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Leveraging IT for remote working: Basic Do’s and Don’ts to support remote working productivity

17 April 2020

As the workplace evolves in response to COVID-19, the importance of a flexible and robust IT infrastructure has never been more apparent. Using IT tools correctly can enhance productivity, help maintain business relationships and improve employee well-being. Using IT tools ineffectively stifles collaboration, leads to frustrated staff and ultimately can damage an organisation’s reputation.

Nigel Morris from BDO’s Technology Advisory Services (TAS) team explains some of the Do’s and Don’ts when deploying two IT tools essential for effective remote working.

Working remotely is nothing new. For many companies it has been part of their business strategy for years, but it has never been so widespread and it has seldom been compulsory. As the board member in charge of IT during this period of change, you can help your team benefit from IT whilst avoiding the pitfalls.

Audio/Video conferencing

Audio calling and conferencing have been mainstream business tools for many years. Video calling and conferencing have become prevalent in recent years, promoting the benefits of visual dialogue, following the arrival of tools such as Skype, Hangouts and Teams. The use of video calling has rocketed with the enforced requirement for remote working. 

Basic call etiquette is largely common sense, however many participants fail to observe basic call protocols, leading to user frustration and negative outcomes.  A few simple guidelines help to alleviate these;

DO – Choose an appropriate location

It sounds obvious, and in the current circumstances it’s not always that easy to achieve, but plan to find a quiet location as the background sounds of children, pets, TV etc. impede any conversation. For a video call consider your visual background before the call. A relatively plain, neutral background, within a reasonably well lit room is preferred. Remember, colleagues, clients and suppliers on a call may be distracted by a “busy” background, so consider avoiding family pictures or underwear left out to dry.

DO – Consider your attire for video calls

Working remotely has the benefit of allowing you the freedom to wear what you like, but consider what to wear for a call from two perspectives. Firstly, the perception of others on the call, dress should be appropriate to the call circumstances, and secondly the impact of the colour or design of clothing on a camera auto-focus or brightness.

DO – Learn and test the technology before the start of a call

Acquaint yourself with the technology before a call. Ensure it is properly connected, correctly positioned and functioning as expected. Arrange a test to prove it works, and that you are familiar with controls to stop/start sound and vision, or share a document on-screen.

DON’T – Arrive late

Nobody wants to be left waiting for a participant to arrive to start the call, or have the conversation interrupted by notification of a late arrival.

DON’T – Attempt to multitask

You may think others don’t realise you’re carrying out another task during a call, but participants notice slow responses to questions, and eyes trained away from the camera during a video call. If you can’t maintain focus on the call you probably should not be attending.

DO – Practice a presentation

When presenting, whether internally within your organisation or to a potential client, consider arranging a dry-run to establish any technical issues and areas for improvement.  When presenting with a team agree verbal or visual cues with your colleagues to vary who is presenting and signal when to change the subject matter. 

Productivity suites and collaboration tools

You probably already work with one of the better known productivity suites such as Google G-Suite or Microsoft Office 365, and collaboration tools such as Teams or Slack, but are you using them effectively?

Productivity suites deliver a foundation to share and manage information, preserve a single version of each file, maintain a single channel of communication, assign and manage tasks, and collaborate on projects, regardless of a user’s location. Your workforce will be more creative, less frustrated and more productive, given the right tools and training.

DO – Decide what productivity suite features your organisation will use as a corporate standard

As an example, consider a major scourge of working in a team. Emailing documents as attachments to request review or amendment, leading to the frustration of collating multiple versions.

Productivity suites have the facility to allow teams to make and track changes to individual documents concurrently. This allows a single instance of a document to be stored, with a history of the changes made, when and by whom.

Such a feature should be used in preference to maintaining multiple instances of the same document, and should be made a corporate standard.

DO – Ensure staff are made aware of, and adhere to, corporate standards

Having decided which productivity suite features are corporate standards, make sure staff are informed of which features they are expected to use, and in what circumstances.

DON’T – Allow staff to make their own choice of productivity/collaboration tool

Consumer grade collaboration tools are widely available online and as smartphone apps. These often lack key security and corporate governance features expected of a corporate grade equivalent, such as message/conversation logging that may be a legal requirement for an organisation.

DO – Ensure your staff are trained to use its main features effectively

Many organisations mistakenly expect staff to either already be familiar with how to use their chosen corporate productivity suite, or to learn for themselves as they go along. This often leads to a wide diversity in the ability of staff to utilise core features that would increase their productivity.

DON’T – Allow project files and communication to be stored locally

All files and communications related to a project should be stored in a central repository, allowing colleagues working on the project access according to predefined access rights. This enhances project team collaboration by providing a single version of the truth for all project related documents.

Future proofing

Remember, what your organisation learns and puts into practice now, may well become the norm in the future, as the world realises the benefits of reducing travel and emissions, and organisations recognise that with the right tools staff can collaborate and remain productive working remotely, improving staff satisfaction and reducing the need for expensive office space.

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