Working from Home: The New Era of Virtual Working for Employers and Employees

  • 27 Mar 2020
  • Catherine

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  Unfortunately, new tricks need to be learnt in order to adapt and move forward from the COVID-19 crisis. One learning we will surely take from this is that a lot of the ‘necessities’ we need to live are not essential, and we can learn to live with a lot less than we have become accustomed to.

As most countries are at a state of national emergency, many organizations are now putting measures in place to enable staff as far as possible to work from home unless they are a key worker required to travel to work (for example healthcare staff on the frontline, delivery drivers and shop workers). For some organizations, they will already have homeworking measures in place but for others, it is an entirely new concept. These measures need to be designed based on both departmental and organizational Business Impact Analyses (BIAs) and Business Continuity Plans (BCPs) coupled with regular horizon scanning and checks to ensure the plans remain fit for purpose given the new and fast flowing sea of data that needs to be corroborated, analysed and absorbed.

There are ways for both employers and employees to optimize the working from home experience and the measures that need to be implemented at this time. The three key areas are cybersecurity, communications and health & wellbeing.

 

Cybersecurity

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has issued new working from home guidance as more organizations are implementing working from home arrangements: https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/home-working. One of the key recommendations is providing ‘how to guides’, especially for those who do not usually work from home or are using online collaboration tools for the first time. Whilst most organizations will have previously done this to some degree, the need is now greater than ever to ensure staff are able to continue their critical activities which have been identified in the departments and organizations’ BIAs. The effectiveness of the measures can be discussed at Management Team meetings which need to take place regularly to monitor the changing situation. 

The NCSC  have also designed an e-learning package for those working remotely and who could be at a higher risk to cyber threats such as phishing emails.

Some organizations are finding they have limited resources (both IT staff and IT equipment) to roll out the necessary equipment to set up staff to work from home.  To get around this in the first instance, many organizations are encouraging staff to use their own equipment. The NCSC also have guidance called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) so staff using their own equipment can ensure they are “cyber safe”.

 

Communication

Daily and weekly communications are crucial for the continued successful running of the organization in the current environment. With a reduced resource environment, maintaining the confidence of staff and external stakeholders (such as key suppliers and customers) is vital. Coming from a background in emergency planning, even if no further update can be given, it is important to let staff and/or external contacts know this.  Reassurance is key in these new times we are all working through.

As well as key organizational communications updates, social communication is important. For many people, the workplace is a vital social outlet, particularly if they live alone.  Social communications also act as an effective means of both maintaining and building resilience.

 

Health and Wellbeing

First and foremost, maintaining regular contact with family and friends and ensuring no-one is left isolated during this crisis is vital.

It is important that the work environment you will be setting up is comfortable and invest where necessary.  You may be able to arrange the purchase of equipment for this purpose (within reason) from your workplace, so this is worth pursuing.  Unfortunately, with new regulations that have been enforced due to the COVID-19 crisis, many countries are in lock down making it increasingly difficult to look after physical and mental wellbeing. If so, there are many YouTube workout and meditation videos available to both adults and children if peace is welcomed into the home with schools closing.  Many staff are finding pre-work or lunchtime walks help with their mental wellbeing.

Scheduling meetings and activities allows structure in the work day which is also key for many workers to regain control in these times in an environment which is difficult to control.

Lastly, healthy eating is something which many people are now being able to take advantage of given they have more time to cook and prepare food. Whilst some of the impact of this can have negative implications – the price of orange juice has risen by 20% in the UK (Link) – now is an excellent time to explore healthy menu options which will not just increase physical health, but mental health alike. Motivation tips can be sent each week to support staff (such as newsletters) as well as any new guidance issued.

With national emergencies declared in multiple geographies, organizations are increasingly finding themselves in new and uncertain times, with many unprepared. With a high percentage of the workforce now working from home – many for the first time – it is a new experience and many will feel isolated.  Therefore, regular communications regarding issues and updates is vital to maintain security measures, staff wellbeing and delivering critical services to the organization. An organization who adopts such measures in the early part of the pandemic will be better placed to thrive in the later stages.

About the author

Catherine Thomas

Research & Insight Manager

Catherine holds a MBCI and (Research and Insight Manager) and comes from a resilience background in central and local government with a particular focus in public health and community incident response.  Catherine holds a Masters in Forensic Investigation from Cranfield University and a BSc in Forensic Investigation from Canterbury Christ Church University.  She has a background in research from an analytical and qualitative perspective and has a particular interest in delving into the qualitative detail behind our surveys through investigative research


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