The World Health Organization has officially declared the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a pandemic and it has infected hundreds of thousands around the world. If your business hasn’t already been impacted by COVID-19, it is only a question of when.
What can you do as a business owner?
First, follow all federal, state, and local health guidelines. See the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations here. The safety of your employees and customers is your first priority. Second, if you haven’t already, prepare for potential disruptions to your business activity. To slow the spread of the disease, authorities are taking action to minimize social contact and many businesses are following suit by minimizing employee contact in office environments. Work from home or remote work can be enabled through use of modern cloud-based platforms such as Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint, and OneDrive, that allow staff to communicate, collaborate, and share files with a computer and internet connection.
What do your employees need for remote work?
At a minimum, most staff will need a reasonably fast internet connection (15Mbps+), a computer running a recent version of Windows (or MacOS), and a browser. If staff need to participate in video calls, then a webcam, microphone and speakers (preferably a headset) will also be needed and having a faster internet connection and computer will be useful. Most mobile devices can also be used, but the experience may vary quite a bit and document work or screen sharing on a small device may be impractical in some situations.
What must your business have in place to enable remote work?
There are many different technologies and platforms that can enable remote work. Older style solutions like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that allow remote users to access private networks are sometimes used, but for modern remote work, users expect to be in the cloud on a cloud platform. Cloud based applications such as Salesforce and QuickBooks are one-way users can continue to work remotely. Check with your core application providers and if they offer a cloud solution, move in that direction.
For general purpose office tasks, Microsoft provides Office 365, Teams, and SharePoint to enable cloud-based document storage and management, team collaboration, and general-purpose office applications (Word, Excel, etc.). Using a platform such as Office 365 can remotely connect your workers to the tools and documents they need to stay productive while working remotely.
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What are the “work from home” benefits?
There are pros and cons that come with working from home. For example, referencing Monster.com, you can truly feel independent with your work rather than feel like your boss or co-workers are breathing down your neck. On the other hand, you may feel out of the loop in some instances with projects and other responsibilities that require consistent face time. The coronavirus shouldn’t be putting your employees on a forced vacation but moving them to a new work location.
To relate to some of those employees who are recently out of school, working from home is a lot like online classes. You need to be disciplined in doing your work, but it can be a much more relaxing experience as you do not have to be right in-line with your work schedule. You can work at your own pace, for the most part, and not worry about any distractions you might find in the workplace.
Forbes has released their own list of pros and cons for working from home. The main benefits with working from home include:
- You are in a familiar and comfortable environment
When working from home, you are in the presence of where you spend most of your time away from work. You have your pets and family and food and everything else around you that you know very well. Being in a comfortable environment can relax you and keep you a little more organized. You have everything you need to get through the day and if you ever need to just get up and take a walk, you can do that!
- You are independent
You do not have the luxury of going to you manager or boss every time you need a question answered, but you also do not have anyone else doing that to you! Being independent is great when you know what to be working on and you do it well enough without needing help every step of the way. It can feel degrading when you have someone micro-managing you when you don’t need it, so being in a contained environment is beneficial for those who know how to be productive.
- Meals can be more cost-effective
You may not have time every morning to make breakfast or lunch, so you might need to stop at a local fast food joint to get yourself a snack or a meal for later. The cost may be insignificant at the start of the week, but by the end of it you might be finding you are spending more than you initially thought. Eating at home still costs money as you need to buy ingredients from the store, but it is certainly cheaper than eating out every day.
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- The only distraction is yourself
Working from home means you can forget about blaming your "unproductivity" on your co-workers. As previously mentioned, working from home is a lot like online classes in school. If you are disciplined enough to stay on top of your work, then the only distractions you have around you are yourself. If you are really caught up on your work, then you might be able to slack off a little bit. That’s the benefit of flexibility when working from home!
- You don’t always have to be in “work mode”
It is important to stay on top of your work, but sometimes you hit slow periods. It might not even be a slow period, but you are still caught up on your work. Sometimes, it is beneficial for you to go off and take a half hour or hour of just relaxing and taking the stress off your shoulders.
There are also the arguments that are against working from home. These arguments normally include the points:
- Less human interaction
Being in the presence of other people can be stimulating to the brain. Learning about others, hearing their voices, and having different interactions with multiple people of various origins. When working from home, you need to be acclimated to the same people every day. Perhaps you live by yourself and the only person you have to talk to is yourself (maybe a dog or cat). This can be a downgrade from the office life for some people. People use the opportunity of going to the office as a way to remove themselves from a boring and mundane form of life at their home.
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- “Cabin fever”
Cabin fever is when you feel restless and irritable from being cooped up in the same building for so long. It can be difficult being in solitary confinement. It may not feel that way for some people, but for others who would rather get away from their normal life at the house it can be a tremendous burden. They use their opportunity to go to the office as a way to release some pent-up irritation. Sometimes just the commute from home to work can be enough to stimulate the mind to get some joy out of the day.
- Less creativity
It is sometimes difficult to be creative in the home. Being in the office means you are, usually, surrounded by other co-workers with various perceptions, thoughts, and mindsets. This can help include multiple ideas and creative thoughts to spew out of your brain. If you are working from home then you still have the internet, but it can be difficult to get proper stimulation from just a computer screen. Sometimes it takes human interaction to bring in more creativity to the brain.
Working from home was originally implemented, largely, back in 2008 when the last recession hit. This was mainly due to business owners wanting to reduce office rent and other expenses that could be avoided by keeping employees at home. However, it has become somewhat of a norm to work from home. There is nothing wrong with it at all. In fact, there are many benefits that come with working from home. If you are a business owner and the coronavirus is affecting your business, then take this as an opportunity rather than a problem.
Reach out to see what Gray Leaf can do for your remote workforce!