Following this week’s developments, COVID-19 is forcing many of Hawaii’s businesses and organizations to transition most, if not all, of their employees to working remotely.

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We will all need to quickly adapt to the virtual landscape if quarantine measures become more severe and extensive. Are you and your organization ready?

Some businesses have teleworking policies and practices already in place, but many don’t and will need to set them up quickly. The good news is that there’s an entire field of study dedicated to effective work practices and there are clear steps to take.

For those organizations who have not yet gone virtual because they don’t know how, here is a quick summary of the most basic actions organizations can take to transition to remote work.

No. 1 — Communicate. You may be tempted to jump into figuring out other logistics, but the first thing you should check is that your business has a clear and documented phone or text tree for immediate communication.

Make your phone tree as short and simple as possible so that everyone knows who is calling them and who they should call to pass along any important information. As we progress to more remote work, making communication even clearer and documenting it is an essential practice.

During this pandemic crisis it is important to recognize that this is not a traditional work from home situation. Flickr: Dru Kelly

No. 2 — Communicate even more. After you make sure your organization has an emergency communications phone tree, draft the immediate messages that will need to go out internally to employees and externally to clients in case of extended quarantine measures, such as the “shelter in place” orders given to some California residents.

By and large, many companies are already curtailing normal operations and moving their staff to remote work. You have probably already received emails from companies describing the steps they are going to take, which will vary by industry and ability to change their normal practices.

While communicating to your clients is paramount, do not neglect communicating internally within your organization, as remote work requires even more communication. One example of a next-step internal communication is for managers to put out the call to employees for their input on brainstorming solutions to how their work can continue amidst social distancing.

No. 3 — Find the jobs that can be done remotely. Each manager should look at the people that report to him/her and ask, can this job be done remotely? Some jobs will stand out as easy candidates for remote work, start with those in the next step.

If it is possible for a job to be done from home but it’s a matter of company policy to not allow telework, these are extraordinary times that will require more flexibility by organizations. Once this public health crisis has passed, organizations that have learned flexibility will benefit from a healthy workforce and positive morale.

Are you and your organization ready?

If the nature of the job is physical or truly requires being in a location, this a good time to encourage employees to brainstorm solutions specific to your industry — these are challenging times, but they can force great innovation to take place that may leave your company stronger than before.

No. 4 — Find those who can do their work from home. Most remote work will require a computer with video capacity, the internet, and a phone. Let’s be clear, we are talking about preparing for an emergency, and as the situation rapidly changes, we may be forced into less than ideal situations — working from home without childcare is not ideal, but many might not have the basic capabilities to do their work from home if they haven’t been allowed to before.

Have managers document their team’s capability to work from home, writing down both what they have and what they think they need or are missing in order to continue doing their jobs. Remember the objective is to get as many jobs remote as possible, so focus first on the jobs that are more remote-capable, the low-hanging fruit.

No. 5 — Write it all down. It seems like an easy step to skip, but writing down every idea to keep your organization humming through remote work will help you to feel more in control. Social psychologists like myself call this “self-efficacy” — taking even a small step forward increases one’s confidence in their ability and sense of control. It also gives everyone something to refer to and is a best practice in virtual teamwork. There’s more involved in the actual ins and outs of working together online but that’s for another day.

No. 6 — Finally, recognize that this is not your traditional work from home situation. This is an extraordinary time, and employers need to consider some tough questions and think through multiple scenarios.

Is it practical to keep part of the business open by readjusting a few things vs. closing completely? This is also a time to create employee engagement by taking every opportunity to involve employees in the conversation so they will feel vested in earning their paychecks.

Expect Obstacles And Limitations

At this point, you may be feeling overwhelmed and anxious; this is normal, it’s a stressful time. Every organization will have its own unique set of obstacles — limitations in IT capability, such as how many people can be on the network at a time, legal concerns over HR policies, etc.

Expect obstacles and limitations, and continue to forge ahead. Use your list created in No. 5 to stay on track amidst the chaos.

Remember, this is an unprecedented time and we are all being asked to make changes and decisions faster than we would like. Stressful times can make interpersonal interactions even more challenging, as emotions are on edge.

No one likes change, especially not when it’s being forced upon us. But one thing that the coronavirus has shown us is that we are interconnected. We are all in this together, and we will get through this better if we can remember to take a deep breath and be extra kind — while maintaining social distance.

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About the Author

  • Dana Rei Arakawa
    Dana Rei Arakawa is an organizational development consultant with a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Hawaii and a M.A. in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. She helps organizations to successfully navigate change, working with leadership, management, teams, and employees to build strong and flexible organizations.