For the past few months, non-essential workers (i.e. those who aren’t supplying food, medical supplies, utilities, transporation, etc.) have been displaced from their offices and thrust into a new work-from-home environment. As the coronavirus crisis disrupted all aspects of society, many companies found themselves inadequately prepared to handle the abrupt shift to a remote workforce. Tackling this unexpected transition to remote work was difficult for many companies; however, despite the challenges, some companies were able to successfully transition to remote work and continue serving their customers, while also protecting their employees.

Remote Work Isn’t Just for a Global Pandemic

The coronavirus was an unexpected event that forced companies to quickly make a stark transition to all-remote work; however, many companies are now realizing (albeit, after the fact) that they should have already had policies in place to be prepared for abrupt shifts to remote work, as there are many other circumstances—besides a global health pandemic—that could necessitate the same kind of response. For example, inclement weather, natural disaster, even a localized health crisis, and other events could all disrupt normal operations for brick-and-mortar businesses. If businesses were prepared to transition temporarily to a remote workforce in these situations, they would be able to maintain business continuity.

And it’s not only businesses that have realized the benefits of remote work in the last few months; employees, too, are welcoming the remote work lifestyle as it offers many benefits that they can’t get while working in an office every day. For example, remote work affords employees more flexibility, easing common burdens like the time and expense of commuting, childcare, etc. Cutting out commuting time also enables employees to spend more time with their families or on self-care to further alleviate work-related stresses. Recent studies even confirm that working from home improves performance and worker satisfaction, while decreasing attrition—and when employees feel supported, they are empowered to perform their best.

Preparing for More Remote Work in the Future

In the past few months, the companies who were able to successfully transition to remote work have stood out for their abilities to continue serving their customers while also protecting and supporting their employees—even during unprecedented quarantining and while maintaining social distancing measures. This period has proven that remote work is a successful strategy for helping businesses maintain business continuity—but it’s also shown that transitioning to remote work isn’t easy, and it can’t be done on a dime. Below are 5 things businesses need to do to succeed with a remote work model and maintain business continuity.

1. Revise recruiting and training

Transitioning from brick-and-mortar to an all-remote model requires adjustments to every aspect of operations—beginning with recruiting and training processes.

First, recruiters need to take into account the skills are most important for a work-from-home environment. Then, training supervisors need to create entirely virtual training processes—preferably combining self-paced and instructor-led modules to on-board and educate recruits.

2. Clearly communicate telecommuting policies

Working from home means changes to the traditional commute—and companies need to address this by documenting and proactively sharing new telecommuting policies with their team. These policies should outline expectations on working hours, working environment, tool and ISP requirements, and non-taxable reimbursement, if any, for use of any personal equipment, etc. By taking the time to outline and clearly communicate telecommuting policies, companies can ensure their entire team is on the same page, thus helping build and maintain both trust and productivity in remote work collaborations.

3. Prioritize remote accessibility to core systems

A key issue for remote workers is accessing systems, applications, and knowledge-sharing portals while at home. To ensure employees have the correct, reliable access they need, companies need to take steps to ensure things like remote password resets, automated account management workflows, authorized access controls, identity management, and IT support staff are easily available to the team, no matter where they are located.

Companies can better ensure success by putting these processes and tools in place proactively, instead of after the fact; this includes encouraging employees to make sure they’re set up to work remotely before disaster strikes, so they’re ready in the event of a crisis.

4. Set up & monitor strong security protocols

Getting employees comfortably set up at home for remote work also includes initiating strong security protocols for remote access. Critical systems and data should be positioned behind a VPN that all employees must access when working remotely. Additionally, companies should leverage multifactor authentication to validate employee identities and prevent unauthorized access.

5. Provide access to virtual collaboration tools

Finally, virtual collaboration tools can help make working in teams seamless—even when the team is fully remote. With web conferencing tools, such as Zoom, messaging tools like Slack, and document sharing portals, such as Confluence or Google Docs, companies can make sure their teams can do real-time collaboration editing and knowledge management even when they’re not physically together.

Disruption during the COVID-19 crisis drew a line in the sand between companies that could maintain business continuity—and those that could not. The determining success factor for most companies that were able to continue regular operations during the pandemic was their ability to successfully transition to a remote workforce. While the pandemic will eventually subside, many businesses may in fact choose to continue supporting a remote work force, as they’ve learned to appreciate the key role remote work places play in ensuring business continuity.