Since the start of the global pandemic back in March, a large proportion of the UK workforce is now working from home. Over the past six months, individuals and businesses have had to learn the best ways of working from home for both themselves and their team. Innovative new tools have been developed to help make the process easier and changes to existing platforms have occurred to help businesses and people connect.
With the government encouraging everyone to continue working from home and further lockdowns being implemented, a recent study from Adzoomo revealed that out of nearly 450 workers and multiple businesses surveyed, over 60% of people wished to remain working from home – if possible.
Working from home does come with huge benefits including: cost saving for both employers and employees; increased productivity; and time saving. However, there are concerns that working from home can reduce company loyalty, increase security risks and have a negative impact on communication and transparency within a company. We’ve compiled a list of digital tools and practices that we believe help mitigate some of these issues.
Keeping track of where you and your team are in relation to all projects is particularly important when working from home; this is why investing in a top project management tool is key. We recently made the decision to upgrade from Trello to Jira. We felt that we needed a tool that offered total transparency now that we are all working from home. Jira is a centralised, highly customisable project management system. All projects are logged into a central database and each one goes through a number of workflows. You can assign different members to a project, log time worked, prioritise and easily communicate using the tool.
Although we know that most employees find that working from home can increase productivity and save time; how can employers make sure that their team is working efficiently and effectively?
Toggl is a tool that we’ve been using for years now but have become even more dependent on since working from home. The platform offers online time tracking and reporting services through their website along with desktop and mobile applications. It’s particularly useful for when you need to distribute the workload amongst a team, as it allows you to allocate tasks to specific team members with recommended timeframes; it will notify you when a task or project is near or fully completed.
It also helps encourage transparency with any billable clients as you can download reports and timesheets.
Working ‘remotely’ is often a security cause for concern for most businesses. Here is a list of potential issues and what we have done to help reduce these risks:
Home networks are far more likely to be infected by malware than corporate networks. Installing a reliable and strong VPN system like NordVPN can help protect you. It safeguards your connection with next-generation encryption, so you can log into your accounts, browse, shop or access company resources without worries – even on unprotected Wi-Fi. We also recommend investing in a strong antivirus software for all employee devices; as an SME we are currently using AVG Antivirus, but there are larger, more feature-packed options available for bigger businesses or those with specialist requirements.
NordVPN reported a significant increase in the number of users since the initial lockdown began back in March. Cyber criminals are targeting weak VPNs for vulnerabilities. That’s why we strongly recommend investing in a top VPN tool. There are lots on the market with many options, a key feature is “no logs”, this is where the VPN does not log any of your internet traffic to keep you safe and secure. Recently there have been media reports about the validity of this feature with some VPN providers claiming they do not store customer logs, but in fact they have been, so make sure you do your research!
Security researchers have found numerous vulnerabilities in relation to many of the well known cloud-based tools. One of these vulnerabilities includes ‘password stealing’. We recommend LastPass, a password manager that stores encrypted passwords online. Not only can you store passwords but it can generate passwords for you and keep important credit card and banking information safe too.
Lack of remote working policies and procedures
Unfortunately, many companies were unable to put together remote working policies and procedures in time for the initial lockdown. Having clearly codified policies and procedures is vital in making sure that everyone is on the same page and provides a point of reference for all employees. There have been many instances of AWS buckets leaking data because they were incorrectly configured, which opened a wider discussion on the issue revolving around what Amazon should do about this. For example, an incorrectly configured ‘bucket’ of data could potentially give access to another bucket that was set up to be more secure. These ‘wormable’ buckets mean big issues for businesses of all sizes as the research showed it affected everyone from Fortune 500s to charities to SMEs. Make sure you review and document your policies and procedures for remote working as soon as possible as it will save you time in the long run!
Communication and culture
One of the downsides of working from home is the lack of social interaction you have with your team which in turn can reduce company loyalty and morale. The majority of companies, prior to the pandemic, would often engage in weekly or monthly social events. Throughout lockdown we have taken the approach that this should not change. Although you might not be able to see one another face to face anymore, you can still participate in online social events together thanks to platforms like Zoom or Google Meet. We recommend putting time in the diary once a week/fortnight/month to meet with your team and socialise. Make sure you leave work matters behind and try and engage on a more social level; organising events like quizzes can help break the ice!
Shortly after lockdown, we introduced the ‘Buddy System’ across the company where each member of a team is paired with one other person (often in another team) and everyone is then responsible for checking in on their assigned person on a weekly basis. We’ve found this to be really helpful as an organisation as people appreciate knowing that someone is looking out for them on both a personal and professional level.