Remote Work Challenges: How the Pandemic is Reshaping Workplace Culture

workplace culture remote work

In a new thought leadership series about remote work challenges, we hear from three JDL Technologies managers about how the pandemic changed the workplace for their managed services clients – and for their own teams.

Ray Medina, Service Delivery Manager at JDL Technologies, has worked remotely for over 12 years.

As a managed services provider (MSP), JDL Technologies was immediately called upon by businesses to help set up remote work solutions once the pandemic hit. Business problems created by the pandemic vary by client. The main issue I’ve observed is people not understanding the technology, what capabilities they have, and how to apply it to the organization. When everyone was in the office, they were nice and secure. They had their firewall, the network was set up, and everything worked the way they wanted it. Then the pandemic hit, they went home with their PCs, and nothing seemed to work because they were completely separated from their network. Their printer wasn’t the same printer, for example.

The Value of a Managed Services Provider

We recognize now that it wasn’t enough to just send people home with technology and expect it to work for them the same way. But because of how rapidly we had to close offices, nobody had time to think about that. We had to adapt. Granted, most people don’t want to worry about their technology. It’s not their specialty; they just want it to work. They need the guidance and help that an MSP can provide, because technology is their specialty. The MSP business model is to take care of these very important tools that enable your business processes.

Remote Work Challenges: Applications and Tools

The specific applications and tools needed for the modern workplace depend on the organization. Intelligent virtual desktops (iVD) is a technology that’s extremely conducive to work-from-anywhere, work-from-any-device environments. You simply access your desktop from a website and it’s just like you’re sitting at your computer at the office. A managed service provider like JDL Technologies maintains and updates it, so there’s no heavy lifting for the client to do. With a per-user billing model, this is good for budget planning purposes. And it’s extremely easy to scale, to add workstations quickly. Laptops can arrive already set up or get provisioned automatically the first time employees turn them on. The MSP can also remotely manage and update computers that have locally hosted applications using Microsoft Intune. Installation and upgrades happen automatically upon logging in.

This facilitates both onboarding and offboarding of employees and it’s important. Say your employee is using their own computer at home. They have your organization’s data on their computer’s hard drive, all sorts of company information at their fingertips. If that employee is provisioned through Intune, the MSP can remove (wipe) all those applications and proprietary data with one click, remotely, and restore their computer to how it was before they were onboarded. Their information remains, but the company information is gone, and they no longer have access to it. The same goes for phones and tablets. They will no longer have access to company applications or data.

Remote Work Challenges: Collaboration and Culture

Seamless collaboration is another key to successful remote work. In addition to deploying unified communication tools like Microsoft Teams video chat, online collaboration requires culture change. Some people think being on video is invasive, because you’re seeing their homes. Having a dedicated space to work and helping family or roommates understand what signals that you’re on a video call (door closed, for example) is one way to overcome this hesitancy. Teach your employees what’s appropriate for video calls for internal meetings versus client meetings. While your office dress code may be greatly relaxed for the work from home (WFH) environment, you may want to specify what is and isn’t acceptable for a video call with prospects, investors, and vendors. Get your team used to video first mode. It shows you’re there and you’re paying 100% attention.

Remote Work Challenges: Productivity

How do you verify your team is being productive at home? In our case, the support team’s schedule is managed by a dispatcher. A ticket status system provides validation that they’re working and insight to what they’re working on. There’s constant communication with the dispatcher about their status and availability. We put policies in place about how team members are to communicate. First thing in the morning, they log in to all their communication apps, including a board that shows who is working, called Simple In/Out. They click out for lunch and so forth. It’s tied to Teams, so you can tell if the team member is available. It’s useful for managers and dispatchers.

Bottom line, communicate what’s expected and be ready to call people out or coach them as needed. Provide guidance on practical ways to stay available, even if they have to take a minute for a domestic task. We all have phones, right? They can stay connected. For remote work to keep working, you have to communicate exactly what is expected of everyone. Let them know it’s not free time. We have schedules to uphold.

Remote Work Challenges: Reviews

I’ve been asked about handling performance reviews with remote employees. As with office-based staff, it should be based on metrics tied to their job descriptions and take into account “the story behind the number” if they are not reaching the expected metric. It might be easier to understand what’s going on with an employee you see at the office every day, to whatever degree they are performing. If you don’t see them or speak with them as often as you’d like, ask them to include documentation to support exceptional performance.

The Future Work Environment is Hybrid

As for the future of remote work, based on job roles, I don’t see the work environment completely coming back to the office. In many cases, there’s no need. People involved in manufacturing, inventory, healthcare, and service industries may need to be on site, but with things like drop shipping and telemedicine, even some of that could be reduced. Some companies have had employees move to different states to be closer to family, and they may not want to move back. A recent Forbes article stated that 97% of employees surveyed don’t want to return to the office full-time.

Collaboration will get even better as more people get used to it. I’d say no one thing will change the work world, it’ll be a lot of little things. I predict that at home and at offices, telephone handsets will fade away. With phones working flawlessly through computers, we don’t need handsets.

Realistically, I see office work going into a hybrid mode, where people go into the office maybe two days a week. This may be driven by management style preferences, though I’ve observed some managers who were strongly opposed to remote work a year ago now understand the benefits.  Once you have a good space in your home with a desk and a good chair, you’re set. You have your office. For people without a spare room to convert, much can still be done to set boundaries within a shared space and make it “the office” during work hours.