The transition from working in an office or facility to working from home is jarring, especially during a health pandemic. Social isolation comes with its own symptoms that manifest more like a punch to the gut. For the industrial workplace—the warehouses and the factories and the power plants—remote work feels like an absurd concept, and the idea that one needs to continue to operate machinery and maintain facilities can seem so impossible that it's comical. However, it’s not impossible. Fortunately, the digital revolution has provided humanity with several tools to supplement remote work and make this transition a little less painful.
We’ve found four areas that could use some digital assistance. First, time management has become monstrously challenging with leisurely temptations surrounding our new existence. Pet and pajama party vs. spreadsheet and powerpoint party? The latter is not actually a party. Second, security has weakened several degrees as employees bring their work devices home and into unprotected networks. Goodbye digital armor, hello malware. Third, in-person communication is cut-off entirely and virtual communication has become the new status-quo. Colleagues have shrunken into pixelated, 2-D ghosts that are now stowed in a little, gray box called laptop. And lastly, physical reality has been removed by miles, and companies have to find new tools like augmented reality to capture and share information in real-time. Might as well be magic.
Lucky for you, we did the homework so you can work at home. Here’s a compilation of our thoughts on time management, security, communication, and augmented reality (AR) softwares to help your company maintain operations during a global health pandemic.
When working from home, it’s easier to get distracted and lose track of what your colleagues or subordinates are accomplishing and at what rate. There’s no checking in at another’s desk or collective working vibes to keep everyone motivated. There’s something about the pitter-patter of keyboards, gentle lullabies of coworkers’ conference calls, and bilateral stimulation of loud, unified food chewing—we’re kidding—but there’s something to be said about feeding off coworking energy and keeping one another accountable.
We’ve found three tools that help you focus and/or shed light on colleagues’ or subordinates’ time management. Harvest is a stellar tool for managers trying to stay on top of their team’s productivity. Moreover, it helps managers who can no longer walk around the office or facility supervise operations. RescueTime is a life-saver for the individual who has trouble concentrating and avoiding distractions. Toggl is a mix of both; it has features for the individual to help focus, and features for the manager to check on team performance.
With the workforce turning into the work-from-home-force, devices no longer have the protection that offices and facilities have built to fortify against security breaches. In the past, many workers relied on the IT department to keep their devices and networks safe, never giving any thought to their own activity. However, now that people are working in personal spaces during a global pandemic, two issues have arisen. First, home environments may protect people from the coronavirus but open up devices to computer viruses. Second, cybercriminal activity has dramatically increased as hackers capitalize on the coronavirus outbreak and use collective panic to their advantage. Just as there are cleaning and disinfecting procedures to prevent infections, there are several security tips to help you navigate a digitally dangerous world.
Below are checklists we’ve compiled for the employer and the employee. These are great tips in general, and should be noted even after the pandemic settles and normal life returns. Mobile devices have now entered warehouses, factories, and power plants as essential operational tools for technicians on the floor, and we highly recommend facilities maintain digital security procedures as much as the desk-job office environment does.
The Employer Checklist:
- Set up a password storing and sharing platform. When working remoting, Eric can’t walk over to Raj’s desk to ask for a password. Instead, Eric may text Raj asking for the password and then email it to Adam which then places the password in insecure territory. With platforms like 1Password, all passwords can be stored and shared in a secure database. Due to the coronavirus, 1Password Business is providing the first six months free.
- Set up two-factor authentication for logins which will confirm the employees identification using two elements. For example, a password and a question. The question can be something like what is your dog’s name? Or, what serial code was just texted to your cell phone?
- Provide a virtual private network (VPN) for employees. Business VPNs provide a dedicated IP address and server for multiple users. Some VPNs include Perimeter 81, NordVPN, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Hotspot Shield. Interesting tidbit: since March 11, 2020, NordVPN’s global use increased by 165% due to workers going remote during the pandemic.
- Purchase antivirus software such as Norton for all employees’ work devices. Phishing scams and hacking have exponentially increased since the coronavirus outbreak. Cybercriminals have sent emails in the forms of CDC alerts, health advice letters from experts, fake offers of hand sanitizer and clean products, coronavirus cure announcements, company policy updates, and organizations seeking urgent donations to save lives or stay afloat economically.
- Regularly check in with the IT department to make sure the team is staying ahead of security breaches and not overwhelmed with the adaptations required during the pandemic.
- Educate employees on proper digital security measures and check to make sure teams are following procedures.
The Employee Checklist:
- When you leave a room and/or are finished for the day, shut down and lock devices so kids, roommates, and partners don’t click the wrong thing, snoop, or accidentally destroy content. Moreover, lock your house and car!
- Store devices out of plain sight so burglars aren’t tempted to break through house or car windows and steal your devices.
- Keep your work and personal devices separate so information doesn’t get lost between the two devices; accidents don’t occur that may either involve scams, deleting, or mixups; and lastly, boundaries in time and space are created between work and personal life.
- Keep an eye out for phishing emails. Signs include requests for personal information, generic greetings, spelling and grammar mistakes, and urgent requests. Always check that the email address is legitimate; often phishing email addresses are slight variations of the correct email address. Hover over links to investigate its authenticity; clicking on a scam link can immediately infect your computer with malware.
- Update your devices with each new software update.
- Backup all data. This might be either on clouds or external hard-drives or maybe even old-fashioned printing. Do not use USB drives since hackers distribute flash drives to unsuspecting people to gain access to their devices.
- If something seems suspicious in your inbox, your computer, or company network or platforms, contact the IT department immediately.
- Avoid public WiFi since hackers can spy on WiFi signals to capture credentials and snoop on activity.
Every conference is now a video conference during the coronavirus times. All the little irritations you once experienced during brief video conferencing will be exacerbated as it becomes a daily, maybe hourly ritual. There are some things that can’t be helped on video conference—mostly because humans are humans—like the awkward silences, the talking over someone until one side gives up, the dropped calls, the accidental muting, and the list could go on. However, there are ways to ensure that the quality is good (with proper WiFi or cellular network), that everyone who needs to be on the call can be on the call, and that information can be shared in real-time using the video conference platform. Google Hangouts, Zoom and Skype are the most popular video conferencing platforms, but they offer different perks and come with varied limitations. We’ve made a chart for these three companies’ free options.
Video conferencing is all well and good for idle chit-chats, talking your heart, doling out work onto others, or finally coming to that agreement so everyone can move on to the next project. However, it can be hard to understand exactly what someone means without them being able to show you, particularly when seeking guidance operating heavy machinery and utilizing equipment. A video conference cannot open a portal to allow you to enter another's world, but augmented reality can.
Since only essential personnel are asked to work in the physical office or facility during the coronavirus outbreak, on-site employees will need to capture and share information in real-time with other employees working in different locations, e.g. a kitchen nook or office/playroom. And these off-site employees may need to guide or mentor on-site employees when it comes to operating certain equipment. AR can be used to streamline communication as it can replace your physical hand with an “AR hand.” Ario uses AR, so we’ve broken down how our platform aides remote work and reduces the spread of infection for those who have to work on-site in factories and warehouses.
Reduces Physical Contact
With spatial documentation (assigning and placing information at certain physical locations), the employee does not need to touch the physical documentation, but only the text/images as shown on their personal mobile devices. Phones or tablets can be assigned to individual employees to halt employees sharing instruments which in turn prevents the transmission of diseases. If there aren’t enough mobile devices to go around and employees must share, devices can be cleaned and disinfected between users. (We wrote a whole article on cleaning tips for facilities, including how to disinfect devices. Check it out here!) Coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets dissipated through coughing and sneezing; those droplets can land on objects and stay stable on certain surfaces for hours up to days which is why disinfection is mandatory.
Enables Virtual Communication
Using video calling apps that have AR features, remote employees can place 3D cursors in the receiver’s field of view to highlight and mark important locations in the physical world to efficiently direct onsite employees. This ensures accurate and concise communication with the individual on the other end of the call. Instead of two employees communicating in the physical world where disease can be transmitted by close contact, a virtual arrow can be swapped for a finger.
Certain workforce operation platforms engaging AR allow users to store data virtually. Employees can save anything from pictures, videos, 3D models in a central database that other individuals can access regardless of location. No emailing, leaving voicemails, tracking down other colleagues to find information. On-site employees can access data immediately through associated AR items indicating particular processes or procedures.
Maintains Safety Procedures
Before operating a piece of equipment, employees can easily access directions, records, and file sharing using AR. An icon that appears in the employee’s field of view on a mobile device can remind them to use the proper personal protective equipment and to follow appropriate cleaning/disinfecting procedures before and after operating the machinery.
Keep Calm and Carry On...With a Few Adjustments
Workers worldwide used to desk jobs in highrises or hands-on jobs in warehouses or factories are now relegated to personal couches and dining room tables to get the job done. Sure, there are hacks to ease work-from-home strains like decorating or tidying a room into a makeshift office, dressing in business-casual clothes to maintain a routine, burning the television to prevent temptation, or taking exercise breaks when you’d normally take walk-around-the-office-and-chit-chat breaks. However, these are habit tricks and do not address digital tips to keep production moving while working remotely. Time management apps or platforms, security procedures or software, communication via video, and augmented reality aides can ameliorate the headaches that come with this unprecedented change. We hope the digital tips we’ve sourced will be of use as we all grapple with the awkward transition to working in social isolation.