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Working Virtual

Telework – Working Virtual

The coronavirus is prompting a wide range of employers to ask employees to telecommute, but many employees are not experienced in working remotely. In fact, as of 2018, only 24 percent of U.S. employees did some or all of their work at home, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers spent more time in the workplace—7.9 hours—than they did working at home—2.9 hours.

A COVID-19 remote-work preparedness survey conducted March 12 and 13 also found remote work is far from commonplace for many workers and their companies. Nearly half (49 percent) of 1,024 full-time workers in the U.S. surveyed said they never work from home, and another 23 percent only work from home during special circumstances, such as to care for a sick child or during extreme weather. And 40 percent of respondents said their employer does not have the technology necessary to support working from home.

The findings are from Wrike, a collaborative work-management platform, which conducted the online survey with adults working at organizations with more than 200 employees. The findings have a margin of error of +/-3 percent.

"This unprecedented public health crisis is going to be a trial by fire for companies that haven't previously invested in remote work."

Andrew Filev, Wrike founder and CEO

The findings point to "some serious red flags regarding the readiness of employers to mandate a work-from-home policy," Wrike Founder and CEO Andrew Filev noted in the findings.

"This unprecedented public health crisis is going to be a trial-by-fire for companies that haven't previously invested in remote work," he said.

SHRM Online collected the following tips for employers to prepare their organization and their employees to telework.

  • Have the infrastructure in place.The CDC advises employers to have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to telework. Make sure employees have Internet access at home. Fisher Phillips law firm also notes the importance of having security and privacy protocols.

  • Digitize any relevant physical materials to make remote working easier, the law firm suggests.

  • Have the right cloud-based tools in place so workers can easily access applications over the Internet, said Sara Blengeri, partner at TetraVX. The Chicago telecommunications company specializes in cloud-based solutions: access to e-mail, file-sharing capabilities, unified communications such as telephony via a soft phone, mobile applications, voicemail to e-mail, chat or instant messaging, desktop sharing, and video.

  • Limit security risks. One option is to create cloud-based "application gateways" that limit corporate network access to the select needs of employees. This creates a secure, behind-the-firewall access to on-premise applications.

  • Consider what telework means for your organization. May employees work from somewhere other than home? May they use their own electronic devices? What form will meetings take—online, by video or phone? If using video, make sure your Internet speed is fast enough to accommodate such a call.

  • Establish guidelines for working remotely, such as how often and in what way employees check in with their manager or team.

  • Be mindful of time zone differences. If time differences are too extreme for virtual meeting attendance, for example, encourage employees to "buddy up" to share information from the meeting, suggests YSC Consulting, a leadership-strategy firm headquartered in London.

  • Overcommunicate using e-mail, Slack or a similar tool and document everything. "When people are remote it's easier for messages to get lost," said Rachel Ernst, vice president of employee success at Reflektive, a San Francisco-based performance-management platform. Documenting everything helps make work shareable so colleagues can more easily be informed of co-workers' projects.

  • Manage conflict. When most communication is handled digitally, it's important for all employees to be careful of the language they use, the Colorado Small Business Development Center (SBDC) pointed out. "It is too easy to misinterpret digital communications. If you ever feel like you are heating up over digital communication, this is the time to talk to the person on the phone or by video chat to clarify" the written word.

  • Regularly check in with employees to ensure they're on target to hit their goals and schedule more conversations with your team. "Without conversations that happen organically in the office," Ernst said, "consider adding more frequent, shorter meetings with your team.

  • Be flexible. "Things come up at home that might not come up in an office," the SBDC advises. "Make sure your team has some wiggle room to be flexible with their schedules. As long as everyone knows what they are accountable for, then having some flexibility will not matter."

  • Support wellness. While it's important to be aware of what's happening in the world, Reflektive noted, "you don't need to check your phone or turn on the news every few minutes."

Kyra Sutton, Ph.D., is a faculty member at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations in New Brunswick, N.J., where she teaches courses in training and development, as well as in staffing and managing the 21st century workforce. She also has served in lead HR roles at Pitney Bowes and Assurant.

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