Work From Home webinar
The ECCT's Technology committee hosted a webinar on the subject of "Working From Home - Best practice and how to prepare your business" featuring host and presenter Thomas Kuiper, General Manager of Gandi.net. The webinar examined best practices on how to prepare business to work remotely. It also looked into details of tools available, how to prepare staff and manage daily business routines in the event that every employee has to telecommute.
Remote work is not new in the technology industry but has had to be used on a mass scale in Europe and other countries now under lock-down due to the coronavirus pandemic. In his presentation, Kuiper noted that with hundreds of millions of people globally now under some form of lock-down, many of them have already had to resort to working from home. Most of Gandi.net's team members are already able to work remotely. While not yet widely used in Taiwan, with the risk of office closures rising, Working From Home (WFH) is becoming an essential contingency that all companies need to be prepared to implement.
Working remotely isn't just a different way to work. It is also a different way to live. While the concept has been idealised as being able to live and work in exotic locations, the reality is far more mundane. Most remote workers tend to work from their own homes. And given that they don't have an extensive range of facilities as in a regular office, they have to adapt and learn to work and interact with people in a different way.
Remote work is also challenging the traditional notion of work that requires everyone to always be present and monitored in one place. This brings the idea of working remotely up against some legal restraints because labour laws and related requirements are still based on traditional working methods and monitoring, such as clocking in and recording working hours. In this regard, Taiwan is not alone as the situation is the same in most of Asia. There is also a cultural factor where many traditional business managers in Asia believe that employees need to be present in the office to perform well. It is not surprising therefore that most people who work remotely today are in the United States.
The scope of jobs now being done remotely is not limited to tech jobs. It also includes account managers, accountants, business development managers, customer service representatives and online tutors, among others. Among the technical jobs suited for remote work are software developers and designers.
While most remote workers tend to work from home, there are a number of other remote working options. This includes working in various types of co-working spaces, such as business centres providing hot desks, which are paid for through a combination of monthly membership fees and daily or hourly rates. A number of companies here in Taiwan are offering such services.
Taiwan also has shared office or "Makerspaces". Kuiper noted that these tend to be noisy and therefore not optimal for work that requires concentration, but they are great places for networking. There are also several "Hipster spaces" for creators as well as incubators. Besides office functions, they offer things like yoga classes and inexpensive video recording facilities as well as cafeterias and restaurants. Some remote workers opt for working in coffee shops or public libraries, although surveys show that these are used by fewer than 5% of remote workers.
Another option is to share office space or rent out or lease your own office space to other parties. Gandi did this for its French office. According to Kuiper, it makes sense if there are no confidentiality or competitive issues and it can be mutually beneficial. For example, instead of charging rent, companies can be compensated in the form of getting shares in start-up companies or receiving some kind of services from the sub-letters, such as technical support.
Kuiper went on to cite a report on remote working, titled “State of Remote Report 2020”, conducted by the company Buffer. Based on answers to a question in the survey on the benefits of working remotely, 32% of respondents said that the greatest benefit is having a flexible schedule while and 26% said the greatest benefit was having the flexibility to work from anywhere. A further 21% said the top benefit was not having to commute. Meanwhile, 11% answered that the ability to spend time with family was the greatest benefit.
Kuiper went on to talk about best practices for companies when setting up co-workers to work remotely. He stressed the need to make sure that employees are able to do what they are supposed to do. This is primarily about technical and physical logistics. He stressed that you first need to check if employees can do everything they need to from home. Do they have the right space to be able to work productively? Then, employees themselves should prepare a checklist of requirements. This will of course include computer hardware and software but companies should not overlook physical requirements such as a good desk and chair.
Once all the items on the list have been provided, it is important to test everything to find out which things are working properly and which are not. According to Kuiper, you may find things that are overlooked by the IT department may turn out to be major irritants. For example, for people sharing space with others, they need to have silent keyboards and computer mice so that they do not disturb their fellow housemates. If the company provides laptop computers, he recommended powerful mini PCs that are small yet powerful and can be taken from the office to home when the need arises.
Companies also need to consider other forms of support. According to Buffer's State of Remote Report, 80% of respondents had to pay for their own internet plans. Companies may therefore consider subsidising the cost of employees' internet plans. Companies should also be cognizant of typical problems facing remote workers. Based on answers to the question in Buffer's report on what is the biggest struggle facing them when working remotely, the highest number of respondents (22%) cited unplugging after work, 19% cited loneliness and 17% cited collaborating and or communication. The next biggest problems cited were distractions at home (10%), being in a different time zone (8%), staying motivated (8%) and taking vacation time (7%). To help remote employees deal with these problems, companies should make sure that they are not expected to be always on and to communicate frequently and effectively.
Kuiper went on to introduce various communication tools that are available to make working from home easier. He outlined some of the pros and cons of the tools and gave his own recommendations. Regardless of which tool(s) you prefer, he recommended always having back-up tools and a recovery platform in place in case your preferred option is not functioning properly. He also advised consideration of other parties. For example, unnecessary notification sounds should be disabled so that others do not have to hear them.
The speaker went on to share some of his own company's experience of remote communication. For example, to boost morale, colleagues in France now arrange to meet online for many activities which normally would take place in the real office environment, including small parties and get-togethers after work.
Companies should also not forget practical difficulties facing employees. For example, during the current coronavirus pandemic, some employees have problems getting to supermarkets. In such cases, they need help with the delivery of groceries. Other employees may be able to help out.
It is important for remote workers to establish and follow a daily routine. It is a good idea to start each day with a check-in with team members in a common chat room, after which colleagues can start to work on their various tasks. Another good idea is to have piloting committees coordinating daily work, ensuring that time off and vacations are scheduled. Kuiper also recommended having a permanent virtual conference room that is always open for use any time for anyone rather than having to schedule and book rooms on a case by case basis.
To unwind and avoid burnouts, remote workers should try to follow a fixed routine every work day. At the end of the day, they should turn off their work chat software and phones. Kuiper also recommended learning something new to relax, such as learning to play a musical instrument, reading or taking a course. Finally, all colleagues should respect working hours and not bother their colleagues outside of working hours with work related issues.
Many of the tools described in the webinar, such as Nextcloud, Mattermost can be subscribed to on Gandi.net's website. Gandi Corporate also provides extensive domain name management solutions for medium to large brands. With four offices around the world, including Taipei, Gandi manages over 2.5 million domain names.