caLogo

Peter Bigelow

Working from home brings many Covid epiphanies.

As I reluctantly get used to social distancing, wearing face masks in public and continually washing my hands, many “aha!” moments have occurred. These have been about the new realities of dealing with the global disruption from Covid-19, as well as the changes we will most likely live with once we’ve survived the pandemic, or at least the first round of it. In no particular order, they include:

Zoom, Zoom, ZOOM! I am not tech savvy or social media conscious, so it should be no surprise that three months ago I had never heard of Zoom. I know about it now! I spend a good portion of each day, including weekends, on a Zoom “call.” At first it was family trying to connect from the various places they were hunkered down. But then I began receiving requests from customers and suppliers to schedule a Zoom meeting to discuss one or another thing. Zoom enables those working remotely to participate with the few still working out of their office or factory. Zoom is user-friendly, and unlike WebEx, easier for those working at home to manage.

What I find intriguing about the use of Zoom is how those working at home can put up a background picture or just talk with a blank screen to avoid those on the Zoom from seeing their cluttered kitchen or den. It certainly reduces potential embarrassment for some who work from home. But imagine, anyone can get a picture of a world-class manufacturing plant – or process line – or shelves of “inventory” for display so viewers think that is their plant. Oh, the potential here is limitless!

The little things! What did you leave in your office while working at home? Passwords, fobs, files with instructions to access some web account you only need to do once in a blue moon, all of which seem to happen during the pandemic. Many folks I have spoken with have had to go into someone else’s desk to grab a file or password, then scan and email it to a coworker working at home. Many customers have found it difficult to get signoffs for purchase orders, as the key person working from home does not have access to some file or software to review or approve. Ditto financial managers, who are missing just one of the two factor authorizations needed to perform a task. Working from home works well for many, but some effort is needed to make it work for all.

NIST-800-Cybersecurity, et al! With everyone working remotely, who cares about cybersecurity? More than one person I know is working from home using a home PC running Windows XP or Windows 7, neither of which is still supported by Microsoft. Cybersecurity no no! Surprise! They cannot access some, if not most, of their company IT databases. But not to worry, there is always a workaround. Some take pictures of documents with their phone and text them to a coworker, who then uploads the photos into a file/document and then emails that file to a remote coworker. Even companies with the most robust IT infrastructure and resources to set up employees to work from home on company-supplied computers are cringing when the at-home employee needs to print a document and does so on a non-secure printer or via a wireless device on their home (read: non-NIST-compliant) network.

I doubt when DFARS/NIST developed the various protocols outlined in the volumes of cybersecurity documents and requirements, they ever envisioned so many users working from remote locations. My guess is a zillion revisions to NIST-800 will be released soon. Possibly all the cellphone and cable companies will be required to comply to the NIST requirements. Can’t wait to see how they accomplish that.

Cubicle, oh cubicle! The brainchild of some office architect in the 1960s, the art of the cubicle has been refined through the years. Today’s office environment focuses on collaboration; the physical proximity allows us to bounce ideas off coworkers, interact with colleagues, and build a sense of camaraderie for the common, corporate good. Well, back to the drawing board! Manufacturers, service providers and commercial real estate brokers are discussing how to separate people, including enabling some to work from home, and others to split shifts to reduce interaction and promote social distancing.

The office of the future may look remarkably like the office of the past, with discrete offices and spread-out traditional desks that enable six feet between each employee. Equally shared workspace, where three people share a desk, but only one is in the office on a given day, may also become standard. Cafeterias or lunchrooms offer their own challenges and may need to undergo a social distancing redesign.

Shop floor elbow room! Like the office, many are looking at their manufacturing shop floor and rethinking how close process lines should be, or how to make a work “cell” appropriate for social distancing. Firms are looking at redeploying staff to second or third shifts to reduce the number of people in close quarters. At least one manufacturing engineer I know has been tasked with redesigning the manufacturing operation so people can be six feet or more apart. He claims that will be a colossal logistical endeavor based on the size and complexity of equipment to be moved. Others are talking about plexiglass “walls” between machines, much like can be seen today at grocers, to separate people. Like the office, the shop floor will look different and may expand as social distancing requires.

The past few months have impacted everyone. However, it looks more and more like the impact is just beginning, and we all need to rethink how we do business, from where, and how close to our coworkers. The lasting change from Covid-19 may not be how many contract the disease, but how we all recalibrate our day-to-day life at home and at work going forward.

Peter Bigelow is president and CEO of IMI Inc.; pbigelow@imipcb.com. His column appears monthly.

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedInPrint Article