Editor’s Question: How should SMEs improve and adapt their remote working policies?

Editor’s Question: How should SMEs improve and adapt their remote working policies?

Fifty-seven percent of UK workers have felt happier over the past year as a result of working from home, according to a new study commissioned by Avaya to take the emotional pulse of the nation as we move beyond 2020.

The Life and Work Beyond 2020 study, conducted by research firm Davies Hickman Partners, polled 10,000 consumers and workers in 11 countries to discover the impacts of COVID-19 on consumer wellbeing and values as the world embraces a new world of work.

The research found that workers in the UK are among the most appreciative of work from anywhere models, with 44% saying that the ability to conduct hybrid work – from a home or office – would contribute to their happiness. The survey also revealed that over half UK workers (55%) feel they have the right technology to work from wherever they want. However, the UK has some catching-up to do as it trails in sixth place behind India, where 73% consider themselves to be equipped for remote working as well as the UAE with 64% and the US with 62%.

A key finding is that only 30% of UK employees said that they loved the idea of being able to work from anywhere in the future, meaning that a key requirement for business success in 2021 and beyond will be building a hybrid model of work that suits the needs of every employee.

The study also revealed some of the biggest concerns for UK workers as they have been navigating the new world of work and look to what the future will bring. Thirty-two percent are worried about having to go back to meeting people within their work environments and 45% cited frustration when their employer doesn’t use technology that would make them more productive (this rose to 61% for those with a partner and children at home). The study revealed that there is a strong motivation to address employee concerns like these as 73% of UK workers say that their productivity improves when they are happy.

Three experts provide their insights on how to improve remote working polices.

John McLoughlin, CEO of J2 Software;

Small businesses need to change their security policies and educate their remote workers on cybersecurity. Cybercriminals have shifted their focus to vulnerable employees who now work from home and use personal Internet connections.

In a recent study by Microsoft, more than 25% of remote workers had personally experienced a cyberattack. This is largely as a result of employers being forced to quickly implement a remote work strategy and still not having the necessary security, privacy and workplace procedures in place to secure this new environment more than a year after hard lockdowns and work from home orders started around the world.

SMEs just cannot afford to neglect user-based activity monitoring and cybersecurity awareness training, it could be catastrophic. Education is key to ensuring that they are protected from cyberattacks.

To be effective, the training must be consistent, engaging and provide real examples of what to look out for to make any difference. Engaging training and an easy-to-use platform will get staff talking about cybersecurity issues and discussion provides greater understanding.

SMEs need to hold everyone to the same standard for adopting cybersecurity protocols. Nobody should get a ‘free pass’ when it comes to cybersecurity awareness training because of their designation. Management is ultimately responsible for the secure use of company assets and must ensure that nobody is allowed to break security protocols.

Cybersecurity practices are sometimes seen as a burden and this could entice remote workers to find workarounds because they believe it might increase productivity. Open communication and practical security controls, with increased visibility, will drive good cybersecurity practices into the DNA of one’s remote workforce.

Ensuring total visibility will prevent mistakes, allow one to respond immediately to threats and ensure patches, training and other items are properly managed. Visibility allows one to control compliance and cybersecurity issues and will give a view on anybody who may install unverified apps on their work devices, be sending sensitive or confidential work documents to personal email addresses or even sharing passwords.

Work devices have now also become personal devices, remote workers also often let family members use their work computer for non-work-related activities. Allowing family members to use work devices could expose the entire corporate network to significant risk and every business needs to assess their policies and measure their risk exposure when personal activity is conducted on work devices.

In certain instances, this might not be allowed at all and clearly explaining this to the users is critical. However, until one has visibility, there is no way of knowing what is really happening at the endpoint, it will just be a guess. Guesswork is not a recommended method to ensure data security.

SMEs should make sure that they have visibility of what is really taking place with their data and on their systems to reduce their risk exposure. This is bolstered by educating their remote workers on what to look out for and how to identify potential breaches.

While it’s near impossible to stay entirely secure, there are basic rules that remote workers can follow to reduce the risks in this new working environment and total visibility and monitoring gives you the capacity to respond to changes before damage is done.

Sharon Andrews, Synthesis Software Technologies Executive Assistant:

While there are many ways SMEs could improve and adapt their remote working policies, this will largely be dependent on the organisation itself. However, some tips and tricks for remote working are universal. Working at a software company, Synthesis Software Technologies, means agility is the standard and we put this agility to use when COVID-19 emerged. Below are a few ways we made remote work workable.

As a company, Synthesis set up a COVID Task Force and were able to plan a few weeks prior to the entire country going into shutdown last March. This ensured that all our employees were set up with the right tools and infrastructure, enabling them to work effectively from home.

By putting the company into early lockdown, we were afforded the opportunity to work out any issues that employees experienced i.e. data, power outages etc. This meant that when hard lockdown was enforced, we experienced little to no glitches and our employees were able to transition smoothly.

The COVID Task Force met on a regular basis and were tasked with checking in on team members.

We set in place a system we created (and are now selling to the public) called Pulse. This allowed us to survey employees daily, gain immediate feedback and track trends to determine their state of mind and tackle remote working challenges. We found that the most common problem was burn out and an inability to shut off. We had the COVID Task Force call employees when we could see they were not doing well. Employees knew they were not alone, and their struggles were acknowledged.

Our marketing team rallied together and we created a series of challenges which we branded Care+ona. We did bake-offs, indoor forts and obstacles courses to name a few.

Another initiative we started was The Human Library. With water cooler chats no longer taking place we put together a number of ‘human books’ which employees volunteered themselves for and colleagues were able to book an hour once a week with these ‘books’ to just have a conversation and get to know a bit about the individual.

As challenging as the lockdown of last year was, we experienced a lot of positives as well as negatives. Negatives were pretty much what the entire country was experiencing. We had a lot of people feeling very isolated and alone. We had parents who all of a sudden were having to work full workdays and still be a teacher to their kids as well. Positives were that we were able to come together as a team and under very stressful and difficult circumstances succeed and grow where many others were not as fortunate.

To keep employees connected, effective and content, SMEs will need to create remote working policies that allow for agility and the changes that a pandemic can bring. They will need to throw away the old rule book when planning for employee satisfaction and find new ways to keep employees from burning out, languishing and feeling isolated so they can thrive.

Satish Kumar V, CEO at EverestIMS Technologies:

In today’s world, which has morphed into an almost permanent ‘work from home (WFH)’ system, managing remote teams efficiently and effectively will be the key to enterprise success.

Post the pandemic when WFH became the norm, everyone – employers, employees, HR teams and the like – scrambled to make sense of what was happening. Business Continuity had to be maintained so the transition to remote working was quickly made. However, with this also came the fraying of the usual communication systems that drove work. Namely, meetings, face to face discussions, daily task tracking through stand-ups, etc. Everything now had to be done through various communication channels. This was not entirely new as the IT sector has a bit of experience through working with distributed teams, however, not so aggressively though. The all pervasiveness of WFH meant that proper frameworks, processes and systems have to be put in place for this to work.

In my opinion, companies have to first ensure that there is a proper work-life balance and that things don’t get skewed into the ‘always online’ mode which is easy if all you need to conduct a meeting is to get in front of your computer. Proper timings like how we used to have at an office have to be maintained while ensuring there is discipline on both sides. It ensures that the workflow is maintained, it helps build trust on both sides – freeing up time for work instead of ‘planning to plan’.

Also important is a culture and responsibility towards accountability. Building in proper work tracking systems that keep a grip on how each project is progressing with risks, dependencies and latest progress updates is important. If transparently shared among each team member, they will slowly take ownership of their responsibilities thus leading to a more efficient team and company.

Security measures also have to be taken into account. Concepts like Zero Trust remote access have to become the norm as unwarranted intrusion and system compromises have become commonplace due to flawed or myopic security policies. In today’s distributed workplace, it is ultimately the processes, systems and measures that you put in place which will ensure that you reach peak performance as a company and enterprise of the future.

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