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Remote Working Arrangement – How to get it right?

On March 16, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in his media briefing on COVID-19, described the coronavirus pandemic as “the defining global health crisis of our time"[1]. The pandemic has affected 176 countries and territories around the world. WHO is urging all governments to scale-up aggressive measures to combat COVID-19 as more cases and deaths are being reported across the globe. Until a vaccine is made available, social distancing is of the utmost importance to reduce transmission and enable health systems to cope.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines social distancing as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible” [2]. Governments in several countries have shut down public places such as parks, gyms, malls, schools, restaurants etc., for a minimum of 15 days, to be extended depending upon the situation.

In these circumstances, it is inevitable that companies worldwide also show solidarity by allowing their employees to work remotely, from the safety of their homes. In Seattle, the hub of many of America’s early COVID-19 cases, companies including Amazon, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Google advised workers to stop coming to office in late February [3]. With more employers taking this necessary and precautionary step, the question arises - how do we ensure that it is done right?

djurdjica-boskovic-G8_A4ZWxE3E-unsplashCaroline Terrill, Associate Director of Statistical Programming at Cytel, made the Award-Winning presentation on the topic, “No place like Home: Managing remote programmers, remotely” at PHUSE EU Connect 2019[4]. This subject is now more relevant than ever. In this blog, we offer our readers guidance on building a good rapport with their team and provide insights on issues to be considered while managing people who are working remotely.

To begin with the basics:

Ask your team to set up a designated space with minimal distractions and interruptions in their homes, to work each day. At the onset, the right technology is required to be in place to enable people to work remotely in an effective way. IT teams might be under a lot of pressure to help set up remote technology, so managers should account for some delays early on.

The following include some basic technical set up requirements:

  • Laptops/desktops need to be set up correctly so that all systems work, and access is enabled;
  • Cloud (i.e. Office365) should be leveraged when feasible;
  • IT/Helpdesks needs to be able to log on remotely to machines in order to resolve any and all issues;
  • Communication lines should be kept open and other contact methods should be established to ensure responsive access, e.g. phone and personal email;
  • Speed of connections needs to be good enough to ensure workers can access all systems and documents as easily as they could in the office.

Leverage these virtual capabilities to continue to interact with your supervisor, subordinates and co-workers, particularly video, which is available via tool like Skype, Teams, WebEx, Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime, etc.

How to stay connected:

Oftentimes a team is more than just the cooperative enterprise of getting work done. The social component of team relations needs to be nurtured during social distancing. Besides the pre-defined meetings, making daily ad-hoc calls is a good practice to stay connected. Ensure that you proactively move your upcoming physical meetings to the above-mentioned virtual channels. Embrace video calls as they add an extra dimension to socialization, and help build a connection that can be missing in audio conferences. In the current times, when we cannot be physically present around each other, in our usual work space, a video call can definitely help with the face-to-face contact.

Also, ask your team to be diligent in informing you or the helpdesk about any challenges they might be facing in this new remote work setup.  At Cytel, some of our teams have also created a virtual water-cooler (also known as a group coffee-break) where for 10 – 15 minutes every morning and afternoon, teams gather to discuss points of mutual interest outside of work.

Strategies for flexible project management

As schools are closed, taking care of the children at home and other family obligations may require you to provide some flexibility to your team in terms of work hours. Establish a system where they can inform you in advance about their availability and any deviations should be noted as quickly as possible. Prioritize the workload and assign weekly deliverables that can be easily assessed and managed. Also, as a manager, you will need to be available for your team as there may be fewer people available to whom they can easily go to with queries, under normal circumstances.

Trial, error and patience…

For many organizations, this might be the first instance of employees working remotely. Remember that at the beginning, extra efforts are required to get the process to work effectively. Remote working may not suit everyone, and certain situations may have to be considered. However, the extra effort is likely to reap many rewards.

Most projects at Cytel are managed over multiple locations and time zones, and so we have learned from experience that ensuring all processes can work remotely will make project work more efficient in the long-run. It is easier to get quiet time to work on complex tasks when you are away from the usual office setup. Additionally, if there is extra workload, employees can work extra hours with it having less impact on their home life, e.g. have dinner with the family and then return to work later.

At Cytel, we already have a large number of remote workers and that has enabled us to expand more rapidly and to more locations. In these unfortunate times, we hope to use our lessons from these remote working arrangements, in a way that can be applied to all our employees who have been given the option to work remotely for the next couple of weeks.

In our next blog in the “Remote Working Arrangement” series, we will provide you with some resources that can help you gain insights on important topics of industry and help you to make best use of your time indoors. We wish you and your family safety and good health, during this pandemic.



[1] https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---16-march-2020

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/risk-assessment.html

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/mar/13/covid-19-could-cause-permanent-shift-towards-home-working

[4] https://www.phusewiki.org/docs/2019%20Amsterdam/Papers_presentations/PM/PM%20Final%20Papers/PM05.pdf


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