AS THE GLOBAL healthcare epidemic caused by Covid-19 continues to affect some business operations across Europe and the rest of the world, smart working is a key go-to for business continuity during this time of uncertainty.
While the coronavirus continues to gain ground in Europe, the impact on businesses, big and small, continues to escalate with many sectors and industries considering how to minimise risks of transmission to customers and employees, deal with a falloff in demand for goods and services and manage a potential shortfall of supply.
In terms of our response, Ireland has moved from containment phase into delay phase – our second stage response to the COVID-19 outbreak, meaning that for the time being government agencies and the HSE will continue working closely with those confirmed Coronavirus cases to limit further spread. There is now an increased emphasis on social distancing, such as mass gatherings and encouraging people to work from home, if possible.
Companies across Ireland are thinking strategically and implementing business continuity planning initiatives, including smart working for employees.
That is, giving employees the necessary means using technology to work from home and, in-turn, limiting exposure to contamination.
When we talk about the technology behind smart working, we mean products or services that support employee productivity, customer engagement and business efficiencies, including mobile, broadband, mobile broadband, converged communications tools hosted in the cloud and importantly, security solutions.
While not every business can facilitate remote working practices, for many there are at least aspects of the employee role that can be supported through smart working. While this may alleviate many of the problems associated with Covid-19, preparedness and a clear understanding of what works best for each business and employee is critical to ensure success.
You will need to identify any gaps in the technology and connectivity services your employees require. Consideration must be given to what the business is offering to employees, such as mobile phones, laptops, internet connectivity.
In addition, there are multiple software packages that can allow for the smooth transition to virtual communications and the system access required to locate data and information to maintain online operations.
During this time of uncertainty, smart working offers businesses a lifeline to ensure at least elements of their operations are up and running.
However, it also creates a risk should proper IT security measures not be employed and followed. As more employees are given an opportunity to work from home, the access points for a breach multiply. Security must be built into any smart working plans.
In advance of an imposed working from home government directive, which could potentially become a reality soon, carry out a planning day with staff required to work remotely.
This will afford your business time to ensure all relevant elements are in place for business continuation at a mass scale, such as testing the hardware, software and connectivity while also offering employees time to adjust and prepare for these new ways of working.
Current working patterns
Current practices such as routine meetings need to be booked to ensure that all workers can be present together when necessary and that workers remain well informed and involved.
It’s important that all businesses create appropriate guidelines to ensure employees can work as effectively and efficiently as possible in a remote environment.
Employees will need time to adjust to this virtual environment and without the physical ability to see when someone is busy or otherwise engaged. Simple steps such as designating meeting times within colleagues’ digital diaries will ensure that you can focus on different tasks as required and be safe in the knowledge you’re not distracting or interrupting a colleagues’ focus with numerous phone calls throughout the day.
What’s interesting is that, when asked, most employees and employers recognise that introducing smart working could bring positive benefits such as increased employee engagement, improved job satisfaction, improved quality of life as well as an improved employer brand.
So, while the Coronavirus may force some companies into implementing new ways of working for a short period of time, it does allow many businesses to embrace a practice they may otherwise not have considered and could signal the increase in smart working habits for businesses in the future.
Emma Casey is head of corporate affairs at Vodafone Ireland