Renee Moelders

With the current COVID-19 crisis brewing and firms being encouraged to implement social distancing, organizations around the country are scrambling to shift their employees to work remotely. Your firm may not feel fully ready, but regardless, you may have to also take this step. Your building management may force you to close your office, or an outbreak may require mass numbers of employees to self-quarantine. Public transportation services could be interrupted and disrupt your team’s ability to reach the office. We recommend that you create a plan immediately for what it would look like to have all employees work offsite. To help you get there, we have specific steps you can take to smooth the transition, ensure business continuity, and remain more productive.

  • Assign each employee a go-to contact for assistance. As your team makes this shift to working offsite, employees will have questions and need assistance to keep work moving. They will benefit from having a go-to person to help them resolve issues. And they might require emotional support to weather the crisis. Leverage Career Coaches or Supervisors, and if you don’t have those roles already in place, assign a temporary “Guide” to each employee. Ask Guides to reach out once a day for a brief check-in at a minimum, ranging from 5-15 minutes. Encourage them to ask open-ended questions like “How can I support you today?” or “What is on your plate that you’re worried about?”, eliciting critical information and concerns.

Our current situation is unique, with children home from school and people juggling more than the usual commitments. Be specific about deliverables expectations and help your team members prioritize to get out the most important items first. If you have experience working remotely or juggling family and work, feel free to share about what works for you if it feels appropriate. 

  • Increase the frequency of firmwide communications. At ConvergenceCoaching, we like to say, “In the absence of communication, people make up their own and it’s usually negative.” Commit to stay in touch with your people every few days. Build encouraging and supportive communications to share by email, video call and even voicemail. Here are a few ideas as you create content for the communications:
    1. Send notes of positivity and faith that you’ll weather the crisis together
    2. Offer suggestions for creating a comfortable and productive worksite at home
    3. Point them to available tools that facilitate remote work like video conferencing systems, screen sharing programs, contact information for IT support, etc.
    4. Encourage them to stay in touch with their Career Coach or Guide
    5. Remind them of your Employee Assistance Plan resources
    6. Include health recommendations from trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website
    7. Encourage employees to keep work moving by sharing the “why” – “we’ll preserve hard-earned client relationships,” “ensure company cash flow,” “avoid a backlog of work at a future date”
    8. Show your appreciation for their hard work
    9. Acknowledge and empathize with the challenges that many employees are juggling in this crisis
  • Ramp up IT personnel. As organizations send employees home to follow guidelines for social distancing, an increased number of employees will need access to remote systems. Many staff members will be setting up remote access for the first time and require assistance. This puts an increased burden on your IT personnel to manage the questions and issues that arise.

Start by acknowledging to IT personnel that the next few weeks will be challenging, setting clear expectations that you will need them to “flex up” to meet increased demand. Offer appreciation for their service and empathy for the workload in front of them.

Then brainstorm with IT personnel on creative ways to bolster capacity. You might reassign tech-savvy administrative resources to triage first-level requests and help with the simpler issues if they can. You could increase your support from outsourced resources. Or allow all employees to support each other using social-media-style discussions on a Yammer or a Teams channel (both part of Office 365). Help your IT personnel prioritize requests and communicate those to the team, keeping a parking lot of lower-priority requests or ideas.

  • Plan for expanded access to company technology. Some of your personnel, especially audit staff, will easily make the shift to remote work by taking home their laptops. For others currently working on a desktop computer, start making plans for how they’ll access the company network from home if necessary. Categorize employees into one of the following buckets:
    1. Does the employee have a company laptop? If so, request that they begin taking it home nightly in the event they need to work from home
    2. Does he or she have a personal computer at home that can be used to access the company network? If yes, plan for them to use that if needed. Assess what they will need to be productive, like extra monitors, external keyboards and mice, and 10-key attachments
    3. Inventory available laptop computers not currently assigned. Identify which employees should receive these laptops due to being considered high-risk for the virus (pregnant, over 60, or with a weakened immune system) or being a key player to keep work moving
    4. For the remaining employees who are not covered above and need a computer at home, develop an inventory of desktops along with peripherals for this group. Work with them on a contingency plan to take the identified computer setups in the event they are sent home

Ordinarily, you would have an official remote work policy that governs the use of company hardware at home. In a crisis like the current one, you might “pilot” the distribution of hardware without a policy. Have the employee sign a paper or send an email acknowledging what equipment has been borrowed so you can collect items once the crisis passes.

  • “Pilot” employee ideas faster than you are normally comfortable doing. Most organizations undergo a vetting process before leaping in to create new processes and procedures or implement new software tools. In a crisis, it can benefit us to loosen the reins and take advantage of innovation. Set aside concerns about crafting an approved approach and allow employees to generate unique solutions to workflow or capacity issues. Name an Innovation Chair or pop-up committee and route ideas to them. Selected solutions can be piloted, which means they will be tested for a period (maybe three months), after which you will assess the effectiveness and decide how to proceed going forward. A pilot can also be tested in a small group of clients or type of work, then later rolled out more widely if it is successful.

Here are a few ideas get you started:

    1. Use Skype for Business or Teams, both offered free with the Microsoft Office Suite to hold video calls with employees or clients to maintain relationships and stay connected
    2. Employ Bookings, an Office365 tool, to allow clients direct access to Outlook calendars to schedule appointments. Then have administrative personnel monitor calendars for new bookings, assess client need, and reschedule or cancel as needed
    3. Have administrative personnel reach out to your clients who have traditionally avoided the company portal and work with them to get onto the system for uploading work papers and downloading work product. Appeal to their understanding in this difficult time and assure them that you will give them hands-on support
  • Proactively reach to clients to explore how work normally conducted onsite can be managed remotely instead. Your clients are likely to be concerned about how the work will get completed in the usual, timely manner. With companies across the country shutting their doors to visitors, your clients are worried about how they’ll handle upcoming audit fieldwork or an in-person tax appointment. Don’t wait until you have all of the answers to reach out to clients. Proactively call your most strategic clients to hear their concerns and brainstorm together on how to keep the work moving. For other clients, use one-to-many communication tools like email, newsletters and website pop-up messages to share plans as they unfold. Most importantly, be proactive and don’t wait until they contact you!

Ready or not, the rush to create a remote workforce is here. See opportunity in the crisis and consider this a learning experience that will increase your preparedness for future crises that arise. Employ one or two of these strategies to help your newly remote employees get to maximum efficiency more quickly and build from there. As a company who has been virtual since its inception 20 years ago, please reach out to us with questions or for support as you roll out these remote strategies with your team and your clients.

Regards,

Renee

P.S. Attend our upcoming webinar on Thursday, March 26th at 11:30am ET, entitled Remote Work: The Answer to Staying Healthy and Serving Clients Amidst COVID-19. And, access our Remote Toolset for blogs, sample policies and more!