A number of organisations have had remote working policies in place but in the wake of Coronavirus, a pandemic ravaging global cities, more companies are asking employees to work from home to reduce human contact which is key for the virus’ spread.
By March 20, the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases worldwide had exceeded 200,000 according to World Health Organisation (WHO). It took over three months to reach the first 10,000 confirmed cases and only 12 days to reach the next 100,000. Uganda has not confirmed any positive case for Coronavirus but in Africa, there are 367 confirmed cases and seven deaths.
There are no guidelines per se on who should or should not work from home. But policies around remote working will vary depending on the company. Some labour lawyers are saying people doing clerical work are most likely to be asked to work remotely. Factory workers are not expected to work from home but there must be strict measures against the virus at workstations.
Mr Herbert Zake, a human resources and public relations consultant, says as many people as possible should work from home. While working remotely, normal entitlements may continue.
“The rights of employees, ideally, should not change when they are working from home if the terms and conditions in their contracts have not changed. There is talk by employers to lay off staff. This decision should not be rushed,” Mr Zake says.
Companies are finding themselves responsible for providing the tools to enable a smooth transition into remote working.
Dorothy Kyamazima’s organisation is one such place. The communication officer says it has been two days since employees were asked to shift workstations to their homes.
“The last two days have been good. It has been as simple as answering phone calls and responding to whatever issues are there. But definitely working in my peace and calm at home is good for me, given that I do not think working from office is a precautionary measure right now. You get into contact with so many people so it is very difficult to think calmly or be comfortable,” she says.
She, however, says not everyone is having it easy. Colleagues have reported challenges.
“People who are doing accounts have to approve things online, within the office server, so it is a bit more challenging. Some colleagues have children and they are picking them from school today, so trying to create a conducive environment for one to work at home is tricky with family, it is not exactly a quiet place,” Kyamazima explains.
Microsoft Teams and Slack are some of those platforms to get you working. The former allows you to create teams based on projects. Team members can jump into the conversation at any time.
Threaded chat makes it easy to scan the stream and keep track of the conversations relevant to you. You can embed images, files, gifs, stickers and emojis.
Cisco’s Webex provides for video meetings of up to 100,000 people. It is said that the company has upgraded its free services due to growing demand and you might have to be a bit patient as your site gets ready.
Skype is the other tool and its free version supports peer to peer meetings. If you need to add more people to the meeting, it will require a licence for its enterprise version.
“It is definitely important to have equipment like laptops. We have been provided with a lot of internet because without it, it is impossible to respond to emails. It is important for us to understand how to use Skype. We are having our meetings through voice or video conferencing because we cannot meet with more than 10 people in one place,” Kyamazima says.
On the other hand, it is in some situations, difficult to avoid offices. The belief is that people’s home environments are different so their challenges will vary.
“We work in shifts and try to make sure that we are not more than ten people in office because eventually, there are things you will need to get say from the server or desk since you cannot necessarily carry everything,” she adds.
Companies will need to have a remote access policy and it should spell out what is acceptable while you work from home. This ranges from how the organisation supports you, what server systems you can access, what time they can be accessed and to what extent you can access them given that unrestricted or unfiltered access could harm the corporate network.
Mr Arnold Mangeni, director Information Security, National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U) emphasises that companies must use a VPN (virtual private network) to secure traffic between you and the remote access point which is usually a router or firewall where the connection terminates.
“Because that is the general connection, remember you are going through internet free which anyone else can have access to and there are a lot of things that can go wrong. They can access the credentials that you use for logins,” Mr Mangeni explains.
You need to have good end-point hygiene so protect your laptop using an antivirus.
The possibility of having a malicious software downloaded onto your laptop cannot be ignored and can harm the corporate organisation.
“Remember when you are on the office network, whatever is downloaded goes through content filtering tools and also, you cannot download some things amongst other things. So at home, you need prudent ways of using the internet.
HOW TO EFFECTIVELY WORK FROM HOME
There may be distractions at home like television, spouses, children or house chores. The thinking should be that you are actually working.
• Set up an alarm to wake you up. Resist remaining in bed because it will not put food on your table.
• Prepare as though you are going to work including dressing up for office. Have breakfast.
• Set up a small room as an office. Have a to-do list and adhere to it. Take a break. Try to follow office time table. You may end up becoming more productive at home. No traffic jam, physical interruptions from workmates, even phone interruptions may be less.
• If television is a distraction, unsubscribe pay TV for a month.