The Incident Response Approach to Remote Work

Emily Arnott

Emily Arnott

The incident response approach to remote work

In response to recent events, many organizations are implementing social distancing programs such as remote work. Successfully transitioning to remote work does come with challenges, but the right practices and attitudes can make it much less painful (and safer for you than heading into the office).

We like to think of incidents as “unplanned investments,” and a sudden switch to remote work could be considered an unplanned investment of its own. By properly responding to this “incident” and learning from its outcomes, your team can become better equipped to thrive in similar challenging situations and increase your productivity while your team remains distributed.

Get ahead of complications with dry runs. Before meetings, make sure that you’re equipped by testing your camera, microphone, and internet speed for sending and receiving video. Plan a space to take calls in without distractions that has good lighting and a neutral background. The more things you can figure out ahead of time, the more you can focus on the work that matters.

Have “runbooks” with plenty of plan Bs. Failure is inevitable. Expect that things will go wrong, and plan as a team for what to try next. If one video service crashes, what’s the backup? If there’s a miscommunication and someone doesn’t join the call, what’s the protocol? Work will proceed smoothly through these blips if everyone starts on the same page. Once the plans have been decided, ensure people are aligned on it with a team-wide email.

Communicate effectively. Remote work demands excellent communication. As you would during an incident, set up roles responsible for communicating information to stakeholders, from coworkers to management to customers. Conversations that happen naturally in the office should be codified and scheduled to stop things from falling through gaps. Be sure to solidify decisions made in emails to create an organized and permanent record.

Plan to learn. By recording meetings and Slack conversations, and monitoring KPIs during remote work periods, areas of friction can be identified and smoothed out. Your team can even create a remote work postmortem to analyze exactly where procedures can be improved. Work through a timeline of incidents related to remote work, and discuss where systems can be changed to stop recurrence.

Be blameless. You will run into challenges when transitioning to remote work. When others are just a Slack display picture instead of a human being sitting across from your desk, you may be more tempted to throw blame their way. But remember: your coworkers have the best intentions, and failures result only from systemic issues that you’ll work together to change. Make time for friendly chats (ideally over video calls) to keep the human in mind when things go wrong.

Remote work is a challenge, but an important one to overcome — people’s safety vastly outweighs temporary struggles. By thinking of it as an “unplanned investment” and applying some best practices of incident response, the challenges of unplanned work can be overcome and teams can thrive and grow.

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