Remote Working Tips from Experts Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

Last updated: June 29, 2020
Muhammad Hamza Shahid

Muhammad Hamza Shahid

If you're accustomed to working and managing a team in a 9 to 5 office environment, remote working may present a huge set of challenges. This article provides tips from real-world experts to help you work securely and efficiently at home.

2020 continues to be a year of great chaos with the devastating floods in Indonesia, the Amazon rainforest wildfires, Earthquakes in the Caribbean and Turkey, US-Iran crisis sparking discussions on World War III, and the most dangerous of all, the 2019 novel coronavirus.

The COVID-19 strain has affected more than 210 countries worldwide, infecting over 7,093,971 people. Death counts have reached the 406,000+ mark, and situations are yet to get worse. The alarming outbreak is one of the worst calamities to occur in the 21st century.

To keep things afloat, countries around the world have mandated state-wide lockdowns, while many organizations are focusing on “work from home (WFH)” implementation and related policies/incentives. After all, maintaining social distancing is the key to fighting the virus.

Not to mention, we need to keep the economy running and paychecks coming in to survive the virus. Chances are, you’ve been working remotely now for weeks, too. And while maybe you’re still adjusting to this new “norm”, things aren’t going good in terms of productivity.

We know you’re trying hard to support your remote and in-house employees, but sometimes you need valuable advice on streamlining the process. From real-word businesses and experts, we have curated a list of the best tips to work from home effectively and securely.

WFH Security

Remote working trends have paved the way for increased cybercrimes with many falling victim to coronavirus-themed phishing scams and malware. To leverage better security online, here is what experts are suggesting, which includes tips for both: employees and organizations too.

Monitor Activities around Network Devices

“During the COVID-19 crisis many organizations had to rely on VPN and other technologies that enable smooth work from home for employees. Unfortunately, surge in teleworking increased the risk of cyber attacks on remote infrastructures. Hackers are ready to take advantage of VPN vulnerabilities or try to gain access to corporate networks from unpatched or infected devices of employees.

To minimize data risks, carefully monitor successful and failed VPN logons to your network devices and keep track of how much traffic VPN sessions generate. This will enable you to quickly react to spikes in logon activity or a suspiciously high volume of traffic, which might be a sign of a security incident.”

– Ilia Sotnikov, Vice President of Product Management at Netwrix

Improve Your IT Infrastructure

“IT processes and planning: Make sure your ITAdmin has visibility to confirm that operating system and other critical softwareupdates are happening on each machine. Protect confidential information: Develop and follow policies regarding how HR, financial, and medical data is handled.

Remote office set up: With staff operating on home networks, hacking vulnerability is higher. Remind users about cyber-threats, configure machines to run scans, or consider a service provider. Create a data backup plan that mitigates ransomware attacks.”

Herb Brychta, Security Risk Manager at AE Works

Educate Your Employees about Safe Practices

“It’s important to educate employees who are working from home about the latest phishing techniques and on how to keep data on home computers secure.

You may also want to share with your employees how to use hardware-based security keys and VPNs if your business processes extremely sensitive information. These practices can all be effective in helping to increase security and decrease data theft.”

– Laura Spawn, CEO and co-founder at Virtual Vocations

Protect Your Data at All Times

“The help of a VPN, and browser-based ad blockers are helpful.  When working remotely, connect to company resources via secure wireless networks and protect the storage of company data by using the corporate file system to store data centrally.

Company or client data should not be stored on local devices.  Avoid the use of USB devices. Do not allow family members to use company-owned equipment for any purpose.  Do not use company-owned devices for non-company related activities.  This includes personal email such as Gmail. Use multi-factor security authentication technologies to access corporate resources.”

– Paul Caiazzo, SVP of Security & Compliance at Avertium

Beware of Remote Access Scams

“Scammers tell you that your computer has viruses and that you need to download a program called TeamViewer so that they could help resolve the issue. TeamViewer allows people to access your computer remotely.

When downloading the program and entering the code, you permit the scammers to access your computer. The scammer then can open a file with private company information. Instead of getting rid of your so-called “viruses”, they rob your money.

These types of scams are on the rise right now, and we need to inform all businesses. Please don’t respond to someone contacting you out of the blue, hang up, and call the company back that they say they work for. Don’t ever give anyone your username and passwords; it’s typically a scam.”

– Johnny Santiago, Brand Partnerships Manager at Social Catfish

Imminent Malware Threats

“Threat actors consistently come up with new ways to distribute malware that will be used for their malicious intentions to harm individuals and organizations. Over the past few weeks, a new botnet dubbed Kaiji was detected targeting servers and IoT devices in order to execute DDoS attacks. In addition, a new macOS version of Dacls RAT associated with the Lazarus Group was observed.

Implement the relevant IoCs in your security systems. Keep applications and operating systems running at the current released patch level. Install mobile applications from reliable sources only (Google Play, App Store); in addition, observe the app’s display and text, stated functions, reviews from other users, and requested permissions before downloading.”

– Yuval Wollman, President at CyberProof

Employee Productivity

One of the most difficult things of working during a pandemic is obviously the mental toll it takes on a person. Seeing the situations outside, employees are working on peak stress. This results in them getting burned out easily. It becomes tough to maintain focus and productivity.

Separate Work and Personal Responsibilities

“It’s important to establish boundaries and rules to separate personal responsibilities from your work responsibilities. Set up your workspace in a private part of your home if possible, especially when you live with other people. Get yourself a good headset for times when you can’t control background noise.

You may have to fight the temptation to do laundry, dishes, or other household tasks while you’re on the clock. Also resisting the urge to watch Netflix or use social media can be tough to overcome at first. Your ultimate goal is to establish routines and boundaries, the same way you did at the office.”

– Shane Griffiths, Digital Marketing Consultant at Clarity Online

Spend Lesser Time on Social Media

“One of my favorite productivity hacks comes with the help of an app called StayFocusd. When working from home, Facebook and Twitter can be a major distraction. StayFocusd helps avoid these distractions by restricting the amount of time you can spend on them.

The Google Chrome extension lets you set specific time restrictions on certain websites with a 10 minute default option. Once your time has been used up, the sites you have selected to block can’t be accessed for the remainder of the day.”

– Lori Cheek, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Cheekd

Try the Pomodoro Technique

“There are a lot of different distractions when you’re working remotely or from home. Time management and productivity can become a problem but I’ve found the Pomodoro Technique to be a great solution. You break up your working sessions into 25-minute intervals followed by short breaks.

Then, after four intervals you take a longer break. I’ve found that this is perfect for working at home, where long stretches of uninterrupted time can be hard to come by. It feels very natural to take a quick break and chat with my wife or pet my cat for a couple of minutes between tasks. The length of the working session should be flexible based on your task and personal preferences.”

– Adam Sanders, Director at Successful Release

Give Your Employees Flexibility

“The workday has changed for so many people due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gone are time clocks and 8-hr workdays. Vast numbers of employees are working remotely and from the comfort of their homes. Be flexible with an employee’s work schedule to give a boost to creativity and morale.

We’re living in an unprecedented time, being flexible with your employees is the best way to get the results you’re looking for!”

– Aniyah Wicks, Outreach Consultant at Heart Water

Team Morale

Since everyone is used to the office-routine and working in a collaborative environment, working at home presents a lot of challenges for employees, team leads, and managers in aspects of team morale. Here’s how you can try to bring the life in your team back!

Friday Shout Outs via Video Conferencing

“We still believe in recognizing key employees, especially during difficult times. On a Friday before close of play we have had a video call to Shout Out key work completed and also reward big triumphs with something like an Amazon Voucher.

“Reward and recognition keeps people happy, motivated and positive and it can be a relatively small monetary value. Work can be a great source of focus during isolation.”

– Sarah McConomy, Chief Operating Officer (COO) at SellCell

Don’t Micromanage. Trust Your Employees

“If employees are working from home for the first time, make sure they know what the productivity expectations are. Set weekly and monthly goals together and discuss progress at least weekly, but don’t micromanage.

Trust your employees to get their work done. If you have structured discussions each week you will soon discover if they are struggling with working from home. Ask employees to write up a brief summary of each of these conversations, including accomplishments, next steps, commitments and deadlines.”

– Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc

Avoid Spontaneous Video Meetings and Calls

“Working in the office, teams typically align their activities with the office working hours. When side by side, team members can coordinate their regular events easily. However, when teams start working remotely, everyone sooner or later switches to their favorite working style. Some are early birds, others work at night, some like video conferencing, others prefer messages and emails.

In this situation, choosing an optimal collaboration medium and controlling time for collaboration is essential for productive teamwork. A single collaboration channel, be it a portal or an instant messaging tool, allows employees to stay tuned for team activities. At the same time, collaboration sessions, particularly video calls, should be limited in time. Spontaneous video conferencing and endless chatting make all team members fall behind their own schedules. What’s more, digital communication is exhausting, that’s why employees engaged in disorganized online collaboration can perform worse.”

– Igor Efremov, Head of Recruitment at Itransition

Establish a Daily or Weekly Team Huddle

“Only 15 minutes of virtual facetime creates connection, and brings your culture to life when working remotely. Run through everyone’s top three priorities, and troubleshoot any issues people are having. Talking on a daily basis through a messaging platform is also a great way to communicate exactly as you would if you were all in the same place.

Working from home also opens up a ton of security gaps if you don’t have the proper measures in place. If you are a business leader, you need to make sure your staff is using the right tools to protect your data, including multi-factor authentication and encryption. If you’re an employee working from a personal laptop, talk to your IT team to determine your access is secure.”

Team Collaboration

In the fast-paced world we live in today, there are plenty of tools and technologies that help to maintain real-time communication with your coworkers and managers. Learn how to use them to their maximum efficiency to ensure seamless collaboration.

Use Google Docs to Build Ideas and Projects

“If each person highlights their additions in their own color, it is easy to see at a glance what was added by the other party. If two people are working together, once an addition is read by the other party, they can remove the highlighting.

If several people are working together, they can initial next to the new additions and when the last person gets caught up and sees everyone else’s initials, they can remove the highlighting. By using shared formats, you can continue working on your own schedule while effectively collaborating with others.”

– Melanie Musson, Insurance Expert at CarInsuranceComparison

Make Sure your Business has a CRM

“When we work from home, we sometimes lose access to the data we need to efficiently do our jobs. A CRM should be available across all team members, giving them access to real time, up-to-date data and a 360-degree view of the customer.

A project manager, specifically one with a timer allows you to track time spent working on specific projects, track your own and your teams progress on tasks and projects, and gives you a better sense of when it’s time to shut down for the night. You know that if you are hitting that 10 hour mark, it’s probably time to shut down and find some work-life balance.”

– Alessandra Gyben, Marketing Director at GreenRope

Great Cloud-Based Tools are the Key

“It’s important to outline some tracking metrics and determine what success looks like for each remote worker. For me, it’s making sure each team member is tracking their time each day and what they are working on. Great cloud-based software tools are the only thing making this possible.

Being completely paperless is a good start. We use Harvest for time tracking, QuickBooks Online for accounting, FattMerchant for payment processing, KeePass for password sharing, Dropbox for file sharing and the list goes on. And we can use things like Zapier to get many of these systems to talk.”

Employee Health

When most people talk about the implications of the coronavirus and remote working, nobody seems to focus on employee health. Staying sane physically and mentally is quite a challenge in these times and one must not disregard it.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

I have worked 4 years remotely, my company is 100% remote. Still, working during the pandemic was very different and challenging. During this time, I confirmed that the one thing you HAVE to pay attention the most when WFH is to your mental health. If you’re mentally feeling good, the rest is easier.

When you know certain things like breakfast, shower, breaks, or exercise will happen during the day, things already start looking better. Set time aside for exercising. This gives you a much-needed sense of accomplishment and it also releases endorphins. Most importantly, don’t work from your bed!

– Dr. D’vorah Graeser, Founder & CEO at KISSPatent

Focus on Ergonomics and Comfort

“Please pay attention to posture in the back, arms, and wrists. Sitting on the couch is not the way to keep yourself healthy. Invest in a good chair. I bought a dinged up Herman Miller chair from a warehouse furniture store. Fantastic investment.

Create your new office with a place for your work energy to flow. This is your home and your work space for a while. Give yourself comfort. Maybe buy a nice pen. Get a special coffee cup, and put up photos.”

Call in the Troops when Needed

“It’s okay to task the kids with helping you work from home.  It may mean, that they are assigned increased projects to do such as making their own lunch, washing clothes, watering the plants, mowing the lawn, etc.  This is the time to call in the troops, get the entire family on board and let everyone know that things at home will be altered a bit.

Due to mommy or daddy working from home you will need them to play quietly from this time to this time.  You may have to put up a do-not-disturb, hotel-style, door hanger and alert everyone, not to bother you until the sign is removed.  Be creative, whatever works best for your family dynamics.”

Wrapping Things Up

Bear in mind that online privacy/security, working on self-care and making adjustments for boosting productivity, health, and morale is necessary when struggling to get used to this new reality. Of course, changing how you work entirely does have its own dynamics, but hopefully following the tips above from real-world experts should help you out!

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