How to make your startup workforce remote amid the coronavirus scare
In a concerted effort to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, companies around the globe are having their employees work from home. In the past couple of weeks, technology leaders including Twitter, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have all implemented work-from-home policies for non-essential employees.
Although most technology-based startups should be somewhat familiar with remote work, and many leading startups like Citrix, GitHub and Remote Year have had all-remote or nearly all-remote business processes in place, many smaller companies have been caught off guard by recent government policies mandating people stay at home and practice social distancing.
For those startups scrambling to implement remote work into their daily lives, here are a few things to consider.
Provide the necessary tools, fast
100 million Americans have been ordered by local governments to shelter-in-place or severely restrict their movements, and that number will rise. Startup founders don’t have the luxury to plan a remote-work strategy over several weeks. They need to do it now.
The first thing founders can do is provide the tools necessary for your workforce to work from home.
A great place to start are free and reduced-cost options on communications and collaboration tools that technology giants are offering during these trying times.
Zoom, Google and Microsoft, all have offered free trials or other offers for businesses moving their teams remote.
Founder Institute, the world’s largest pre-seed accelerator, introduced free webinars that encourage the continuation of education while practicing social distancing. They also recently announced its Public Health Fellowship, which encourages qualified entrepreneurs from around the globe working to cure, prevent, and mitigate threats to public health.
Zoom has extended features provided in its free Zoom Meetings license, which includes an unlimited number of video meetings with up to 100 participants.
Google offered its G Suite (a suite of cloud computing, productivity and collaboration tools) customers expanded features to its Hangouts Meet video-conferencing tool, including up to 250 participants per call and meeting recording options.
Microsoft has offered a free, six-month trial for a premium tier of Microsoft Teams, its unified communication and collaboration platform that saw its subscribers jump from 32 million to 44 million in just a week during the pandemic.
And finally, Slack, another important collaboration tool for companies, hasn’t announced any free trials apart from the free version of their service they already offer, however, they have offered startups directly working on coronavirus-related projects a free upgrade to paid plan features.
For larger workforces not accustomed to working from home, founders may have to call in the big guns: IT service providers or managed service providers (MSPs).
These companies provide sophisticated tools to help smoothly transition their workforce remote. Service providers often help companies by being an extension of their team that focuses directly on network and cloud scalability, among other areas. They have strong relationships with technology manufacturers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, and act as experts who sell, install and manage these services for companies.
In a recent report from Reuters, Simone Merlini, CEO and founder of Italian IT service startup beSharp, told the reporter that he hopped on a client call expecting to demo a few versions of AWS products to a company. Much to his surprise, he spent that night with his team frantically scrambling to move the company’s 400-person workforce remote for the first time due to COVID-19 concerns.
As demand increases for service providers, other companies are helping to ease their stress.
CloudBlue, a leading cloud commerce platform for service providers from Ingram Micro Cloud, rolled out new features to its CloudBlue Connect platform so its customers can be more efficient and scale faster.
An important feature in the new suite is a plugin to the Zapier platform, an online automation tool that instantly connects applications. The plugin empowers providers that use CloudBlue’s platform to swiftly implement thousands of apps for their customers with no development effort, from anywhere in the world.
“With businesses today being impacted by the current climate and the need for greater operational flexibility, our cloud and digital capabilities enable companies to look beyond the traditional ways of working to work from anywhere in the most efficient manner possible,” Tarik Faouzi, vice president of CloudBlue, said in a statement.
Other CloudBlue Connect features designed to increase efficiency and scalability include the ability to add products that require complex usage reporting; the ability for providers to automatically validate the availability of a product and the quantity in its catalog; providers can find all product-related information in one place via the dashboard; and a subscription module that allows providers and their vendors to view their respective recurring subscriptions from a consolidated pane.
And CloudBlue’s parent company, Ingram Micro, provides technology solutions to companies operating in over 160 countries.
As the startup workforce quickly adapts to working from home for an undetermined amount of time, so too must the companies who service these startups adapt to provide them with the tools they need to persevere.
Defining remote work policies and a remote-work culture, on the fly
Many startups were caught with their pants down, so to speak, when confronted with the urgent necessity of transferring their employees to all-remote situations.
Because of this, founders can be forgiven for not having remote work policies in place ahead of time. But that is no excuse not to get organized now.
It is important to note that a Harvard Business Review survey found that remote workers are more disgengaged than employees in the office.
Since companies most likely didn’t hire their employees expecting them to become full-time remote workers, founders must find ways to motivate employees and create individualized remote-work plans on a case by case basis. For example, while one employee may work well independently and require little supervision and motivation, you may find you need to regularly nudge other employees as they succumb to distractions at home.
Scheduling regular meetings and check-ins in the initial phase of the transition can help founders determine which employees work better independently from home, and which need more attention from management.
It’s unknown whether the social distancing measures will last for weeks, months, or even longer, and now may be a good time for your company to create a remote work culture that is in line with your current company culture.
According to an article in Fast Company, research has shown that remote workers value quality time with colleagues more than affirmation or praise from their superiors.
Founders should set up regular meetings where employees can call in and interact with co-workers in an informal setting, and just chat about their daily lives in lockdown. Especially for single employees or employees living away from family members, this personal interaction can be crucial to maintaining a healthy mindstate.
As businesses enter unfamiliar territory due to COVID-19, it’s more important than ever for startup founders to be agile, and adapt to challenges. Hopefully these tips can help smooth the difficult transition founders are facing, and help keep their businesses productive and running during the outbreak.