As the pandemic evolves, it makes sense to maximize your out-of-office efficiency
By Michael Contento, CEO of My Blue Umbrella
The first stage of COVID-19 was survive. Business owners like myself wondered: what does the pandemic mean for my business? How are we going to get through this? How do I ensure that my staff and clients remain physically safe? What programs and funding are available to help my business?
Once we determined it was possible for us to stay in business through COVID-19, we began asking questions designed to stabilize. Do staff have to take salary cuts? How do we function? How do we run ourselves remotely?
The third stage is the one everyone’s transitioning to now: It sees us all determining how to thrive despite the challenging circumstances. We need to move forward without the constant reminder of COVID-19, and with the understanding that this way of life is the new normal—at least for a while.
My company, My Blue Umbrella transitioned to the third stage by pro-actively developing products to support both our business and clients through the remainder of 2020—and potentially beyond. And a big part of that involved helping our clients optimize their home-office strategies and tech environments to ensure that their staff can maximize productivity. Here are the things to consider:
- Do your employees work in an environment that supports excellence?
The reality is that when COVID-19 hit, many companies weren’t prepared to send their employees home and weren’t set up to work remotely.
Working from home does not mean it’s OK to type away with your laptop on your thighs while still dressed in your pyjamas in bed. No slumping on a couch. Instead, as much as your space and your budget allows, try to ensure that your employees have an environment at home that matches their ideal at-work setting. Make sure that each one has a desk and a chair. A lamp and a computer. Good wifi. A printer. Probably a headset.
Check in with each employee and ask to see their setups. Do they feel like they have the space to work productively, and in silence when they need it? What can you, as their employer, do to help them work more productively, and feel motivated?
Our staff worked hard to ensure that our clients had the infrastructure they required to set up their workforces for success. We also heard that other businesses required a lot of technological equipment, from laptops to modems to headsets and everything in between—so we set up a COVID-19 Rent-to-Own program that allowed new clients to purchase the tools they needed on a six-month schedule that saw them either buyout the remaining equity, or return the products, obligation free.
- Do your employees have secure access to all company data?
Now that everyone has a place to work that maximizes productivity, the next step is to plug them in to the information they require to succeed: Your company’s data. Contact lists. Sales forms. Expense reports and quarterly performance spreadsheets.
But before you do that, you have to ensure that you’re providing access to the right people: Your employees. And that means a more elaborate system than a Dropbox account or a personal login to Google Docs.
Ask yourself, is your system secure? One of the fastest-expanding forms of illegal activity over the last few years has been data-ransom by hackers. Bitcoin has provided even script kiddies with a mechanism to secure anonymous payment. And the age of networked smart appliances at home provides blackhat operators with the means to hijack networks.
To protect themselves, savvy entrepreneurs enlist the assistance of consultants. At My Blue Umbrella, we work with our clients to educate their workforces on common phishing tactics, which see hackers tricking staff members into providing access to databases. We also provide access to a live, 24-7 network operations centre that uses ethical white-hat hackers to monitor client data to detect malevolent intrusions. At the very least, you should be using two-factor authentication for sensitive databases. No matter how you do it, in an age of work-from-home and data-ransom proliferation, you need to be thinking about the security of your data.
- Can your staff employ collaborative tools to work together?
Of primary importance as your staff works remotely is the ability to collaborate with clients and other team members. Ask yourself: Are you and your staff able to:
- Make and set up video conference calls?
- Host meetings through Microsoft Teams?
- Work with files wherever they are?
- Share files inside and outside of your organization?
- Find, co-author and update files?
- Share a link, not the entire file, ensuring users have the right version of documents?
- Control document read, write and print access?
- Check out/check in documents so that documents are up-to-date and secure?
At My Blue Umbrella we’ve come up with our own office-in-a-cloud solution, called WORKanyPLACE, that gives you all of the above, and which can be customized to your company’s budget and needs. It also provides workflow automation suggestions designed to help staff members work more efficiently—for example, by auto-populating new folders with sets of files that the system learns based on context and situation.
But you don’t necessarily need to use our solution. To ensure your workforce is optimized for the possibility of a long-term work-from-home situation, you just need something.
To summarize, as a business owner, you need to ask yourself: Are my employees set up with a home office that maximizes productivity? Do they have secure access to the data they require? And have I equipped them with the collaborative tools required to drive accountability and efficiency? To ensure that the economy survives the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, these are the questions that we all need to consider.