COVID-19: Building a First Class Remote Work Environment – Part 1/6

COVID-19: Building a First Class Remote Work Environment – Part 1/6

COVID-19 has most likely affected someone in your family or circle of friends by now.  It’s the “Invisible Enemy” and will be with us for an undetermined period of time.  It is a game-changer.  And it will change the way we work forever.  Digital Leadership will be a concept you will become very familiar with.

If you are working remotely or on a flexible schedule, you are part of the future of work.  And while a Remote Work Environment (RWE) gives us freedom, productivity, and flexibility, it comes with a host of complexities, challenges, and obstacles.  My goal is to walk you through this maze of issues – step by step.

As many of you know, my clients are all in the insurance sector and this business is uniquely positioned to enable their work force to work remotely.  Since COVID-19 has struck, many have adapted and implemented with lightning speed their own unique RWEs.  Without divulging client names or other proprietary information, I will provide a high-level view of what many have done – just in the last 30 days – what has worked and what has not worked.

To this end, this is the first installment in a six part series on how COVID-19 will revolutionize YOUR workplace for years to come. 

In Part One, I will discuss the basic technology, hardware, comms infrastructure, and tools that you will need to implement a successful RWE.  Part Two will review the most popular tools for work flow, teaming, and collaboration that my clients are now using with a special emphasis on Zoom and SLACK.  Part Three will recommend and explain some remote productivity options.  Part Four will be a discussion on how to implement a Remote Management and Accountability (RMA) system, and Part Five will discuss security, health, and safety concerns related to a RWE environment.  In the concluding part, I will discuss the various challenges (pros & cons) now confronting my clients and where we go from here.  Enjoy…

Technology, Hardware, Communications Infrastructure, and Tools

Let’s start off with the obvious:  You will need the following to get up and running:

  • Computers/Operating Systems: Up to date computers complete with Windows 10 and the latest version of the MS-Word product suite to include MS-Word, MS-Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. 
  • WIFI:  Get your WIFI in order.  No matter what technology or hardware you have, your experience working from home will be largely dependent on the performance of your WIFI.  Multiple digital devices in your home competing for throughput will degrade your performance to a crawl.  If you have had the same router for more than five years, get a new one.  Some newer ones can segment your wireless network into two networks: 2.4GHz and 5 GHz.  5G is much faster!  You will need this for video conferencing, business applications, and transferring and sharing large files in a team environment. 
  • VPN: A virtual private network is the most critical technology of all.  It provides a secure communication channel through public Internet connections.  More on this later in the discussion on security.
  • VOIP:  Voice over Internet Protocal (Ring Central, Whatsapp, Signal, etc.) cuts communication costs and increases team flexibility – staff can access their calls from anywhere, send instant messages, forward calls to cell phones, teleconference with others, etc.  Traditional land lines just don’t cut it any more.
  • Boost your Internet: A high-speed Internet connection:  more than a few of my clients are now experiencing slow-downs and outages (when doing video conferencing) due to either a lack of bandwidth they have purchased or slowdowns experienced with their Internet Service Providers.  Know and manage your upload and download speeds.  Measure & monitor them.  Verizon FIOS or other Fiber to the Home (FTHH) solutions seem to be holding up the best.  AT&T recently announced it was removing all caps on broadband service to facilitate RWEs. 

CATV connections seem to be having problems.  Because of the way cable companies’ network neighborhoods, these speeds will also be affected by other subscribers in your neighborhood cluster – all it takes is one neighbor to be a gamer to jam things up.  The Verizon CEO was on CNBC Squawk Box recently explaining that call volume on a daily basis is now equal to a typical Mothers Day which is the busiest day of the year.  On the IP side, online gaming volume has tripled due to the schools being closed down.  Add to this and the explosion of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney movie downloads during normal business hours now and you have tremendous pressure on your home office internet connection.

  • The Right Monitor:  Get your employees dual monitors.  Attach a couple of 4K displays at 27 inches or larger and, suddenly, you have a productivity powerhouse.  Windows 10 works with split screens too and multiple displays.  You will experience a significant increase in the ability to multi-task and overall productivity, particularly with your service and support staff.
  • Keyboard & Mouse:  WOW, I recently upgraded in this regard and, well…WOW.  Investing in really good external keyboards and mouse will do wonders for your workspace.  Not only are they more productive, but they are more comfortable too.  I personally favor the mechanical keyboards…I just have to watch the volume so I don’t disturb others.  More on this later…
  • Data Backup/Recovery – keeping your data backed up at all times in a RWE is critical.  Make sure you have a backup solution for your own computer.
  • Malware Protection – Upgrade from the standard home solution to a business efficient security solution.  And stay on top of the updates.
  • USB Docking Station:  If you are using a laptop at home as your work computer, consider getting a docking station/hub to increase the number of ports and a bigger keyboard & monitor. 
  • Smartphone Camera:  Can’t remember names on a conference call?  Take a pic with your phone of their face while they hold up their name tag.  You can match the face to the name later. 
  • Blue Light Blocking Glasses:  Is the harsh blue light from your computer giving you the blues (or eye strain?).  Download f.lux software (for free) and it will adjust the color of your computer.  Blue Light Blocking glasses will also cut down on the glare as well.

In Part Two to follow shortly, I will be reviewing workflow, teaming, and collaboration systems and tools.  I will specifically be diving into Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom Video – my favorites!

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