A Taste of Virtual Work in a Global Pandemic
Your company has told you to work from home. Your kid’s school has now put you in charge of managing their online learning for the next month. Are you ready?
Making a Change, Like it or Not
We as a nation are adjusting the way we live, interact, and work. As schools close and companies cancel in-office work hours and institute a virtual culture it will lay bare how prepared we are to manage a digital life on a new level. Many managers are woefully misinformed about how ready their teams and systems are to pivot to assume the full lift of working and learning from home. As a manager in the learning and design field for Data Society, a premier machine learning education and consulting start-up in Washington, D.C., I have been on the front line helping government agencies, students, teams and instructors move to a strictly online medium. The minutiae of logistics involved making sure clients and students have access not only to systems they would need but laptops and access credentials/licenses that they are issued by their employers, has been a non-stop job since last week. Many employees may be asked to use personal devices with questionable security protocols to access their work. It has exposed how ready some companies are to handle major disruptive events.
Already IT departments in the DC area, ranging from government offices and elite level academic institutions, have been forced into a reckoning this week that they don’t have near the working laptops needed for authorized work from home access for their number of employees. Employers must make sure everyone has access to the same apps and technology, usually cloud-based integrated tools such as Google Drive, Teams, Dropbox or Slack—to collaborate and meet online. They are doing this often without protocols or written directives.
The Benefits of Recalibrating
Government agencies have been forced to quickly rewrite service contracts with contractors that even allow them to deviate from the SOW and provide virtual-only products. Employees themselves are now resigning working agreements with the Office of Personnel Management as new guidance has them working from home, some for the first time. Streaming and live conference services are seeing increased subscriptions as companies realize that they have to teach employees how to work from home while using as much face-contact time as possible. The federal government, that had recently scaled back telework options due to concerns that employees were less productive at home, is now engaging in a quick about-face. The State Department, the DOD and other government agencies have even less options on the table as certain secure systems can not be accessed remotely, but they too still have to operationalize and plan how to expect some work product and manhours be delivered from home.
This could be a time of recalibration and team-building if the right tools are in place. Learning and development has been moving online for years, and could be a great option to inspire employees and upskill, without lost working hours. If a business or agency is already prepared to do this, this telework time need not mean stagnation, but the program access and the preparedness for online engagement have to approached as a crucial tool, not an afterthought.
Leaders and Innovators Will Come Ahead
As business moves to a work from home environment, employees may need to be taught how to successfully navigate work virtually, while still being productive and accountable. Leadership will also need to brush up on good guidance and protocol. One email in the morning won’t lead the team, and the loss of hallway conversations and quick coffees with coworkers also means that some of the best creative guidance and counsel from your workers will now have to be deliberate and crafted. Many leadership and consulting groups are happy to guide this new work-life with online webinars and tips.
When this is done, will we be so quick to give up this important flexible work-life integration? The offering no longer seems like just a nice hiring perk, but in fact, a crucial pillar of a robust disaster preparedness strategy. Will we now ask employees that have grown used to working from home to return to a strict office routine? Will we cave to coming into the office anyway when we have a cough or a mild cold, or will the now tested work from home option be an easy choice? When the crisis is over, for our working life at least, will we put into place the flexibility, the policy, and the technology we need to keep our government and businesses running?
Meghan is an Instructional Designer that is focused on facilitating personal growth in both individual and group environments in her role as Training Manager at the Washington , D.C. based Data Society. She holds a Graduate Certificate in e-learning and Instructional Design from George Mason University and an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy from the California School of Professional Psychology at Scripps Ranch. With extensive experience in facilitation, media affairs, producing, and writing she enjoys making all content compelling, data driven, and approachable.