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Working Remotely – Reflections from a Remote Worker

March 23 2020 - by Dr. Lois Parkes, Leadership Development and Institutional Strengthening Specialist

In 2019, CARICAD formally developed and implemented a remote working policy. This policy is still being developed as new circumstances arise and lessons learned along the way are incorporated. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust most organisations across multiple sectors into remote working mode. This blog is intended to share some of the considerations to be taken into account, for effective and efficient remote working arrangements.

  • ICT – Having the appropriate ICT arrangements is critical for effective remote working arrangements. This involves ensuring that remote employees have the relevant hardware and software to support their work. This includes secure remote access to servers, tools for support collaborative team work (eg. Collaborate 365), email access, adequate internet access, and remote ICT support, should technical challenges arise. It is also important for organisations to determine which of the associated ICT costs are to be covered; for example will the employee be required to use their own computer or will the organisation provide same. Another issue also relates to coverage or subsidy for costs associated with internet charges and electricity when an employee routinely works from home.
  • ICT Skills – It is easy to make the assumption that employees today have the relevant ICT skills to work remotely. However, an analysis of ICT skills need to be done, and gaps closed, prior to embarking on remote work arrangements. At the very least, remote employees need to au fait with the relevant ICT tools that they will have to utilize, which may be different from those used in office.
  • Deliverables – Whether an employee works remotely or in an office setting, having clear performance targets or deliverables should be a must. However, for the remote worker, these should be clearly defined, with appropriate monitoring mechanisms, such as weekly logs, reports etc. In addition, business processes, standard operating procedures or work flows have to be tailored for the remote working environment. This is even more critical for team work, to ensure effective collaboration, and seamless work transactions.
  • Communication – Clear lines of communication, and communication channels need to be identified and routinized. Frequency of check-ins, team meetings and methods of communication, and with whom, need to established. In the remote work environment, particularly when some team members are located in office, it can be very easy to omit remote employees from discussions. So extra efforts have to be made to ensure that all relevant parties are included in the relevant exchanges. Again, using the available ICT can greatly assist. However, for meetings, it is essential to have the best possible audio quality, as poor audio connections can lead to poor meeting outcomes.
  • Work Routine – Commuting to and from work automatically creates a work routine for employees. With remote working, the employee has to create their own work routine relatively independently. For some, this can be a challenge, and they find it difficult to focus on getting work done. In such cases, strategies will have to be devised to increase work motivation. These can vary among individuals, but some common tips are creating a dedicated work space, starting your work day routinely with a check-in with a team member or supervisor, and deliberately getting dressed for the work day. Conversely, some remote employees can find themselves working extended hours, where there is no clear boundaries between work and personal life. To combat this, remote workers should have clear working hours, deliberate take breaks for lunch, or just to rest their eyes from the computer screen. Having a team member who is your accountability partner to support you in maintaining an appropriate routine can also be helpful.

We invite you to please share your experiences and questions around remote working in your organisation.

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Sean M - Reply

Covid-19 has now put this concept of working remotely under the microscope...there is a possibility that this may be the new paradigm in operational activities, with historical references eventually being made to the 'pre and post Covid' era...our public sector seems to be catching on...thanks for the insight Dr. Parkes.

Lois Parkes

Dear Sean:

Thanks for your comments

Hillary Alexander - Reply

These are all great points! Organisations that successfully work remotely (as a part of corporate long-term strategy) do several things in my experience - they invest in critical (management) staff establishing an appropriately equipped home office; they invest in a secure network to facilitate revamped business processes that manage online collaboration, workflows and controlled data access for meaningful reporting.

Of course, at the national level, enabling e-legislation to facilitate e-transactions os critical.

Thank you for sharing, CARICAD. Is your policy publicly available?

Lois Parkes

Dear Hillary:

Your comments are so valid and timely, especially as it relates to what needs to happen at the national policy level. 

We are tweaking our policy now, given the new dynamics. I will follow up with you on this separately.

 

Georgia Sinclair - Reply

Lois,

I found this blog to be particularly timely, useful and insightful. The COVID 19 pandemic has forced us to give serious thought to working remotely and all the attending factors. Of course, the suddenness of having to implement this measure caught some organizations ill-prepared such as the ICT issues. Additionally, we perhaps made the assumption that those working from home have the discipline to do so...in the absence of having persons providing the necessary motivation such as regular check ins. I have always been pushing the remote working agenda at my organisation but there seems to be great resistance in the public sector perhaps because we don't believe that people can be productive without constant supervision. The current situation requires development of policy for remote working as I believe the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

 

When the dust settles after the Coronavirus pandemic, I am curious though to see if we will truly embrace remote working especially among those leaders in the public sector who strongly opposed and resisted same.

Lois Parkes

Dear Georgia:

Thanks fro sharing. Life as we know it, will be forever changed from here.