Distributed Computing – When Everyone Is Working From Home
We’ve officially made it past day 100 in quarantine. I hope you’ve found your groove, perfected your at-home office/workspace, learned a new language, tested six new bread recipes, and launched a successful TikTok channel. I also hope your pants still fit and you remember how to put them on correctly. Working from home has been an interesting situation to say the least, and has come with a whirlwind of emotions and business updates, two things I never expected to type in the same sentence. Remote culture has quickly become a part of our everyday lives and will potentially be an option for the future as many companies have found success in allowing staff to work from home long-term. Furthermore, while some offices are opening up on an optional basis, all signs are pointing to the stay-at-home restrictions remaining in place for another 2 – 3 months in most locations.
That leads me to think some companies are going to make the decision to go “permanent WFH,” or “remote-first” (two terms I’ve seen tossed around the Twittersphere). It may not be something every company goes all-in on, but as a remote worker for nearly 13 years, there are a few things I’d like to share, which I think could help businesses promote and maintain a positive and productive environment while work from home is still the order of the day. And who knows? Maybe my suggestions will help enough to encourage businesses to reconsider whether staff ever need to come back into the office full time at all.
The technical advice can be just that, without any window dressing. Requirements for most companies moving to remote status (or even just testing it out) are fairly similar across the board, regardless of vertical market or region. There are two major steps you should take, or should have taken, when moving your home office. Establishing a VPN concentrator in your corporate network should be first on your list. The VPN client software should then be given out to all employees, make sure it’s enough for each of their devices and operating systems. Investing in more bandwidth for incoming traffic couldn’t hurt either because this is going to bump the amount of incoming traffic significantly. Which brings me to the final point about VPN—split tunneling is a good thing. If you spend the time to secure your external SaaS-based resources, you’ll relieve pressure on your internal network AND provide a better overall experience for most of your users.
Knowing your employees and their needs to continue working successfully will help you create a suitable at-home plan. For example, outside of needing a VPN, your employees may need double monitors or new softphones to maintain a productive work environment. Maybe your teams works better with a specific task management software. Ensuring your team has the software they need installed on their take-home laptops can make all the difference in your transition to working from home. Offering curbside pickup for sanitized monitors to take home can also be a great solution for employees who miss their extra screens. In fact, on a recent episode of TechPod, guest J.W. Richards, the director of IT Infrastructure, Physical, and Cyber Security at Texas Reliability, Inc. (Texas RE), said they quickly cobbled together a “remote work kit” and it remains one of the most successful and important developments of their pivot to company-wide remote work.
Aside from that, you need to be monitoring. I may or may not be judging you if you don’t have some kind of monitoring in place*. Working from home is a new opportunity for teams to make monitoring—especially remote monitoring—more effective. Yes monitoring should still tell you the normal stuff like why you’re already out of storage and bandwidth, but more importantly, you can use the move to WFH to strengthen and extend your current monitoring system. Tools like NetFlow™ and application performance management (APM) solutions can provide a much more detailed view of how applications are being used; of where slowdowns or breakdowns are happening; and how those performance issues impact the end users (whether they’re internal employees or external customers). Not to mention, you’ll be able to see who has access to what and any potential threats.
*OK, that’s a lie. I’m 100% definitely judging you.
Working from home has presented us with the opportunity to learn how we work and to have clear and honest conversations about what works and what doesn’t. Businesses should be open to listening to their employees’ needs while also communicating expectations and finding ways to make things happen. Being thrown into quarantine means rediscovering how we work best (if only by realizing what we have now is not it). Whether it means having a quiet separate office space with a drive in between (i.e., traditional office); or space-within-our-home streaming a playlist of office sounds; or sitting at the kitchen table in the thick of things—the point is, working from home isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and that’s okay! It doesn’t have to be. The sooner you’re able to work with your team and piece together your new workflows, the sooner you’ll be able to return to productivity. Clear communication with your team can help you to establish a better remote work environment, so you can see progress sooner.
It’s important for businesses to not put their employees at fault when things go awry. Aside from employees being actual humans, there will most likely be a trial-and-error period when transitioning to telework, and mistakes will be made (and lessons learned). If they weren’t, I probably wouldn’t be writing this and we’d all be working infallibly from home. It’s vital for businesses and leaders to keep an open mind (as well as a sense of perspective, if not humor) while employees embrace new work-life habits and employ new tools to help get the job done. At-home procedures to meet business goals may look a little different, but should strive to maintain the same outcomes as those produced in an office environment.
Business leaders should ask their employees what works best for them and implement it into their overall work-from-home plans for future use. That’s probably abundantly apparent at this point. But now, a few months in, take a look at what procedures have stuck throughout quarantine and which ones you’d throw out without hesitation. In addition, as states open-then-close, businesses should continue to think of employees and contract workers who aren’t able to work from home, like cleaning staff, essential workers acting in adjunct roles (like food service), or building managers. Everyone should be included in the plan to create a successful guide to working from home.
And the Human
Now for advice for and from an actual human. Let’s be real, working from home probably hasn’t been as easy as we might have thought. You’ve probably seen clips of embarrassing video calls where someone forgot to put pants on or had at least one of your coworkers get stuck with the potato filter on. But it’s not all bad. Inviting your coworkers into your home for happy hour or having your pup join you during work calls can take the stress out of a long day at work. But there are a few things we should try to include in our work-from-home schedules.
First things first, communication. I mentioned this earlier but I’ll say it again. Communication is key when working from home. Popping into your boss’s office or leaning over to your coworker’s cubicle are no longer options, but a quick instant message can solve a world of problems in the long run. Going along with communication, you should always try to stay in touch. Whether this means scheduling a happy hour or taking the ukulele club online, interaction with your coworkers can be a great way to network without having to discuss techy stuff.
Next, and this one’s for you managers, trust your team! “But what if they’re taking naps and watching Netflix? How will I know what they’re doing if I can’t circle around their cubes like a hawk?” This may come as a surprise, but your employees know what they’re doing. You hired them for that exact reason. So if you don’t trust them, at least trust your own hiring skills. Maybe they’re working at random hours because they’re not used to working from home or being around their kids for eight extra hours of the day, but if they’re getting their work done, is it such a bad thing? Trust your team and show them you have confidence in their work. I promise it’ll pay off.
Lastly, by now I hope you’ve created the perfect work environment for yourself. Have you perfected a watering schedule for your desk plant? Although the workspace may not be the same, working from home means you have options. So get creative. Turn your usual walk around the office into a walk around your neighborhood (don’t forget your mask). Use your stretch break to do those ab workouts you’d feel too weird to do in the office—buh-bye quarantine fifteen! Whatever you chose, make sure it feels right and allows you to be your best and most productive self. And more importantly, enjoy it! You’ll be back in the office before you know it.