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Remote Work: Making the Culture Shift

April 22, 2020

Moving from an all in-office culture to a partial or complete work-from-home (WFH) culture won’t be a layup. Making adjustments to your technology isn‘t trivial – it could be costly and take a while. Individuals face their own adjustments as they deal with what could be the most significant change in work habits in their careers. Teams that are accustomed to working together physically will face the challenge of being in contact with workers who are no longer there.

There are a few factors that, in my opinion, will help determine how difficult the transition might be:

  • The presence of teaming platforms such as Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams or Slack
  • Bandwidth support for large numbers of users on VPN (for organizations with a lot of on-premise technology)
  • Cloud-based file-sharing services such as Box, Dropbox or OneDrive
  • Leaders who manage by results rather than by informal "walkarounds" and micromanagement
  • Employees with experience in WFH environments who can teach others how it works
  • Formal meeting schedules for projects and operations versus “hallway meetings”
  • Formal business processes versus ad hoc, reactive and disorganized approaches to getting things done

If your organization has been suddenly thrust into remote work, there’s little planning you can do. Your technology, culture and process maturity “is what it is,” and you’ll have to make the best of it. Necessity is the mother of invention, however and smart people can figure out how to discover efficiencies to help the organization deal with remote work that has been imposed on them with little or no warning.

Meetings

To make remote work effective, informal and ad hoc meetings must give way to regularly scheduled meetings. Some organizations will have to "up their game" with regards to their "meeting culture" to make the best use of time. There are countless books on meetings and making them effective. Remote work makes this more critical since there are fewer opportunities for people scattered through space to meet regularly to discuss issues and make decisions.

In a remote culture, meetings need to take place on collaboration platforms such as Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Webex, GoToMeeting, Blue Jeans or Zoom. These platforms include video so that people can see each other, screen sharing so they can view documents, worksheets or programs, plus whiteboarding, so that someone can draw impromptu sketches; it's almost like being there. Almost.

Calendaring

Speaking of meetings: everyone in an organization with remote workers must be more disciplined with their calendars. It makes my blood boil when I schedule a meeting and see that others’ calendars are free at a given day and time, only to have someone decline the invite because they were scheduled for a meeting that wasn’t in their calendar. Remote work has little tolerance for those who are just plain inconsiderate when it comes to proper time management and putting all meetings on their calendar.

Abuse can go the other way, too. People who need to get a lot of work done might be tempted to block off several hours at a time, which then makes them apparently unavailable for meetings. Workers need to establish their norms and agree on how they will manage their calendars so that they can be available for meetings but also have time reserved to get important work completed.

Remote workers also need to configure their calendars so that others can see the details, including when their workdays begin and end. This is especially important in organizations that span two or more time zones. But it's also essential to know when someone must join a meeting outside of working hours because there are no other times available. This, however, bumps up against the need for healthy boundaries and the discipline to define and stand by one's work-life balance.

Communities

It's great when people get to work with colleagues they like; put another way, it's wonderful when people like those with whom they work. It's essential to allow some space for people to build relationships with one another. For organizations with a lot of remote workers, online meetings with video are often the only way to get that done. For this reason, I believe it's okay to take a minute or two sometimes people in video meetings to share little bits about their lives. I’m not advocating for “show and tell” time during business meetings, but on the other hand, it’s nice when you get to see a colleague’s young child walk into the room and appear on video for a few moments. I have a colleague who lives in Dallas and I enjoy seeing her dogs, who sometimes make cameo appearances on our conference calls.

Depending upon the culture of an organization, you could organize a regular social get-together over a video call that's not unlike an after-work happy hour or dinner. Nothing about work – instead, it's about strengthening relationships and building community. Whatever the get-togethers are about, workers should not be pressured to participate and the events should be safe and mature. I've long been a believer that the act of "breaking bread" (having a meal) or "hoisting a pint" (having a beer) together strengthens a relationship between two or more people. In remote work environments where workers rarely, if ever, get together physically, it's crucial to build similar virtual communities. The enriched relationships improve morale, and I’ve seen teams perform better when there is social time than if they had not pursued this.

Compliance

As organizations continue in the remote working pivot, it’s also crucial for them and their employees to keep their eyes on security and privacy compliance. Working from home requires a keen understanding of the data required to perform everyday duties. If any of that data is regulated (HIPAA ePHI, PCI card data, privacy data), using screen protectors or setting up monitors to face away from open doorways may be necessary. A locked drawer may be required to keep any printed materials. One should remember to use “Window + L” or “Command+Control+Q” to lock the computer when stepping away. Other family members should know that corporate systems are intended only for business purposes and workers should prevent their use them for web surfing or gaming.

These are just a few examples of many safeguards that organizations should impart to their remote workers in order to keep sensitive data and critical systems safe. This is, after all, the mission of security and privacy programs. These programs, with all of their relevant policies, controls, standards and safeguards, are applicable no matter where any member of the workforce is at any time.


    Peter Gregory

By: Peter Gregory

Director, Information Security

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