The Miles Technologies headquarters are located in Moorestown, NJ, just over the Delaware River from the city of Philadelphia. The whole area is currently abuzz with anticipation for Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia on September 26th and 27th, as it’s estimated that over one million visitors will be making their way into the city for the event. With roads, bridges, and public transport all being shut down or limited in some way beginning the Friday before the visit and continuing through the following Monday, what does this mean for businesses? Though these events are rare, they do happen. For instance, the Philadelphia area is also playing host to the Dalai Lama in late October, Los Angeles is bidding to host the Summer Olympics in 2024, and with another winter of snow emergencies forecasted, organizations need to start planning ahead to implement ways that employees can remain productive, when going into the office becomes impossible. Try to look at these events as an opportunity to get ahead of your competition, rather than something to hold you back.
Many Miles Technologies customers are in the Philadelphia area and will be impacted by the visit. Since we’ve been sharing suggestions with them for how to help their employees remain productive from home, we figured we’d share them with everyone. Here are seven tips to ensure your staff makes the most out of every workday, especially when working from home:
1. Give employees access to instant messaging and video conferencing tools
Businesses are at their best when employees are communicating frequently and effectively with one another. While we are increasingly reliant on email, so much of day-to-day office interaction happens on a face-to-face basis. Your employees likely have hundreds of conversations throughout any given week discussing work that needs to be done, changes that need to be made to half-finished things, and brainstorming ideas for upcoming projects. Make sure they have access to instant messaging and video conferencing applications like Skype and Google Hangouts so they don’t miss out on these important interactions.
When employees start working remotely, there becomes a tendency to rely on email to pick up the slack in communications. While email is obviously a huge part of the modern workplace, it doesn’t support the richness in conversation afforded by apps like Google Hangouts and Skype, and can cause misunderstandings to crop up. Video conferencing, especially, facilitates the non-verbal cues that are so integral to effective interpersonal communication.
2. Utilize web-based applications
Web-based applications like Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365 enable employees to keep working and collaborating on important documents even without access to their work desktops; there’s no need for any software downloads onto home computers or compatibility issues with the software. Instead, all your remote employees need is access to the internet and a web browser. Most web apps save work automatically and even allow multiple users to edit the same document at once making them an ideal tool for people working in different locations to get things done.
3. Set specific check-in times throughout the day and set up call forwarding
When employees are in the office there are ample opportunities to “check-in” with one another throughout the day. Whether it’s in the break room or just passing each other in the hallways, employees naturally give each other minor updates about projects they're working on. Though they might seem minor, these interactions go far in making sure everyone remains on the same page. Since your employees won't have the opportunity for these interactions while they're working from home, encourage them to make time for them. If a few employees work on the same team where everyone needs to be kept abreast of what's going on, have them schedule brief conference calls or video conferences throughout the day just to touch base.
For those times when “check-ins” need to be on-the-fly, make sure employees have calls forwarded from their work phone to their home or cell number. Reimburse employees for work use of their personal phones as it should ease any reticence they may have in fielding work-related calls from their personal devices.
4. Allow employees to borrow laptops and other technology assets
If your workplace is fortunate enough to have additional technology resources available, make sure your employees are aware and can borrow them if necessary. It’s easy to assume that everyone nowadays has access to a computer at home, but this is not always the case. Maybe some employees have a computer at home but it will be used by their spouse who’s also working from home. Sharing your workplace’s available equipment allows employees to still get work accomplished.
5. Invest in a quality VPN and ensure employees install it ahead of time
If web-based applications don’t work for your company, or if your company doesn’t allow Outlook Web Access, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) will ensure your employees are able to safely gain remote access to their work computer’s desktop. Coordinate with your internal IT department or an outside IT company to find exactly which VPN is right for your needs, how it needs to be configured, and how to set it up for each user. Then, make sure the employees who will need it have it installed on their home computers and are able to successfully log in ahead of time. That way, any issues can be ironed out by your IT staff or IT provider before it’s too late. Creating and distributing an SOP document for remote access can also go a long way to make getting connected a smooth process for employees.
6. Encourage employees to take breaks as they normally would
Working from home offers your employees some freedom to have a little more control over their work schedule than they might have in the office, but it can also lead them to breaking productive behavior they demonstrate while in the office . This means reminding your employees working remotely to take breaks periodically. It may seem a bit incongruous to be taking a break in their own home, but your employees should make time to get up and step away from their computers. If their home is on the small side, encourage them to go for a quick walk around the block. Taking the time to periodically clear one’s head is a vital part of staying productive at work and working remotely from home is no different.
7. Use shared calendars so you know exactly who’s in the office
There are few things more frustrating than arranging a quick meeting, only to find half of the participants won't be making it into the office that day. Utilizing shared calendars ensures everyone knows where everyone will be during the day: a convenient place to see who’s available for face-to-face meetings and who needs to be contacted by other means. Google Calendars and Microsoft Outlook through an Exchange server both offer excellent options for clarifying everyone’s status.
Whether it’s visits from foreign dignitaries or weather-related emergencies, there are plenty of things businesses can do to help their employees remain productive while working from home. While both employees and management should have clear expectations of the work that will get done, following these tips will ensure your staff is in a position to remain productive no matter what’s going on in the outside world.
Have you had experience with employees working remotely? What tips would you suggest to help them remain productive? Let us know in the comments below.
If you would like to learn more about how to help your employees stay productive while working from home or have any other questions about IT as part of a comprehensive IT support strategy, don’t hesitate to contact us today to speak with an IT expert.