Learn from the experts: remote working in practice

Learn from the experts: remote working in practice

Around the world, companies have quickly had to adapt to a new way of working. Here, five businesses illustrate how remote working can work in practice

For many businesses, the outbreak of COVID-19 forced the adoption of remote working practices, practically overnight. Here we look at corporates that successfully made the shift to flexible working. Learning from their experiences could help your enterprise come through the crisis stronger than ever.

Twitter: supporting workers

Twitter initially sent home its employees on 11 March in “an abundance of caution” and then kept them there. Perhaps this wasn’t so surprising – Twitter’s founder, Jack Dorsey, has been an advocate of remote working for a while, and suggested in February, pre-pandemic, that the company might take steps to support a more global, remote workforce.

To support employees working remotely during COVID-19, Twitter has provided reimbursement for the additional childcare expenses and offered reimbursement for employees who have set up home offices, including desks, chairs and online fees.

It has also published resource guides to make the work-from-home transition easier, on topics including managing a distributed team, working across time zones and utilising collaboration tools to stay connected. To encourage interaction among its staff, it introduced #FlockTalk, which enables them to come together during difficult times to share what’s going on with them, find community, and be heard by their leaders.

JP Morgan: using disaster recovery sites

Before government lockdowns came fully into effect, JP Morgan reacted to the initial COVID-19 crisis by installing teams at disaster recovery sites in Basingstoke, 50 miles west of London, and sites outside its Manhattan base in Brooklyn and New Jersey. Other banks, including Goldman Sachs, Chase, Morgan Stanley and Barclays, did the same in different locations.

Disaster recovery sites are buildings in suburbs and secure locations that are kept quietly on standby. “By spreading workforces across a greater number of sites, businesses are clearly hoping that they can mitigate some of the risk presented by COVID-19…” reports a BBC article from the first week of March 2020. “Often, disruptive situations only last a few days or weeks. But with coronavirus potentially lasting well into 2021, firms may find themselves relying on backup offices much longer than ever before.”

As an industry, banking had found it harder to switch to remote working pre-pandemic. “While most banks have ample capacity for staff to access internal networks remotely, senior bank executives are concerned about broadband capacity at their employees’ homes, which is not as fast as at the banks and could be slowed down even further if their children are also off school watching streaming services such as Netflix,” reports Sharon Kimathi in Fintech Futures.

“Another complication is regulatory requirements to monitor traders’ written and telephone communications, particularly in Europe,” she adds. “Against that backdrop, banks are pushing regulators in the UK and US to adopt a flexible approach to rules on compliance monitoring, as well as requirements on trade verification and booking.”

Google: relying on automation

“We’re also increasing the ability for employees, temporary staff and vendors to work from home by rolling out remote access and equipment, like secure laptops, where feasible,” announced Google in March 2020.

To keep up with the increased demand for its services, Google has embraced the latest technological innovations, including automation. “We’ve always used a combination of humans and machines to review content on our platforms, like YouTube,” the company says on its blog. “We will temporarily be increasing our reliance on automated systems given this unique situation, to reduce the need for people to come into the office.”

In terms of its human workers, it has been promoting social distancing by reducing the number of people in the office at a given time, by changing the timing of shifts, the timing between them. and the number of people on a given shift based on the work required.

Automattic: leading the pack

Companies with flexible workplace policies already in place found it much easier to deal with the ramifications of the pandemic. One of these was Automattic – the $3-billion company responsible for WordPress.com and which powers 35% of all websites on the internet today.

With a 1,170-person team distributed across 75 countries, it was already paving the way for remote work culture pre-crisis. Employees don’t share an office or use email – instead relying on chat and an internal blog with its own version of a Google Alerts system. In a CloudPeeps blog, Automattic explains how it is able to thrive, by providing team members with the best equipment for doing their jobs, a stipend for improving their home offices, and allowing them to make their own schedules.

Speaking on the Making Sense podcast, CEO Matt Mullenweg, points out that globally distributed teams like his, who work ‘asynchronously’ (e.g. sending a message without expecting an immediate response) can get three times more done than a local team relying on everybody to be in an office between 9am and 5pm.

Alibaba: leading China in a new way of working

In China, where remote working was far less common than in the west pre-COVID-19, millions of employees are getting used to a new way of doing things.

The Financial Times reported on the comments of Daniel Zhang, Alibaba’s chief executive, who described the pandemic as a “black swan event” that presented “near-term challenges” to Alibaba’s online sales platforms but also “opportunities created by the forces of change”. 

Zhang drew parallels with the e-commerce boom following the Sars outbreak in 2003, saying that the coronavirus has triggered “explosive growth” for DingTalk, Alibaba’s chat, videoconferencing and task management tool.

Zhang himself is said to hold daily briefings with the heads of his various business units through DingTalk and is considering doing more meetings online, even after the virus abates. “The crisis is a very, very big challenge to the society but also… gives people a chance to try [a] new way of living and new way of working,” he says.

A distributed workforce will be the new normal as businesses reduce risk and benefit from remote working. Flex and distribute your workforce using IWG’s portfolio of workspace solutions