Points of View

Organizations must learn how to work in this new paradigm of enforced home- working fast, or sink even faster

Mar 23, 2020 Cyrus Semmence

The jury is out on whether home-working is more productive than office-working. There are studies for and against, and others that are inconclusive. However, that doesn’t matter anymore; due to the COVID-19 restrictions, it’s happening now. Managers must make it work for them or risk reduced productivity or, at worst, business collapse. Some will be ahead of the game already due to having a distributed workforce and knowing that if you want the best people, you often have to go further afield than your local network to find them. These companies will have the tools and processes in place to manage a distributed workforce. Right now, though, many organizations still mandating office working for certain roles. The problem is how to turn these roles into remote ones.



Exhibit 1: Either people are working from home a lot or very little. The middle ground needs to improve so you can call your workforce truly mobile.




Source: Gallup


The US Census Bureau estimates that in 2018, employees who worked at home out-earned those who walked, drove, carpooled, or took public transportation to get to work, mainly due to the type of work that can be done remotely.


If you are not used to it, working from home can be a lonely affair – enterprises must adopt the right approach


In addition to any daily Agile Scrum team stand-up calls, consider holding regular all-team or department calls so that you can provide updates and staff can have their say. It’s easy to let these things slip, but if you do, it will be to your detriment. Keeping connected helps to keep morale higher.


The British Army puts a lot of emphasis on personal admin (boots polished and face clean-shaven, for example). There are two reasons for this: firstly, to maintain discipline, and secondly, and in this case, more importantly, to keep a check on morale. When soldiers start to let their personal admin slip, it’s usually a sign of an underlying morale issue. It’s the same with your workforce. Maintain regular visual contact to make sure staff are reasonably presented and to check for changes in mannerisms. It sounds silly, but these visual indicators could be a sign of not adjusting to the isolation of working from home and being away from the team. Reduced productivity can also be another indicator of problems because of home working.


Having the right technology in place is key – but we’re already hearing of ill-prepared businesses struggling to bring in essential IT equipment


Foremost, a decent internet connection is required. Thankfully, most urban dwellers have access to this, but it’s not always the case; check to make sure staff can connect remotely to either your office network or to cloud applications. If you are still running file servers within your office network, you might run into problems. If your RAS (remote access solution) won’t scale quickly to meet the new demands you place on it, then it’s time to purchase cloud storage and migrate your data.


Collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams allow video conferencing, instant messaging, and screen sharing so your workforce can collaborate easily. However, a backup like Zoom is advisable; it was recently in the news that the rush to implement Teams led to a crash, albeit brief.


Enterprises everywhere are grappling with how they can use existing cloud services and stand up fresh ones to support remote working – with many providers more than equipped to support enterprises -  most of which are assessed in our recent Cloud Services Report.


Hardware is also a concern - we are getting reports from the US of laptop shortages and queues at FedEx offices as organizations desperately try to get new kit delivered or existing kit sent to isolated staff. This problem is going to be the hardest to fix in the short term. The surge in demand for laptops combined with the disruption to the manufacturing supply chain caused by COVID-19 is going to be a problem if staff don’t already have a laptop.


Tracking work is crucial – decentralized teams from the tech giants have driven approaches and technology stacks that every enterprise should consider


It becomes much harder to keep track of tasks and projects if you can’t see what people are doing. Scrum or Kanban boards come into their own here. Traditionally just used for IT development projects, they are now breaking out into the mainstream with business teams using this very simple concept to track task progress and burn-down rates (how fast work is completed or not). Jira by Atlassian is probably the leader for Scrum and Kanban boards, especially because you can customize the workflow to suit your specific requirements, but there are many tools to choose from, depending on your requirements.


Enterprises must shift their approach to management – and shift away from office culture to survive


Once you have your data accessible, the next task is to figure out how to manage your workforce. Keep meetings small, regular, and concise. Agile working practices are going to be key. There is plenty of material online about Agile management, so I won’t repeat it here. If you are working across time zones, time meetings so as many people can join as possible, or group teams into similar time zones (some restructuring might be necessary). Feed issues to managers who can then get in synch rather than expecting your whole workforce to start attending regular meetings during anti-social hours, which would be a sure way to erode morale.


A 2017 study by Princeton University economics professor Alexandre Mas and Harvard economics professor Amanda Pallais found job applicants were willing to accept 8% less pay for the option to work from home.


The Bottom Line: Be ready for the next disaster, or be prepared to be shocked


Simply put, the safest place for your data is on the cloud; get it there. It’s accessible from all locations and isn’t dependent on localized RAS solutions or going to the office to access it. Have a remote working plan in place and regularly let workers work from home and practice using the tools and methods you have put in place. With this practice, if you must work from home for an extended period, everyone is familiar with what they must do. You will find that putting Agile working practices in place, whether remotely or in the office, can improve productivity. Agile methodology is not just for IT. The recent circumstances caused by the COVID-19 virus have proved many businesses are woefully unprepared for the unexpected—it is time to make sure you have the resources and contingencies in place to release staff to work from home en masse, with limited business impact, when the next shock hits the system.