10 Best Practices to Support a Remote Workforce—and Ease Stress—During COVID-19

March 23, 2020
PRAKASH KOTA

Seemingly overnight, an unexpected and unprecedented crisis hit the world: The coronavirus known as COVID-19 spread from country to country, leaving public and private sectors to scramble for solutions while businesses shuttered, borders closed, schools sent millions of children home, and much of the entire workforce—worldwide—was forced to go remote.

But while sudden, anxiety-inducing change is undeniably hard, humans adapt. People are learning quickly how to cope with the new normal of isolation and social distancing, caring for family, and an uncertain economy. And unlike pandemics of the past, the modern world gives humanity one major comfort: technology’s ability to connect people.

remote workforce prakash kota autodesk cio
Autodesk CIO Prakash Kota and his new coworker and fifth-grade daughter, Shriya. Lately, Shriya has been asking her father to keep the noise down while on Zoom calls with her teacher. Courtesy of Prakash Kota.

It’s critical that companies have a comprehensive business-continuity plan to ensure their products and services remain available, secure, and reliable for their customers and employees. The health and safety of their employees is top priority, and many companies are closely and continually monitoring guidance provided by governments and health organizations related to the coronavirus so they can make informed decisions.

Chief information officers must have an IT strategy to help people be productive from anywhere to better enable today’s modern workforce. If they do this, they will be positioned to support remote workers with technology that allows their employees to work anywhere, anytime, from any device.

As the COVID-19 situation evolves, many companies are working to support employees in working from home. Below are some examples of the solutions and practices to provide a frictionless experience for your remote workers.

1. Invest in Software as a Service (SaaS) and Cloud Solutions

Cloud productivity tools such as Microsoft O365, Zoom, Slack, Jira, and Salesforce make it possible to work anywhere. Create a culture where your teams collaborate in the cloud with platforms like Microsoft Teams and OneDrive. This enables them to work on and co-edit files in real time together, even if they are thousands of miles apart.

For uninterrupted business, it’s critical to invest in flexible solutions that enable productivity and collaboration regardless of location or device. Employees can get almost as much work done from their phones as they can from their computers.

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2. Ensure Virtual Access

Some workers need to work on physical desktops because of software or hardware requirements. Architects, for example, may not be able to take their robust workstations home, but if you provide them or other designers and engineers with secure remote access to their desktops through company laptops or personal computers, it will keep them productive and able to work from anywhere.

Another issue to consider is laptop availability. Similar to how people are running out and buying toilet paper, companies are ordering laptops in large quantities leading to a global supply shortage. Proactively stock off-the-shelf laptops to address the supply-chain issue, and provide employees access to virtual computers from their personal devices to keep business running even if laptops are unavailable.

3. Help Employees Serve Customers From Anywhere

Use a united contact-center platform (such as NICE inContact) that will enable your customer and employee support technicians to work from anywhere without being tied to a phone system. These solutions don’t have to be grouped together in physical buildings. You can continue to provide high-quality and timely support while making inquiry routing adjustments and prioritization based on your support teams’ location and availability.

See Also: 4 Tips to Administer PPP Funds and Relieve Fears About Loan Forgiveness

4. Continue to Onboard New Talent

Even though your employees may not be going into offices, it doesn’t mean they’ve stopped onboarding new hires, so make a few adjustments. Face-to-face meetings are still happening over video conferencing instead of in person. You’re still going to continue shipping company laptops to your new hires’ homes and securely informing them of their login credentials. If they need technical assistance getting started, your support technicians are ready to assist them over phone, email, or chat. New employee orientations may not be happening on-site, but they are still presented virtually for your new team members around the globe.

5. Prepare for Increased Support Needs

Any time work conditions change, there will be a need for additional support. Have your help-desk support team prepare a staffing plan in anticipation of increased support requests. Provide self-service options wherever possible, and make it easy to get support through multiple channels, including bots, Slack channels, chat, email, and phone.

6. Communicate Clearly

Working from home can be a big change for some employees, so it is important that they understand how to best use and access your systems. Prepare and send employees FAQs, tips, and best practices to help them in the transition, and host all of the important information on an easy-to-locate internal website. Realize that it can be overwhelming to comb through it all to find specific answers, so train an automated support bot to answer frequently asked work-from-home questions. That way, employees can get instant answers.

remote workforce woman on video call


7. Dive Into Data

Now that everyone is set up to work remotely, it’s important to make sure they are using and accessing resources successfully. Set up dashboards to actively monitor system health and accessibility. This valuable data tells you if your employees are active in your systems and able to perform functions as anticipated. It also gives immediate insight into their usage and informs you if action is needed to provide more licenses, address issues, etc., to ensure your workforce can stay productive.

8. Optimize Network and Infrastructure for Increased VPN Use

Having more remote workers means greater demand for a virtual private network (VPN). In addition to continuously monitoring VPN usage and making adjustments to license numbers and locations (reducing VPN idle timeout so unused licenses are available for other users), there are other steps you can take to ensure good connectivity.

First, provide clear communication on which applications require VPN so employees only use it when necessary. Using it for all online work means traffic routes to data centers rather than employees’ home offices, which will tank performance. And second, facilitate firmware upgrades and reboots of infrastructure equipment to provide better connection stability.

9. Don’t Compromise Security

Unfortunately, during a major event like COVID-19, hackers can try to take advantage of the situation. Use standard security measures, including two-factor authentication, data encryption and secure transit, and advanced security settings on physical devices and virtual desktops to help ensure that data stays safe, even when employees are accessing your systems remotely.

remote workforce man working from home


10. Have a Backup Plan

It’s important to have a backup plan for technology issues while also capturing employee knowledge. If, for example, there are only three employees who know a password to a critical system, what is the plan of action if they are all unavailable? Develop a plan with your operations center to make sure critical knowledge and information is captured securely. Then if team members are unexpectedly unavailable, it won’t halt business.

Investing in a “work from anywhere, anytime, on any device” model and putting best practices like these in place benefits companies in the midst of a crisis. And it generally makes it easier for employees to be productive and effective each day.

This unprecedented change is hard, and companies can’t expect anything to be perfect as they and their employees adapt to the change. But there is a bright side: The crisis is forcing humanity to get better connected across countries and continents, and as a result, people will be stronger and more resilient in the end.

About the Author

Autodesk CIO Prakash Kota is responsible for the company's global infrastructure, enterprise operations, and workforce collaboration and productivity services. Millions of Autodesk customers around the world depend on Autodesk products for their business livelihood. Kota’s team ensures they have access to their products and entitlements in a reliable, resilient, and highly available environment. Kota has been with Autodesk for 11-plus years and has held many roles within IT including, Director DevOps, Sr. Director of Enterprise Operations, and Vice President of Enterprise Infrastructure and Operations. He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Oklahoma State University and a bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication from the University of Madras in Chennai, India.