On this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds recommends ways to start remote working on short notice. By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- How communication and collaboration are essential to the office experience and must be replicated in any long-term remote work environment.
- Which collaboration tools you can start using right away, without having to sort through hundreds of options.
- How to keep employees from putting sensitive information at risk when they use their personal computers.
This is not the first episode we’ve done about remote work. But the previous episode was a general, inclusive overview. At that time, remote work was something you had the luxury to discuss, experiment with, and phase in over time. The outbreak of COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, has forced people indoors and put pressure on employers to enact remote work measures immediately. So what were you doing at the office that you couldn’t do, or had trouble doing, at home—and how can you equip yourself to do it at home for the time being?
If you’re like most people, the answer has something to do with communication and collaboration. The office is basically a place where you can be closer to your colleagues and communicate with them more effectively. If you cannot go to the office, you will have to replicate that ease of communication and collaboration at home. You can do this with what are known as collaboration tools. There are hundreds of options out there, but you don’t have time to sort through every one, so we’re going to make this easy for you: if you use a modern version of Windows, start using Microsoft Teams. Chances are good that you already have it as part of your Office 365 suite. Microsoft Teams has struggled for a reputation because earlier versions were underwhelming, but according to Ryan, Microsoft has stepped it up, and Microsoft Teams is now a reliable vehicle for every basic collaboration feature: video chat, screen sharing, etc. You don’t have to use Microsoft Teams forever, but start using some communication tool, preferably one you already have access to, and get the hang of it until you’re ready to transition to something else if you want.
If you don’t have Microsoft Teams, or you’d rather use something else, Slack is your next best option. If you’re a longtime listener of The Digital Broker, this is not the first you’ve heard us tout it. Slack is basically a “fancy chat app,” but that simplicity has made it very popular and easy to use. Some of your colleagues are likely to be familiar with Slack already, making adoption easier—and if you need help using it, you can probably find plenty of people who can show you.
If your job requires you to work with everyday applications like spreadsheets, word processors, etc., you can probably transition to doing those things at home without much interruption. Agency Management Systems (AMS) are another story. Even if you’re able to download and run your AMS on your personal computer, don’t. It is a very bad idea to run sensitive programs, i.e., programs that traffic in sensitive information, on personal computers. Data breaches could happen—sensitive information could spill over to the personal device, where it is vulnerable to malware and other dangers.
Remote work is as much about hardware as it is about software. If your employees are already using secure, company-owned laptops or computers they can bring home with them, you are probably okay—as long as they use secure connections. If your employees do not have access to secure, company-owned laptops, or they cannot bring their work computers home with them, you can either buy them new, portable computers or promote the use of remote desktops, where employees can access their work computers through personal computers with relative safety. Neither option is a walk in the park—remote desktops take time to implement, and buying new laptops for everyone can be expensive. Each option, however, is highly preferable to letting employees run sensitive programs unsupervised because a single data breach could cripple your agency. For more information about remote desktops, see our previous episode about remote work. If you’re thinking of buying new computers for everyone, we talk about some of our preferences in our episode about the perfect workstation.
You can monitor additional conversations about remote work in our Digital Broker LinkedIn group. This episode began when someone in the group asked Ryan which collaboration tools he would recommend in light of the remote work emergency. Along with all the other tools we recommend in this episode, we invite you to keep the Digital Broker LinkedIn group in mind as a resource. If you have any other questions, or you need assistance with anything, come and tell us about it.
For better or worse, insurance agencies are finally investing in remote work. After this crisis ends, we should all have a better idea of how we work, how much we can do away from the office, and what drives productivity. Fears about remote work will go down, especially among employers. Remote work might even become more popular among employers than employees, many of whom are taking to social media to talk about how much they miss the office. We have a very bright future to look forward to if we can get through this crisis together.
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