The ability to communicate and cooperate from a distance can’t be understated. Today we call this concept ‘remote working’, but it has been effective for many decades. One of my favourite examples is the Apollo Moon programme, writes Sabine Dedering, Regional Sales Director at Dell Technologies South Africa.

If you could visit these missions, you’d find teams hidden in NASA’s back offices – each dedicated to a specific person in the control room. They acted as a collective brain to help solve problems for that individual. Sometimes, experts collaborate across countries to get real-time results. It was this level of integrated remote working that helped save the astronauts on the doomed Apollo 13 flight.

In the past two decades, we have increased such collaboration a hundredfold. Digital technology and connectivity have made that possible. Yet until recently, we’ve only been flirting with the idea of remote working. Managers still consider a seen employee as a productive employee. The possibilities, and dogmas, of remote working remained mostly untested.

This perception is changing, as many of us are able to work remotely. We can continue to be productive and contribute to our economies, from our homes.

It also puts those untested assumptions under the scope. How do we build proper, functional remote working environments? A laptop with an internet connection is not enough, so what are the practical considerations we should look at?

In my team, we have created a morning video call check-in at 8:30, Monday to Friday. We chat, table any new issues, and introduce our favourite coffee mugs to each other! We work with people, so don’t forget the personal touches – especially in times of distancing. Every member gets a slot to talk. This gives structure to the day and keeps the team connected. We also schedule calls, sometimes as short as 15 min, for one on one discussions. And we close off the day around 17:00 with a text to the group, to chat about the highlights of the day.

Team leaders and participants need the means to create their own group rituals and habits. There are several things every organisation can do to help them. Our experts at Dell Technologies have come up with strategies to manage and improve remote working in practical ways. Here are some of the key findings that any business, even small ones, can apply:

Create a remote-working plan

Offices create structure for employees, offering them an intuitive sense of what to do when. But at home, this can be a lot harder. What are the standard operating times? How and when should they check in with managers? How are expectations communicated to them? How do they access resources such as company files or IT support? How are meetings planned and executed? What connectivity options do employees have? Be prepared to find answers for such fundamental questions.

Keep your end-user devices healthy and current

Patch, patch, patch. Devices are most vulnerable to security flaws and less optimal in performance if they aren’t patched and kept current. Old drivers and missing patches can leave holes for criminals, and they are likely to affect the performance of essential components such as wifi. Patching can be fast and doesn’t have to cost you anything.

Please also ensure to make use of a strong VPN and remote management tools to manage the integrity and security of your user’s devices.

Look for self-service features

Office services are typically supported by IT staff. But services that operate outside of offices let users change many things through self-service. A common example is password reset: does the user need to go through IT to get their credentials sorted out, or can they use a self-service portal to do it themselves? When your teams work remotely, they will put many demands on your IT staff. Self-service features can help alleviate much of that pressure.

Select the right tools for the role

Let’s say your employees want to host a conference. Should they use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Whatsapp, or Discord? Should they chat away in Slack? And how can they share files in those sessions? The right answer depends on the situation. Do you need video? Do you want to record conversations? Do employees have sufficient bandwidth to connect? Is it for a large group of a small one? One tool won’t cover everything, so resist the temptation to do just that. Consider your options and try to make several available to your people.

Scrutinise processes and infrastructure

Dell Technologies has been supporting a remote working culture for more than a decade. We initially assumed that remote workers would function more or less the same way as office workers. This is a fallacy: there are many subtle differences, such as how they manage work/life balance and engage with their output channels. Remote workers aren’t entirely effective if you just replicate the same processes and infrastructure as those based at the office. Interview remote employees, take their pain point seriously and look for ways to smooth those out.

Focus beyond productivity and flexibility

Flexibility and productivity are important. But employee happiness and inclusion is crucial. Remote working requires self-motivation, purpose and the feeling of being connected. Happy employees can self-motivate. That happiness extends from being included and aware, so managers must communicate often, clearly and patiently. Get rid of workflows that chronically overload employees and encourage a flatter hierarchy where all sides can listen and contribute. Encourage and facilitate informal team meetings. The more remote employees feel they know each other, the more they can work together.

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