As you might already have heard in the media, tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple, Twitter, Slack, and Dropbox, among many others of the largest global companies, have started to restrict business travel. They are already encouraging employees to work remotely as a precaution against the novel coronavirus.
Of course, we cannot recommend your business to imitate, nor do we want to judge anyone if they think this is exaggerated. However, when you want to prepare your business for joining the indicating global shift to remote work, we are here to help.
The preliminary question you need to answer is: "Does your infrastructure dictate your daily operations to rely on having your staff at a specific location?", alongside "Can your company quickly reach the tipping point of being stalled, caused by an unexpected loss of knowledge, kept by absent individual team members?".
If you need to answer both questions positively, this article is for you. We have gathered a collection of tools and best practices we use internally, and that is also used by some of our clients to reduce the previously implied risks.
When you want to prepare your business and your workforce to stay agile in a distributed manner, here are our most essential tips to start.
Amp up your cybersecurity before you release your laptops into the wild
In-office, you may have excellent monitoring and security methods in place, but letting people take their work laptops home opens their machines up to the wild west of unmonitored and possibly open networks. A majority of employees do not experience any fear of hooking into their unprotected home network or firing up their laptops at a coffee shop. You are going to need to contract with a security company familiar with protecting machines that leave the office. Tools like VPN services will likely come up in conversation. Not to establish a trustworthy tunnel to your office infrastructure but to ensure that communication between your employees' laptops and your online services is encrypted. As a non-security expert, I'm not going to pick services for you since I'm not familiar with your business infrastructure. But don't just let people walk out the door with their laptops without any training on security best practices and proper mobile device management for remote administration.
It's also a best practice to ensure that all hard drives are encrypted in case of a loss, and login credentials don't belong on any sticky notes nearby devices.
Decent Internet Connection
Giving a stipend to upgrade your team members' at home wifi setups will save you hours of irritation in the future. There is nothing worse than choppy wifi or constant drops during a conference call. If your employees are local, foot the difference between low-cost wifi and upgraded speeds and invest in upgraded modems and wifi routers and expert installation for team members. Again, depending on the size of your workforce, this could be a hefty upfront investment, but it will help keep your business running well until you're all in one place again.
With the loss of the office grapevine, you immediately need to establish a proper replacement. Replacing primary communication by phone, email, or even messaging services like WhatsApp, iMessage, etc. doesn't scale and could also harm your business. We are huge fans of Slack, but Microsoft Teams is also a valid option.
It will take your workforce time to get used to this asynchronous approach of communication since they're used to "popping over" to ask questions. Still, it's significantly better than getting hundreds of single question emails. And there are some great plug-ins for both services that allow you to integrate other software workflows right into your channels. Channels are the virtual rooms that will be provided by your chosen messaging solution and are open to join for members of your company. Think like WhatsApp- or iMessage groups. Depending on the size and company structure, we'd recommend setting up a channel for every department and every fleet team to replicate the physical office space, alongside some standard channels for general announcements and the water cooler gossip corner for casual chats. If you experience too much traffic in the fleet-related channels, you may even want to create a channel for every vessel.
Web Conference Software
Even if appropriately structured, a group chat cannot always replace the efficiency of a face to face team meeting. In this case, tools like Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Meet, LogMeIn GotoMeeting, or Zoom are ready to help. Vendors like Google, LogMeIn and Microsoft already took the chance and started to offer special plans for their conferencing software solutions due to coronavirus.
Central File Storage
When your physical filing cabinets are out of reach and accessing a shared local file server is no option anymore, it's definitively time to migrate to a cloud-based data storage.
While having shared Outlook folders may be an option, it doesn't scale that well for every use case. So you may want to take a more in-depth look at Microsoft OneDrive for Business, Dropbox for Business or Google Drive to utilize globally available secure file storage with fine-grained control and visibility settings to centralize your team's files.
Set up a formal company-wide project tracking software system. If you rely on whiteboards and sticky notes, check out tools like Trello or Asana, if you're a company that doesn't already use more specialized industry-focused tools like Cloud Fleet Manager. Whatever you choose, establish some kind of traceable mechanics, enabling everyone to see what others do to avoid duplication of contributions and to prevent manual questioning through the messaging service.
Rules, Regulations, and Expectations
Freedom needs restrictions. That sounds a bit harsh, but if you release your employees into the wild, structures and previously developed office culture often don't translate well to remote work.
My advice is to start with strict written policies until you find out how your workforce is going to handle remote setup. These policies will help everybody to know how to meet expectations and to sustain self discipline. You can always loosen up agreements later. Loosening things up over time is received far better than starting loose and making policies stricter over time.
Getting best practices in line will not make you an instant remote company success, but they're a place to start if you find yourself scrambling to go remote.
So all these tools combined make up a fully digital workplace?
In the concept of a digital workplace, all measures are geared towards the question of how people can work together more easily and efficiently. The digital workplace is above all, a modernization of the working environment, in which the individual and with the work process moves into the center of attention. Information exchange, process optimization, quality assurance, and employee satisfaction - these are the basic ideas behind the concept of the digital workspace. It's intended to exploit all technical possibilities to provide employees with the best possible support in their work. Typically, digital workplace offerings provide opportunities for a company's employees to communicate, connect, and collaborate. It eliminates the risk of information silos and supports employees in keeping track of their tasks.
While everything is more or less likely to be configurable with all the software tools mentioned above, we can offer you a shortcut. A timesaver that is explicitly designed for the commercial maritime shipping industry and combines years of development and constant adjustments based on the experience of our existing customer base.
Finally, we want to make a special offer for all small to mid-sized shipping companies: Cloud Fleet Manager - Efficiency Booster.
This bundle contains over 15 software tools designed for shipping companies to eliminate hidden information silos and frees your workforce from the burden of spreading general information by hand since everyone can find the piece of information on their own.
The best, if you choose to give Cloud Fleet Manager - Efficiency Booster a chance, you can start right off the bat. You don't need to tweak a lot of settings, and we don't need to import existing data that could delay a launch.
All applications for employees working in the (home-)office are running natively in the browser. So no desktop applications or browser-plugins are required. Most functionality of Cloud Fleet Manager Portal is also complemented by a free Android and iOS app called CFM Go to enable truly untethered mobility to keep being informed.
Finally, some applications come with an optional sibling, designed for running on vessels and can be used by crews. Applications like Schedules and Agents, MRV & IMO DCS, and Disturbance Report are designed to automate business processes as smoothly as possible and to free your teams and crews from the burden of email communication and to store correspondence and the current state in a structured, formalized manner. And to have a browser-like, no-manual-updates necessary experience. All these applications run self-contained inside a single Windows application called Cloud Ship Manager. The software is able to update itself in the background, whether through a stable internet connection or piggybacked on existing email infrastructure. This unique underlying architecture gives you full monitoring capabilities of your vessel for your vessel IT admins and lets you enable or revoke software features with a single click.
If this sounds interesting, don't hesitate to contact us for a quote and an initial remote presentation.