Preparing for Remote Work: Technology to the Rescue!

Preparing for Remote Work: Technology to the Rescue!

From a technology standpoint, I don’t think there has ever been a time in history when our world has been more prepared for a crisis. Most companies are fortunate enough to have the ability to perform many of their necessary functions remotely. However, I would be remiss to not recognize the fact that creating a solid remote work environment does not come without workarounds and struggles with initial set up. We can often take for granted the technology and resources available to us in an office setting, from fast internet speeds to secure network access there are many things that make our everyday work environment convenient and comfortable.

Fortunately, our team didn’t take the COVID-19 warnings lightly, and we started to think ahead and prepare for a possible remote work scenario. Did we get it all right on the first try? Certainly not, but we were ahead of the curve by giving some early thought to how we could operate remotely.

Here are a few things we considered.

Access to Network Files

Our team relies on an in-office file network for day-to-day access to our files. The network is an efficient way for our team to stay organized by sharing files in one place that is accessible to our entire team. Moving away from this organized structure may seem challenging, but it doesn’t have to be.

We knew we obviously didn’t need every single file created in company history moved to a new location for remote access, so our team collaborated to make a list of the files that would need moved. We opted to move our files to a SharePoint folder system which is available with our Office 365 subscription. If you do not have access to something like SharePoint there are free versions of cloud-based storage such as Google Drive and Dropbox that you could potentially utilize.

Computer/Device Set Up

Before you can access files and securely log in to a system, you need to make sure that your computer and device setup will allow you to work efficiently. I will tell you firsthand that going from large dual monitors to a small laptop quickly gets frustrating. It’s not always simple to set up a new device configuration but considering a few things will make the process much simpler. Does your office have a spare monitor you can hook up to your laptop? What types or cords or adapters will you need to connect the two devices? Will you want a full keyboard and mouse? How will those connect to your portable device? Taking these configuration options into consideration and having the appropriate materials on hand to create your optimal working environment will pay dividends by helping you avoid unnecessary frustrations.

Team Meetings/Communication

In the beginning, your thoughts about technology needs might be limited to your own work, but if you operate with a small team, there are other things you should consider. Because our team is small, and we are accustomed to being able to hold daily in-person team meetings. In addition, we are fortunate enough to be able to walk down the hall for a quick consult with a co-worker. Luckily, we already had a few things in place that allow us to continue to communicate effectively during this work-from-home period.

Slack
Prior to COVID-19 our team was using Slack to communicate with one another in the office. When the COVID emergency emerged, our communications flow never missed a beat, and we could continue business as usual. Of course, this came with more typing of messages and fewer face-to-face interactions on more complex topics, but this tool helped keep our workflow moving forward.

Adobe Connect
Slack worked great for short conversations and questions, but it isn’t a good environment for a team meeting. Another existing software that we were lucky to have available in our toolkit is Adobe Connect. This service is commonly used for hosting webinars and web conferences.

Prior to the emergency, we would often use a teleconference in conjunction with the web conference features, but not much else. Our new circumstances pushed us to increase use of other features available in Adobe Connect, such as internal video and audio. When dealing with several team members, each with their own device configurations, there were a few hiccups to get each team members device set up to function correctly, but in the end the video and audio connection allowed us to interact like a team again.

Our team feels fortunate to have access to tools that have made our transition to remote work easier. After nearly two months of living through these unprecedented times we can begin to dream about what getting back to a new normal work environment might look like. I am certain this will look different for each company, but I am confident that the exercise of thinking outside the box to prepare a remote work environment will serve all companies well and leave them more prepared and confident for future challenges that might come there way.

Top 5 Tips for Working from Home

Top 5 Tips for Working from Home

To promote the safety and well-being of our population during this pandemic, many companies have told their employees to stay home and work remotely. While this is a rather difficult transition for many, there are simple things to do to make life a little bit easier throughout this time. As I write this blog from my couch, I have compiled a list of tips and tricks to stay productive at home. 

1) Establish a Routine 

Establishing a routine may just be the most important tip for effectively working from home. It will help outline day-to-day activities to stay in line and productive at work. When will I start work? When will I take my lunch break? What can I do to keep me focused and motivated throughout the day? What kind of time needs to be allocated to the tasks I need to complete?These are all valid questions that can be incorporated into a daily routine. Perhaps getting in the routine of keeping and following a schedule or list to follow day in and day out will help keep you on track at work. 

2) Get Ready for Work 

This is not to say that you still need to dress business casual to work from home (although feel free to if that helps). However, sticking to a morning routine before “heading off to work” will help you get in the right mindset to be a productive employee. My top recommendation for this tip is to continue setting your alarm. Furthermore, before beginning work for the day, try doing simple things such as starting your day with some exercise, hitting the shower, and making breakfast to send a mental signal that you are ready for work. 

3) Create a Separate Office Space 

You do not need a nice, at home office to utilize this tipMy home office has become one end of my couch with a side table. The important part here is that this is not somewhere I typically sit and lounge on a regular basis. The point is to have a physical separation of your personal and professional lives within your home. It’s possible for this to work out for some people, but the one thing I recommend avoiding is working from bed. 

4) Utilize Technology and Keep in Contact with Your Team 

Technology is what makes work from home possible. However, a new adjustment for most of us is electronically communicating and coordinating shared documents with everyone. At the office, we are used to having easy access to everything we need and stepping next door to ask a coworker a question. Moving that all online can be a difficult transition. Having shared access to necessary documents through cloud technology is a necessity for team-based environments. It is also important to utilize messaging and videoconferencing apps to maintain good communication with everyone involved in your line of work. Communication is still key! 

5) Minimize the Distractions 

It is no doubt that an endless number of distractions can come from working at home. Many of us have taken on the extra role of care providers and teachers for children, are sharing spaces with family members also working from home in completely different lines of work, or have new furry coworkers who are always in your business. This is not to mention other simple distractions that arise in a home environment that we do not typically face at the office: How many trips to the fridge will I take today? What new shows are on Netflix? I’ll just take a quick ten minute break to fold some laundry. Again, a solution to this goes back to tip #3. Try to keep a separate office space secluded from many of the distractions you face to remain as productive as possible. 

But don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself falling victim to these distractions. Yes, it is important to find ways to stay focused and more productive at work. But more importantly during this time is to be honest about your work. Try to keep detailed notes of when you’re taking breaks and for how long. So, while a small break here and there may be healthy to clear your mind and get back on track, just be honest with the work you have actually completed. 

Those are just a few tips to start out with, and you may find that not all of them help or that something completely different helps you the most. What’s important to remember is that many of us are facing the same challenges that come from working at home. I find that most of us are understanding, forgiving, and patient as we are going through the same complications of this transition. In the end, this is not a permanent state and learning how to be productive with your coworkers remotely may end up being a skill we can all benefit from in the future. 

Top 5 Priorities for Client Communications in Times of Crisis

Top 5 Priorities for Client Communications in Times of Crisis

Whether your responsibilities lie in communicating to your client or on behalf of your client, a time of crisis is going to put your capabilities to the test.

1. Take extra time to personalize your communication strategies to match each audience you are interacting with.

For example, an email to clients or stakeholders might contain information about what methodology you have in place for customer outreach or how you intend to retain a surge of new customers that may drop off once the crisis dissipates. Outreach to a client’s customer base might alternatively focus on the plan to keep business operations going with minimal disruption or targeted training videos to help users self-teach. Because consumers generally react better to content they can understand, making the extra effort to customize messaging will pay off long-term.

Tip: Do something different or special to make your message stand out. Go ahead and use your electronic newsletter templates and social media channels. But maybe a personalized email from you to your clients (employees or volunteers) – without all of the graphics and polish – will let them know you are making a special effort to reach out to them.

2. When a crisis situation is ongoing, there really is no such thing as over-communication.

No matter which audience you are communicating with, maintaining a clear, consistent message is important. Let your audience know you are there to help in whatever capacity you are able. Remind customers or clients of how you’ve altered your business model to better assist everyone affected by the ongoing situation. Also, it is important to keep communicating with clients and/or customers even if your business is inactive; if your goal is to have an active, thriving business again long-term, you need to maintain those key relationships.

Tip: In a time of crisis there’s a lot to communicate in a little amount of time. Create an information hub so your audience can find all information related to the crisis in one place. Once you’ve established an information hub, update the content regularly or as new information becomes available.

3. If you must make budget cuts, be kind to your big picture bottom line.

Realistically, spending ad dollars to sell gym memberships isn’t a responsible expense when the whole state is under stay-at-home orders unable to frequent crowded places like a gym, for example. So, we understand making cuts here and there during tough times. Having said that, reallocating all your marketing dollars or thrashing your overall budgeted expenses prematurely isn’t a smart business decision. If your business weathers whatever storm it is going through, you’ll be in a better position to recover if you can hit the ground running again with some planned expenses rather than have no budget to work with and no way to reach your audience to bring them back in. The point is, try not to make decisions out of panic; think you business strategy through.

4. Keep employees and volunteers feeling in-the-know and valued.

The way leadership communicates (or doesn’t communicate) to employees and volunteers will directly impact loyalty, which can lead to a loss of talent. Employees remember how they were treated during the worst of times much more vividly than during the best of times, so it is important to allow employees as much empowerment as possible during crisis situations. In some cases, your organization will be responsible for communicating with employees or volunteers, including volunteer board members. It is important not to overlook this hugely important aspect of successful crisis communication management. Remember, you can do all the right things on behalf of your client’s brand and budget, but if you don’t treat (or help them treat) their employees with respect and kindness during troubled times, the whole structure will collapse.

5. Give good business advice without taking advantage.

It might feel like an easy upsell to encourage a client to add on social media services and an extensive SEO package to boost their business during a time when face-to-face commerce has minimized and digital marketing is critical, but who are you really serving? While your ultimate goal as a business owner is to make money, you need to be realistic and be loyal to the clients who are being loyal to you. If your team is stretched due to economic hardship, there is nothing wrong with changing price points to help your business model move forward. But pushing services on struggling clients is only appropriate if you are actually helping your client by doing so. For example, if a local restaurant doesn’t have an online presence, it is absolutely appropriate to ask the question, “How is your community going to support you if they’re unable to find you?” However, the answer isn’t necessarily to start a website, a Facebook page and an Instagram account all at once. You can give good advice without taking advantage. You can give a customer what they need without giving them everything they need at all at once.

How is Enterprise Iowa handling the COVID-19 crisis?

Like most other businesses nationwide, our team is doing the best we can to minimize the risk we put on each other and put out into our community. We’ve taken measures to work from our homes, serving our clients through Adobe Connect meetings, Slack conversations and more. While most businesses can’t have a perfect plan in place for a situation like this, our team has done well adapting to our new working normal. We feel fortunate to be able to continue to serve our clients and do our part to help stimulate economic prosperity in Iowa during this low point. For any businesses struggling to get through the economic hardship inflicted by COVID-19, reach out to see how we might be able to help revise and rejuvenate your business strategy.