Only a few months ago, technologists and futurists gazed into their virtual crystal balls to predict what we can expect for life in 2020. But none of them predicted that self-isolation and social distancing would see businesses from all over the world reluctantly embrace remote working in unison.
Although the technology has been available for years, employers nervously navigated towards remote working with trepidation. There was a perception that flexible working methods would harm productivity when skiving employees stopped putting their clients first. There is also the small matter of office politics and having to offer the same flexibility to everyone.
The 9 to 5 culture in a fixed place of work has been looking dated for some time. In a digital world where we can work from any location and on any device, something needed to change. But now it's the only option available to businesses. It's workplaces that haven't implemented the ability for remote working that are currently facing this challenge the hard way.
The loneliness of social distancing and remote working
The Coronavirus is forcing businesses to enable employees to work from home at scale for an extended period. But anyone that has experience of remote working will tell you that the most significant challenges are not around technology. Working from home requires a unique discipline, psychology, and mindset to avoid distractions and remain productive out of the office.
The transition to remote working will be incredibly daunting for many. Every employee is different. Although introverts might thrive on solitude, others desperately need social engagement to drive them forward. Managers need to try to make remote workers feel valued if they want to keep engaged and productive outside of the office.
A lack of human contact can result in them feeling isolated and left out of the loop. However, tech has made it easy to maintain contact with your team via tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom video conferencing, and instant messaging to maintain the same level of communication that staff enjoy when sat at their desk back in the office.
Engaging communication online plays a crucial role in keeping the team spirit alive while also helping to ease the feeling of loneliness. The problem is that many organizations don't currently have the luxury of having remote working practices embedded in their culture. Workers now find themselves thrown in at the deep end without the tools to communicate effectively and efficiently with their colleagues.
When working from home for the first time, it can be difficult not to overcompensate or know when to unplug and switch off. When surrounded by distractions, it can also be challenging to remain motivated.
An increase in security threats
Remote working policies are not something that should be launched on a whim. But in doing so during this unprecedented time of uncertainty, many have exposed their business to a wide range of security vulnerabilities.
Predictably, phishing remains the biggest threat. There is an increasing number of opportunistic emails associated with Coronavirus that is tricking remote workers into clicking on links and downloading infected files.
Some companies are dropping Multi-factor authentication (MFA) to solve tech issues and ensure that everyone can get online. But this leaves access to systems on traditional usernames and passwords. The balance of security versus business continuity will be challenged. However, a decision in the heat of the moment could have expensive repercussions when inevitable data breaches lead to costly fines.
General security data protection is another enormous challenge. Employees feel safe when working from their own homes. It's easy for them to not think about guarding their papers and documents or who could see their computer screens through their windows.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) recommends that security teams should re-evaluate all software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that their employees will use in their homes. It has also provided a home working guide to ensure that the increasing number of collaboration apps, document sharing platforms, and video conferencing tools are secure.
The future of work
We need to retire the nostalgic memories that only the office represents a hub of productivity. The reality is that employees get interrupted every 11 minutes and it then takes them 25 minutes for their brains to refocus on the original task at hand. That's before adding those extended water-cooler conversations or toggling between spreadsheets and multiple tabs on your web browser into the mix.
As we all navigate through uncharted territory, it can be difficult not to fall back on comfort snacking and procrastination. The secret to thriving in a remote working environment is being self-disciplined, flexible, adaptable, reliable, and a strong communicator across multiple channels.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced employers to test the boundaries of remote working and has already changed the workplace forever. Even your technophobe colleagues have changed their workplace behaviour to embrace digital working. Employee engagement strategies will need to evolve to help workers feel connected to both their organization and each other.
When working from home, most of us will miss the moments of chitchat and shared human interactions. But we all need to make time to create virtual water cooler moments to check in with our colleagues and share stories. This very real problem could be addressed by simply adding a "water cooler" channel to your messaging platform. Maybe we need to establish a collective new way of thinking for a future consisting of more remote working.