for him/herself” mindset, it will implode under the tension and strain. This is a time to extend trust and bring people together with a common goal, a common cause. Senior-level leadership needs to assess the level of trust that exists all over the organization and immediately do what they can to build that trust. Trust can be built by saying what you are going to do and then doing what you say you will do. Honesty, transparency, and caring will go a long way toward building trust. Communication is key. What should you be saying to your employees right now? How can you share your plans with them around this so they know what is coming and that you have a plan to keep everyone safe and employed? Employees are worried about their safety and their ability to continue to earn a living. This is not the time to have a knee jerk reaction and slash jobs. It is a time for level heads and a plan that keeps everyone, customers, employees, stakeholders as safe and as whole as possible. None of us have ever been through this type of crisis in the U.S. Your employees will be looking for strong and wise leadership. This is a prime opportunity for senior leadership to regain loyalty and rebuild credibility. If your organization has an employee retention problem or an engagement problem, how you handle this situation, how much you demonstrate you care about your employees and not just the bottom line will have long-lasting effects in your organization. How do we keep people working and productive? What else can be cut to save jobs and keep the economy going? How can we hold the line until this crisis passes? What can you do today to take the lead?
We have created a webinar that dives deeper into each of these areas. We will be presenting it on Friday, March 13th at noon Eastern DST. This is a free informational webinar. We are not selling anything. No pitch of any kind will be made. We are offering a free summary sheet to anyone that attends. I’m offering this because I founded and ran a totally virtual organization beginning in 2001 and grew it to a multi 7 figure business with a virtual staff of 50 people in 4 states. We didn’t have the technology then, we had to build it. Today the tech is available but there are so many other things we encountered learning to do this and I would like to share what we learned to help companies bridge the disruption that may be caused by the coronavirus.
To Register For the Webinar Click this link. If you can’t attend, register to get the handout and replay.
Nancy O’Keefe, MBA, MS, is a Workplace Expert, Executive Coach, Keynote Speaker, Trainer, and Author of the Book Unlimited Talent: What Every CEO Needs to Know to Win the Workforce War. She works with CEOs and senior executives to create profitable and productive workplaces that attract, motivate and retain great people. She is a thought leader in strategy, management and cultivating talent. She can be found at https://nancyokeefeconsulting.com