The COVID-19 outbreak is prompting many organizations to consider working remotely. Fireside has a lot of experience in this, and if you didn’t know that then it just indicates that we’re doing it well! Fireside is fully remote most Fridays throughout the year, and we exercise two 2-week extended remote periods as well. If you’ve connected with a member of our Account Team on a Friday by phone or chat, odds are they were doing it from their home. We started these extended periods to test our ability and readiness to work remotely if needed, and continue them as our staff have come to find that periodic remote work is a nice perk.
We’d like to offer our insights and lessons learned to help your office prepare. The keys are to have your basic equipment assembled, verify connectivity to the House network, use cloud-based software platforms, plan how to maintain seamless communications internally and externally, and run a remote work test day to find your hiccups in advance.
Here’s what we suggest:
1. Address the basics for staff.
They will need:
- A House-issued laptop provisioned for remote use (no personal devices allowed)
- Connectivity to the House network – staff must have an RSA SecurID token to connect to the House VPN, either on their phone or as a hard token.
- A headset for better-quality video meetings.
2. Plan how your office will maintain communications with constituents (let technology be your friend!).
- Emails/newsletters/web – business as usual as long as staff have remote access
- Phones – when you may not be back in the office on Monday…
- Have an alternate message ready to go for the office voicemail, indicating that the office is still working and directing people to the contact form on your website to send an email
- Consider getting authorization to forward phones to non-House number(s) where they could be answered by staff during the day
- Make sure staff know how to retrieve voicemails over the phone and how to clear out old messages so the voicemail system doesn’t overflow
- Paper mail – You may not be in the office to get your constituent postcards and letters, so make sure your Digital Mail is functioning and your staff are reading it, processing it.
- Printing – mailroom bulk/batch printing can only be done from Fireside-connected office printers. Plan to connect with constituents electronically rather than by paper mail.
3. Plan for communications between staff
- The House now offers and supports Microsoft Teams for online communications for chat, meetings, document sharing, etc. Teams is a great way to keep everyone in the loop on a given topic or function. If you have not done so, get your staff up to speed on this. The House has extensive documentation and training for Teams on Housenet here: https://housenet.house.gov/technology/cloud-services/office-365/microsoft-teams
- If you won’t be using Teams, identify your video conference software for everyone to use for meetings, and your shared chat platform. You can find House-approved cloud services on Housenet here: https://housenet.house.gov/technology/cloud-services
4. Cross Train for crucial roles
- It’s possible any one of your staff may be out for 3 weeks and seriously ill. Is there only one person that can update social media? Send a newsletter? Log the mail? Do a quick audit and ask “If [insert indispensable person here] was out for three weeks how would we be impacted”?
5. Make adjustments to help remote work go smoothly
- Use your headset in calls/video meetings. This can really improve the sound quality dramatically. And don’t forget to mute in a meeting when you won’t be speaking.
- Assess your personal intended workspace in advance for internet speed & quality as well as ambient noise. Make sure you really can work where you want to work.
- Have each person over-communicate with your team while remote
- Actively let people know what you’re working on, and any help you may need. Did we mention Teams?
- Be very clear about your availability. People can still look at your calendar but they won’t have that same sense of where you are/how busy you are when you’re all in the office. If you won’t be available for a block of time, update your status.
There’s one more absolutely critical step to take before your office goes remote for an extended period, and that’s to TEST. Designate a day when everyone will work remotely – no sneaking in to the office – and make sure you treat it like a normal day. Have your scheduled meetings and your impromptu ones. Make sure you can reach your daily contacts. Interact with constituents and the Member. And require all staff to take notes on what did and did not work for them, then share these to the team and review.
Your office can do this!