The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic is a milestone moment in any of our lives. The virus is wreaking havoc across the world, but with this threat also comes a long-awaited opportunity within organisations to more fully embrace home and remote working.
With travel bans and government requests for social distancing and home isolation for vulnerable/high-risk people, organisations are waking up to the opportunity that remote working offers.
Here we explore some potential positives about the pandemic and how it may be a landmark transformational moment which shifts the workforce to a more remote style of working and opportunities for businesses to provide a more virtual service style of working.
How can I compare home working with remote working?
The terms “home working” and “remote working” are often used interchangeably with many people thinking their meanings are exactly the same. The truth though is they are not the same, there are fundamental differences.
What is home working?
Home working signifies a change from the “norm”, in most cases working in the office. It’s perhaps working from home to get some admin done, to focus on a job without being interrupted, or because you have no face-to-face meetings, or maybe your car needs an MOT and travel would be difficult. The main point is that home working is different from your normal working place, where you are expected to be the majority of your working time.
What is remote working?
Remote working is where the normal working environment is away from Company office’s all of the time. Although for many workers it’s likely to be home, it could be a variety of locations, the underlying principle being that the worker can work from wherever they are, e.g. home, Starbucks, library, client’s site, relatives house, etc. Remote working requires discipline, a different mindset but also very importantly for organisations, robust technology set-up and infrastructure. Remote workers need to be excellent at communication as they won’t be in the same location as co-workers, collaboration becomes important as do teleconferencing tools such as Skype. Remote workers need secure encrypted access to business tools, apps and IT infrastructure with 99.99%+ availability.
Is this different from virtual working or providing virtual services?
In many senses, these are all very similar terms. The word “Virtual” tends to mean different things to different people. Some consider virtual to be the same as remote, others think of outsourcing, a virtual assistant or virtual office and tech people may think of virtual reality services. We won’t cover virtual reality here as we’ve explored this in depth as part of our “VR for business” below:
- The History of Virtual Reality
- Has Oculus Lost the First Generation of Virtual Reality to HTC
- How Digital Marketers Can Use Virtual Reality
- Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality
- Open Source Virtual Reality
- Virtual Reality Web Design & Digital Marketing
- Virtual Reality eCommerce (vCommerce)
- The Lowdown from Our VR Gurus, Rob and Adam
What I would say is that virtual reality can be used integral aspect of remote and virtual working and the following article has explored this in light of the Coronavirus:
In this article, we’ll focus more of the human side of remote working and virtual services, and for the sake of clarity we would define a virtual service as:
providing any kind of service to another party where you are not physically based at the same location
What are some of the benefits of remote working?
There are many benefits of remote working. Just a few are listed below to give some examples of how this technology is massive beneficial:
- Technology awareness – remote working will make remote workers more aware of technology and its effective use in the workplace, examples include:
- Adoption of smart working techniques
- Improved awareness of technologies
- Improved collaboration on documents and projects
- Improved digital mindset
- Improved productivity
- Openness to innovation
- Happiness and retention – remote working delivers the following employee benefits, which also lead to increased retention of staff:
- improved work/life balance
- lower costs
- reduced time travelling and therefore more time for family
- Lower business disruption – a remote working infrastructure improves resilience against pandemics such as the Coronavirus, natural disasters, transport problems and other unforeseen events. In essence, business can continue “as usual”.
- Reduced costs – there will be lower costs for both the organisation and the remote worker. Savings include office space, lower onsite day-to-day costs, etc.
The above are just a few, but here you can more on the benefits that home/remote working will bring.
How can infrastructure for remote working be implemented
What general setup do I need?
As you can see there are many benefits of home/remote working. An general infrastructure setup is required though, such as:
- Internet access – with sufficient bandwidth to meet day to day demands:
- Workers internet – use of the workers’ internet by the organisation
- Dedicated work internet – it is typically more secure for a dedicated “work only” internet to be put in place (although this is not always necessary)
- Remote working devices – various options are available. Devices such as a PC or laptop including a Webcam, which will be required for video conferencing and also smartphones for calls/texts. Organisations can use remote workers own computer equipment or can have their own equipment installed
- Security – a rigorous level of security is required to ensure the security of all connections. This is most typically through a VPN (a virtual private network). Various implementation methods are available, it’s critical to get this right as remote connections are present a major opportunity to hackers and computer viruses to access organisational systems with various ill-purposes in mind
What business and IT applications support remote working?
The list is endless, but here are some examples of systems, which remote workers are likely to need access to:
- Instant messenger services – such as Facebook, Google Hangouts, Slack, WeChat and WhatsApp
- Video conferencing solutions – such as Skype, Facetime, Foss Bytes, Skype and Video Call (an app for mobiles) as well as many others
- Virtual reality – devices such as Oculus and HTC Vive
- Email – the corporate e-mail system, as well as other email accounts used in day to day business
- Accounting and payroll – non-ERP solutions such as QuickBooks, Sage, Wave, Xero and Zoho
- Office applications – Microsoft Office and similar application suites
- ERP – systems such as Epicor, J D Edwards, Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle, People Soft and SAP
- Customer service and remote support tools – these include Kaseya, Splashtop and a range of similar tools
- Social media – in fact tools such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter are ideal ways to reduce staff feelings of isolation at this strangest of times
- Collaboration software – tools which enable collaborative documents and thought sharing such as GitHub, InVision and Slack
- File storage systems – Altaro, Google Drive, Dropbox and a myriad of cloud storage solutions, etc.
- Websites and eCommerce – whether you are using a platform like WordPress, Magento or Joomla, most websites these days are content managed which means you can keep them up-to-date from home
It’s impractical to list everything above but if you need us to provide access to any systems (including ones not listed above) then call us on 0121 222 5757 or get in touch as we may be able to help.
What working practices need to change for home working to be effective?
Technology implementation is one aspect of remote or home working enablement, but to be entirely effective there will also need to be changes to working practices too.
Some of these are summarised below:
- Dedicated home office space – we would advise that all remote workers have a dedicated office space in the home
- Establish a daily routine – although workers may not work “9 to 5” in quite the same way, it’s important to establish a routine and when they will/won’t be working
- Record time – some organisations will have dedicated timesheet management applications or ones integrated into their ERPs. These are a useful control to measure productivity/output and may also feed into invoicing too. From a remote worker perspective, it’s also important to record time so as to know when to stop. If workers are not careful when working from home, they may fail to stop working and then home may not feel like home any more
- Communication – remote workers can suffer from isolation, particularly if they are used to the “buzz” of the office and enjoy day to day communication. Organisations should ensure some time is built in for staff to communicate with one other through video conferencing tools
Beware of scammers and their rogue solutions
Sadly, some rogue organisations and individuals use the fear that the Coronavirus brings as an opportunity to practice scamming techniques. Here at Opace, we have been inundated recently with offers of sharing software and solutions. Undoubtedly, some of the approaches you receive will be bona fide, but if you feel concerned our advice would be to tread carefully before buying remote solutions. If you are considering an investment in any type of remote solution, please consider these carefully.
How might the Coronavirus and adoption of home working impact how businesses operate?
With the adoption of home working throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s likely we’ll see a cultural shift as businesses and employees start to realise the effectiveness of this way of working. Businesses reluctant to adopt home working have now been forced to, which may come as a wake-up call to those not familiar with working remotely. But what does that mean for how businesses operate once the Coronavirus pandemic is over? Well, for starters, employees and employers realising that home working can actually work, may start to adopt this more frequently. For example:
- Jobs and tasks which were previously office based may continue to stay home based
- Businesses may allow employees to work from home for part of the week so that they can enjoy a better work life balance
- Business may actually start to offer a more remote or “virtual service” style of operation to their customers
The last point is one we would like to explore further as Opace have actually been doing this for over five years now very successfully.
Will remote and virtual services become more popular?
Whether B2C or B2B, we think they will. For a large number of service-based organisations, there is no reason at all why services can’t be provided to customers remotely, on a virtual basis. Whilst many customers still like to work on a face-to-face basis, this is still possible with the use of video conferencing solutions such as those mentioned above, albeit without the physical contact and good old handshake that we’re all so accustomed to in Britain. Having a physical meeting still has its place and there’s no better way of getting a feel for the person you are with, but with technology solutions improving every day, the need is lessening.
Examples of popular services, which have been forced to become “virtual” during the Coronavirus pandemic include:
- Counselling – people receiving counselling have been able to keep their appointments through the delivery of virtual sessions
- Education – schools are using Google Classrooms, online courses and apps to teach school children using virtual lessons
- Training – businesses are offering a range of training courses remotely, like the ones we already provide here at Opace, e.g. Skype training for SEO, remote digital marketing director, etc.
In fact, most services can be delivered virtually but almost all rely on the use of technology to some degree. In its most basic form, this may be email or more likely video conferencing. In more advanced cases, this may be using virtual reality devices.
Remote and virtual services offered by Opace
Opace have always had a strong emphasis and focus on smart working and delivering efficiencies through the use of technology. We have a wonderful base at the Innovation Centre in Longbridge, but truth be told, we adopted a more remote style of working around five years ago when we realised we could work just as effectively remotely and with a better quality of life. We also found that many clients preferred this style of working as it avoided the time and cost of travel, which in turn opened us up to a much wider spectrum of clients from around the country and world. We still go to the office for client meetings and team meetings but on a day-to-day basis we mainly work together and with clients using tools like Email, Skype, Discord, Slack, Freshbooks, Basecamp, Invision, Trello and WhatsApp.
As an example of Opace providing virtual services, we have for many years been remotely delivered SEO training and director-level consultancy using the platforms mentioned above and other customer-preferred platforms. We even provide a virtual marketing department on behalf of customers and delivery many of our web design and eCommerce projects remotely. Whatever your requirement for remote working solutions, Opace is very likely to be able to help. Please read through our website for an array of content and information. Contact Opace by email at [email protected], phone on 0121 222 5757 or message us via our contact form to discuss remote working services and solutions. Opace is here to help and will continue to work every day throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, so if you have any questions about how we can help, or general suggestions then please do get in touch. We wish all organisations and their staff health, wellbeing and prosperity at these most testing of times.
One final thought
In closing, the Coronavirus pandemic will almost certainly have a long-lasting impact on society and culture as a whole, probably the likes of which have not been seen since WW2. As horrible as the pandemic is, we think businesses will mature in their working practices in areas of remote working and virtual services provision as a result. It’s our belief that with the right infrastructure investments made now, there will be a long-lasting change in how we all work when the Coronavirus pandemic is over.