It is sobering to watch the world turn toward working virtually, trying to adhere to social distancing or respond to sheltering-in-place requirements. Schools are trying to make the rapid shift from in-class instruction to online delivery.

There are many hurdles to clear. Many roles are not suited to working from home, nor does everyone have an appropriate environment available in which to work. At the same time, however, for those who have the means to do so, it is easy to take for granted the technology that enables working from home.

The ability to shift seamlessly to remote—or distributed—collaboration in order to self-isolate is an essential skill, one we must all now adopt due to the contagion of COVID-19. History may well show that apps and services like Skype, Google Meet, FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp and Slack played a large role in helping us gain control over the spread of this pandemic.

Some organizations are at an advantage in this situation: Human eSources, for one, has operated as a virtual organization since its inception 23 years ago. When we first started this, it was not easy. The tools available to support such a structure were practically nonexistent. But as technology came along, we adopted communications platforms and online services that met our needs and developed internal processes and a culture that allows us to thrive.

We are also fortunate in that we only develop online services and tools for online course delivery and are not burdened by supply chains. With these attributes, we’re in the position of having the experience and knowledge of how to operate a remote organization delivering online solutions.

In these medically and economically uncertain times, companies that already have employees distributed across vast geography and which are actively using online collaboration tools and related technologies can be of greater service to their customers and partners.

If your organization is still debating the issue of how to approach this concept and what the advantages or disadvantages might be, you might consider the following:

Advantages

  • You can conduct business across time and distance, regardless of local circumstances.
  • Higher levels of productivity. A 2017 study by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom showed an increase in productivity equivalent to a full day’s work.
  • Greater job satisfaction. A 2018 study by Porch showed an increase in job satisfaction for fully remote workers and for those who split their time between home and office.
  • No, or low, drops levels of service. Keeping the “lights on” does not require someone going into the office.

Challenges

  • Fully remote workers often feel disconnected from their organizations; this can be combatted with video communication tools and collaborative work.
  • Communication is a challenge at the best of times in companies, but even more so when you are at distance. An organization communication plan that addresses the consistent use of communication tools, such as instant messaging and video calls, is critical.
  • Managing remote workers is different from managing workers in a physical office. Trust has to be established and managers must have faith that employees are professional enough to avoid distractions and get their work done. It’s more about quality output on time than on managing the individual themselves.

Any company still considering the pros and cons of asking employees to work remotely during the COVID-19 crisis should look at the facts behind today’s remote working environment. Companies should investigate the full range of collaboration tools available, and make the appropriate leap necessary to keep employees safe while continuing to serve their customers.

Prior to today, we would have said the benefits of a distributed organization, including ours, were mostly business-related. But in the context of today’s pandemic, there are significant health benefits as well.

If anyone reading this wants some advice about running a remote organization, managing people remotely, being a remote worker, or the tools we use to make all this happen in our organization, you can reach out to me directly.