The COVID-19 virus has many of us confined at home and socially isolated. But life goes on, and so does business—or at least it had better. And the more business that does, in fact, keep going, the better off we’ll all be. The simple reality is that a modern economy simply cannot be closed down completely for several months. As it is, the isolation measures and shutdowns now underway will have long-lasting economic effects for all of us. So how do we keep the engines of business and commerce running to some degree whilst we work from home?
Transitioning to a Work from Home Environment
The answer: information. All businesses, regardless of their industry or activities, depend in large measure on information and its accessibility. Whether your product is trucks or food or insurance policies, information is vital to managing relationships, delivering the product or service and getting everyone—the business, its employees, its suppliers—paid, so that they can continue in business themselves.
The information part of a business can in many cases be run successfully from remote locations like people’s homes. Good information technology, properly available and secured, will permit personnel to work as effectively from home as from an office. Needless to say, that’s of the utmost importance right now. You’re not just keeping yourself busy and employed while isolated at home, you’re also contributing to the economy. You’re helping keep others employed, as well as doing your bit to make sure that essential goods and services—and the money to buy them—continue to be available to all of us.
Many of us, and I am one, have worked from home for a long time, and our business processes and information technology are already optimized for the current crisis. It may be business as usual for us, but you may be new to this game. What do you need to consider as you go about transforming your business processes?
To work from home, you need your information at home. And one of the things you quickly discover when you’re new at it is that the information you need is inevitably someplace else. If you’re at home, the records are at work; if you’re traveling, the records are on your desktop, not your laptop. If you work on systems that do allow for remote access, it’s a question of making sure you’ve got the correct permissions for whatever devices you are using remotely. If you don’t have remote access, some significant work may be required to hook everyone up. Fortunately, most modern applications allow for web-enabled access. And there’s also the question of who is getting the mail while the office is closed.
Then there is the syncing of devices: making sure that the same data that is on your workstation is on your laptop, and everyone else’s. If you’ve got only a single remote device such as a laptop, it’s easy enough, and there may be nothing at all to do. If, like me, you have a workstation at home—I have a big MacPro with a ton of memory and serious processing power for some heavyweight processing applications—you’ll need file syncing software. Set up correctly, you always have all of your information all the time, as well as a redundant backup.
If you’re working in a paper environment, things are a bit more complicated. Now’s a good time to consider scan-on-demand or digital transformation, particularly if either or both were already on the radar for you. Both involve turning paper records into images, which are then loaded into an information system and available on demand any time, anywhere.
The difference between scan-on-demand and digital transformation is the timing of the scanning. Scan-on-demand is exactly what it sounds like: you don’t scan it until you need it, but then you scan it immediately. Digital transformation is scanning a record set wholesale, in advance of need, so it’s ready and waiting if required.
There are cost differences between the two approaches. Scan-on-demand spreads the cost over what could be a very long time, since nothing is scanned until it is actually needed, which could be next week, next year—or never. The total number of pages scanned will probably be less, and the cost will almost certainly be spread out over a longer period of time. But a digital transformation project will likely be cheaper on a per-page basis, since it is run as a single job.
All those new home workers and all that fresh electronic data means lots of data security issues. Remember, hackers work from home too, and will probably be working overtime for the next few months. Remember also that the pandemic is not a free pass when it comes to compliance with GDPR, CCPA and other data privacy laws. In fact, it’s the opposite: the E.U. authorities have issued official privacy guidelines specific to the COVID-19 pandemic in regard to employee health records, patient medical records and other situations.
If your company is setting up its information workers to be remote, don’t forget to include appropriate security for all of those remote devices and locations. Just as you wouldn’t leave files sitting around on your office desk after work, don’t leave them on your dining room table workspace.
Many of us are familiar with conference calls, both video and audio, but if you’re used to in-person meetings, it may take some adjustment to transition to virtual. There are a few things to remember here:
- Most people have other duties besides meetings. When you’re not all in the same office, it might be tempting to schedule a lot of meetings to keep up with everybody. But if you’re not careful, you’ll wind up with wall-to-wall meetings all day long, making it difficult to get anything else done
- Inviting three dozen people to a meeting sounds efficient, but unless most of them are just there to listen, it’s probably not such a great idea. Realistically, having more than four or five people in a meeting means that some will not actively contribute
So there you have it: the recipe for transitioning to a remote work environment. If the current situation persists for months, as it appears it will, your ability to transition to an efficient, effective remote process and infrastructure will become critical to you, your employer and society at large.
For more on how to integrate paper and digital information management, check out our white paper:
Evolving Beyond a Paper-First World.