Coronavirus & Working from Home: Part 4 – Key Technology Platforms

Key Technology Platforms

From Employee Collaboration Tools to Cloud-Based Systems

For more than a decade our company has worked remotely.  Our clients  live in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.  “Remote work” is a way of life for us and our clients.  However, we’re aware that most employees still go into an office.

Writing a set of technology recommendations for all employers and all employees in all industries is impossible; the aim of this  article isn’t to suggest a one-size-fits-all set of applications, but rather, call attention to the types of functions that will be necessary for employees to be successful while transitioning to work-from-home mandates in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Employee Resources

Employers should be prepared for the moment when an employee says, “I can’t do my job unless I have X.”  Employers should consider empowering employees to make purchases or sign up for services they deem necessary to fulfill their job functions.

There are a host of technology-related equipment and services that knowledge workers are accustomed to but may be taken for granted at a traditional office but, depending on an employee’s job function, may need to be implemented at home, for example:

  • Computer
  • Headset
  • High-speed Internet
  • Telephone line
  • Printer
  • Shredder
  • Shipping services
  • Ergonomic chair & desk
  • Locking filing cabinets (if confidential storage is required)

Employee Communications

With no watercooler, break room, or common area, employees will need different types of applications and resources when working from home.  Many large employers already have these tools in place—an Intranet or employee portal with all information, common collaboration systems, and more.  For these employers, the only need is to ensure that employees have the necessary credentials, training, and access rights to use these technologies at home.

For employers without existing companywide technology platforms, ensuring efficient employee communication will be essential.  Employees need to have access to the same platforms, know where and how to find each other, and understand company expectations for how to leverage these systems to complete company work. Functions that should be considered are as follows:

  • Email – Many employees are accustomed to accessing their email from their work computer, whether through Outlook or another desktop application. Employers need to ensure that employees have credentials to access email remotely via Web-based platforms, such as Office 365 Online.
  • Common Chat Function – Whether they use Skype, Slack, Microsoft Teams, or a proprietary company application, all staff should create accounts on the same messaging platform so that they can send quick messages, either individually or in project-specific groups. These applications can help transmit information quickly without having to bring everyone into a meeting.
  • Meeting Platform – The chat applications referenced above also allow meeting functionality, with voice and chat and sometimes video. Some of these applications are best for smaller, impromptu discussions; other platforms—such as GoToWebinar, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom—are more effective for larger meetings or broadcasts.  As other articles in this series have discussed, employers should establish expectations for arrival, meeting length, agendas, and more.
  • Mobile – Each of the applications referenced above exists for both desktop and mobile applications. If employees will not be desk-bound, they should ensure that these applications are synced on both their home computers and mobile devices.

File Storage

As with employee communications, many large employers have cloud-based file storage implemented for staff.  If this is the case, employees need access instructions and training but should otherwise be able to work normally.

For companies without such an easy solution, consider the following:

  • Leveraging the Company’s Existing System – Unbeknownst to employees (and perhaps even senior management!), many companies have already implemented technologies that can be used remotely. Many employees may be accustomed to using Office 365 or G-Suite, but these tools are configured for their work computers.  For these companies, the good news is that work-from-home opportunities already exist; the challenge is for the IT department to provide staff with explicit instructions on how to access these resources remotely, where to find each familiar application, and whom to contact for assistance.
  • Shared File Storage – For companies without existing storage systems, employers should immediately select a single file storage service (Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, iDrive, etc.). The company’s IT manager can establish a corporate account and distribute credentials or employees can create their own accounts and link up with team members.


Proper “security” protocols vary wildly by industry.  At the office, a lot of thought has gone into both physical and digital security.  Employers should consider how remote workers need to alter their workflow to follow proper protocol.  Consider the following:

  • Physical Security – Does your industry require compliance with certain physical security standards? These can range from requiring locks on office doors to mandating that computers be physically attached to desks.  Other common requirements include locked file cabinets or procedures for shredding documents.
  • Digital Security – Larger companies may require use of a VPN and employees can work mostly as usual. However, cloud-based information requires different levels of security.  Office 365 or similar enterprise packages offer some support, but employers should consider whether the company needs to modify its processes for security reasons.  If your company stores or distributes confidential information, this information should be encrypted before being transmitted and should be stored on encrypted drives.
  • Operating Systems – IT departments should ensure that remote employees’ devices are running the most up-to-date versions of software.
  • Device Security – Companies should establish policies requiring, at a minimum, strong passwords to unlock work devices. Newer mobile devices or computers offer biometric and/or second-factor authentication, which add further layers of security.

As noted at the outset, different companies will have different needs, but hopefully these ideas will help.  Until tomorrow…

[About this Series: Since its inception in 2006, Alliances Management ( has operated as a 100% virtual, distributed workforce; today its staff members work in a dozen U.S. states, Europe, and the Philippines.  In light of employers reconsidering face-to-face work because of the proliferation of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we decided to write a multi-part series to share some of our thoughts and best practices about remote work. Read the entire series here.]

Coronavirus & Working from Home: Part 3 – Flexibility and Adaptability

The Importance of Flexibility and Adaptability:

Playing to Remote Work’s Strengths Instead of Caving to its Weaknesses

Here at Alliances Management, our entire U.S. and international workforce has been working remotely since 2006.  For some perspective, that was before the launch of the iPhone and the boom of easy, continuous connectivity.  Suffice to say we are career remote workers and have had the opportunity to work through its various challenges and pitfalls.

As COVID-19 spreads and many of our most visible institutions close, more employers are exploring remote work.  For those employees who are adapting to a work-from-home setting for the first time, it is important to acknowledge that this is a new work dynamic that requires new management approaches, means of project or assignment execution, and a period of adjustment.

Over the years (and trials), we have learned that working remotely can be a significant employment perk, but it can also be an albatross.  When the office walls come down and the physical work environment dissipates, lines and boundaries begin to blur.  Some flounder in the distraction of being home or lack of oversight, others may even burn out from overreach and the seemingly never-ending demand of emails around the clock.  Flexibility and adaptability are crucial to making remote work not only feasible, but efficient and successful for both the employee and employer.

Avoid “One-Size-Fits-Mediocre”

Most jobs have a natural ebb and flow.  You’ll find peaks when deadlines are approaching, meetings and conference calls stack your schedule, or “fire drills” emerge.  Lulls tend to surface when all that remains on your to-do list are the long-term projects.  In a traditional office setting, employees are essentially stuck there to ride out this ebb and flow.  During the quieter times, not only is productivity down for the employer, but employees are often wasting their own time.  In sum, the typical work setting creates a one-size-fits-mediocre approach.   However, if both the manager and the employee embrace the flexibility created by remote work and adapt to it, everyone can reap the benefits.

Allowing employees to flex their time to accommodate surges in workload increases timeliness of work and overall productivity.  Here at Alliances Management, we have clients working in a dozen different time zones.  When employees flex and adapt their schedules, we can truly offer round-the-clock global service.

Embrace an “Extended” Workday

9-to-5 work allows employers to assemble everyone at key times and allows employees the opportunity to “check out” from work.  However, remote work offers employees the opportunity to improve their productivity and better enjoy their personal lives by embracing the flexibility and adapting their working hours.  It is true that you may find yourself working potentially long or atypical hours during the peaks, but ultimately, working remotely also allows you to take charge of and master your time and schedule.

By not being held hostage by the office, you can leverage the downtime.  Depending on the nature of your position, you can even create your own ebb and flow by intentionally working during off hours (maybe while your children are napping or off to bed for the evening) so that you carve out time for something non-work-related during traditional working hours (maybe a daytime workout while you still have the energy).

Make Sure to Communicate with Your Team

Remote work isn’t a license not to work, and it’s important that your boss and colleagues are onboard with the flexibility and approach.  Don’t sneak around: be upfront with your boss and ensure that all critical meetings and deadlines are communicated and understood.  In this way, you can ensure that flexibility does not hurt the company.  Even more, your colleagues know that a traditional workday has lulls, and many will appreciate how flexible working hours will enable an entire team to get its work done more effectively.  One example of how remote work can facilitate this better than an office environment: imagine completing a draft project at the end of one’s day—and then seeing feedback and contributions when you arrive the next morning, all because a team member’s flexible schedule facilitated “off-hours” work.

Make it a Strength, Not a Weakness

Remote work can either be a strength or a weakness.  If employers work with their employees to allow flexibility and embrace the ability to work from anywhere at any time (while maintaining some sense of balance and boundaries), you can enjoy a highly productive and satisfying career, while still enjoying a bit of freedom.

[About this Series: Since its inception in 2006, Alliances Management ( has operated as a 100% virtual, distributed workforce; today its staff members work in a dozen U.S. states, Europe, and the Philippines.  In light of employers reconsidering face-to-face work because of the proliferation of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we decided to write a multi-part series to share some of our thoughts and best practices about remote work. Read the entire series here.]


Coronavirus & Working from Home: Part 2 – Childcare

Working from Home & Childcare

Hand Signals, Help, and Being Free Solo

We’ve all seen it – the professor masterfully navigating an interview while his children waltz into his office making an unwelcome guest appearance on a live international news program. I’ve watched it a million times and may watch it a million more – It. Never. Gets. Old. It’s comedy gold, but for anyone who has ever worked from home with kids, it’s a very real concern.

COVID-19 has been a tragedy, and the most important thing is for people to stay healthy.  Figuring out childcare obviously pales in comparison to tending to sick loved ones, but many employees are struggling to figure out how to work from home while their kids’ school and extracurricular events have been curtailed or cancelled. To all of you I say, “Welcome to my work life for the last seven years!” As mom to three rowdy boys – ages 10, 8, and 3 – I’ve got some tips to help navigate this uncharted territory (even if you won’t be conducting any live international television interviews any time soon).

Hand Signals

I’ve heard all sorts of awkward noises on group conference calls. There was the time when someone forgot to mute themselves before shouting, “KATIE, STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!” And there’s also that telltale distracted pause in a person’s voice where you can virtually hear them actively shooing someone away. Let’s try avoid that, eh? Insert HAND SIGNALS!

My kids have grown up with me working from home – they know it no other way. Over time we’ve developed some key communication protocols. My office door is not locked – the kids can come in and out as they please – but they know to use hand signals when they walk in. Here’s the protocol: They walk in and silently move their hand in a way that indicates talking (like the motion you’d make if you had your hand in a puppet and you were making it talk). If I am already on mute and it is fine for them to go ahead and speak, I simply tell them to go ahead. Otherwise, I put up my finger to signal that they should hold on for just a second, mute myself, and then tell them to go ahead. This has saved me from countless instances of embarrassment. And the kids actually kind of like it; it’s like our secret code.

In-Home Childcare

While hand signals have been great with my older children, my 3-year-old hasn’t quite mastered the program. I can get some work done with him around, but an important conference call is difficult. Conference calls aside, efficiency is greatly hampered when your workspace is shared with a toddler (#shocker).

For times when the children are routinely home, such as over the summer, I have coordinated for a caregiver to be there to keep the children at bay. If you have access to such help during these social-distancing times, I recommend it.

But the key to success will be clear communication between you, the caregiver, and the children. Make sure the caregiver and the children know the extent to which you are, or are not, available – if you are just quietly working, maybe you’re ok with kids coming and going. Maybe you’re doing a live TV interview for the BBC and your space should be strictly off limits. Whatever it is, clearly communicate the rules.

Another key to success is to make it clear who is in charge and when. Dear child, if you need a bowl of cereal, need to tattle on your brother for ruining your epic Lego creation, or want to ride your bike to Sam’s house, GO SEE THE NANNY! If you require an immediate trip to the ER or the house in on fire, then come and get me (with hand signals, of course!). The point is that kids need to know when the caregiver has the reins. And  the caregiver needs to feel empowered and in charge. It can be awkward for a caregiver to determine what authority she has when you are also in the home. My typical last words before heading into my office are “Ask Maggie, she is in charge,” and I make sure everybody hears me.

Free Solo

For a multitude of reasons – cost, quarantines, etc. – you may not have access to the glory that is in-home childcare. How can you best cope? A teacher friend wisely recommended maintaining structure. Ask your kids to help set a schedule for the day and then stick to it. And, consider altering your work hours when possible – maybe this is the time to start waking up at 5 a.m. to be productive while your house is still quiet. It might allow you to schedule some playtime into your day with your kids.

If all else fails, and I’m just being honest here, we all know that screens will help keep them out of our hair. But, the quality of the screen content matters. Lots of online learning portals are offering free access herehere, and here. Personally I am intrigued by these virtual museum tours and this art studio offering live daily art tutorials. Finally, a Mom’s group has compiled a Google doc here.


At the end of all this, I would like to think we will all give each other the grace and understanding the situation warrants. I have a feeling people are going to be pretty forgiving overall. Take it from the professor.

[About this Series: Since its inception in 2006, Alliances Management ( has operated as a 100% virtual, distributed workforce; today its staff members work in a dozen U.S. states, Europe, and the Philippines.  In light of employers reconsidering face-to-face work because of the proliferation of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we decided to write a multi-part series to share some of our thoughts and best practices about remote work. Read the entire series here.]

Coronavirus & Working from Home: Part 1 – It’s Initially Disorienting

Working from Home: It’s Initially Disorienting

Tips for Employers on Successfully Transitioning to Remote Work

If you’re an employer concerned about the spread of COVID-19, you’re likely encouraging your staff to work from home.  The Internet abounds with articles espousing the benefits of remote work: increased productivity, heightened employee engagement, improved morale, etc.  As COO of a consulting company with a 100% distributed workforce, I can tell you that these benefits are real.

But there’s a catch: the truth is that working from home can be extremely disorienting.

I last held a traditional office job eleven years ago.  Back then society was on edge because of the financial crisis: jobs were being slashed, homes were being foreclosed, and stock markets were tanking.  Hopefully we will avoid the deep sense of despair that we experienced in 2008-2009, but it’s prudent for today’s employers to think about ways for professionals to stay home and avoid the office.

I vividly remember my first week working remotely.  I was excited, motivated, caffeinated, and ready to make my mark on a new company and with new clients. But each morning, after getting through the email backlog and then periodically throughout each day, I remember sitting in a quiet room (no kids back then!) and wondering now what?  It wasn’t that I didn’t have scheduled calls or work to do.  What was missing were the millions of little cues about how my day was going.  I had always naturally absorbed that information at the water cooler, at lunch, or simply by walking past a coworker’s cubicle.

I had plenty of work to do, but not having that information was disorienting.

Eleven years later our staff of three has grown more than twenty fold.  As coronavirus-concerned employers send their professionals home, I would encourage them to take steps to increase information flow among staff members.  Here are four general ideas:

Establish Clear Working Hours & Communication Expectations

Though most employees will welcome the opportunity to work remotely, managers should be very clear about when employees must be “in the office,” the expected time frame for responding to colleague and managers’ communications, and, importantly, the conditions under which an employee may ignore such communications to focus exclusively on a deliverable.  Increased time for intense, focused work is one of the greatest benefits of working remotely, so it needs to be encouraged—but encouraged in such a way that team members don’t feel ignored or dismissed.

“Check In” with Staff and Colleagues Frequently

In the office, your employees get dozens of points of feedback throughout the day: a casual comment at the cubicle about an email or a deadline, a thumbs-up from across the room, and more.  With the office gone, good managers need to “stop by” virtually to ask if staff need help or if they have questions about a project.  The problem is that the office check-ins are natural and unobtrusive, whereas the virtual ones can feel forced.  Managers should go out of their way to offer help, express support, and stress that the reason for increased communication is to replace some of what is lost in a face-to-face environment.

Minimize Large Meetings and Manage Them Efficiently

I’m not a big fan of meetings.  They have their place, but managers should always have a clear agenda, invite only those participants who are truly needed, and efficiently drive the meeting toward its objectives.  Remote meetings can be even more disruptive than face-to-face meetings.  All new remote workers will intuitively try to find new ways to efficiently interact with one another.  They will send additional email, hop on impromptu video chats to work through an issue, and manage several group chats to get the information they need.  That workflow—different from the office but designed to transmit the same information—gets disrupted when everyone is pulled into a virtual room.

Encourage “Mini-Deadlines” for Projects

Managers should always establish clear expectations about when deliverables are due.  However, in a face-to-face environment, staff and colleagues get more informal feedback on a project’s status, see each other working, and have a greater sense of where things stand.  When everyone is working from home, managers worry more about a project’s progress, colleagues don’t see progress being made, and there is heightened overall anxiety about deliverables.  Establishing smaller deadlines for projects—whether to review an outline, draft, phase, or other—can increase confidence all around, not to mention provide each team member with valuable feedback on how to improve results.

Alright, those are our work-from-home thoughts for today.  In the coming days, we’ll examine different topics, ranging from technology platforms, to childcare, to the importance of flexibility, and more.

[About this Series: Since its inception in 2006, Alliances Management ( has operated as a 100% virtual, distributed workforce; today its staff members work in a dozen U.S. states, Europe, and the Philippines.  In light of employers reconsidering face-to-face work because of the proliferation of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we decided to write a multi-part series to share some of our thoughts and best practices about remote work. Read the entire series here.]

Starting a Technical Association – Video

In this video, we explain how Alliances Management can assist clients interested in launching a new technical association.