You may know firsthand that decisions made during emergencies are terrible. It’s not your fault.
When your brain thinks you’re in duress, the first response is adrenalin secretion. Adrenalin shuts down the logical part of your brain. Then, your brain runs on emotions.
According to cognitive neuroscientist Ian Moore, in such situations, we go into denial and don’t want to make any decisions.
So, even when your employees are smart and the answer to a problem is clear, in emergencies they’re susceptible to making bad decisions or panicking and not doing anything.
But here’s the catch. We can train our brains to act differently. Think about firefighters who have practice drills and know what to do during a fire.
One way humans know how to behave is by watching others – known as social proof. But when you have a distributed team made up of remote employees, who will they watch?
That’s why you need to plan and have protocols that’ll prepare your remote employees for crises.
Here’s DistantJob’s guide to how remote workers should handle emergencies across different scenarios.
Laptop lost: Possibly, it’s the greatest emergency for a remote worker. Precaution, in this case, means installing tracking software, taking backups often (or automatically), and using two-step log-ins.
People Involved: Remote worker, teammates, TL/manager, IT Department, possibly third-parties like client
Time Lapse: Immediate action needed.
- Inform the manager/TL/IT Department ASAP
- Contact your IT Disaster Recovery Service Provider
- Use tracking software to wipe out/encrypt the hard drive
- Block account from accessing core company databases and other SaaS
- Freeze credit card/other financial activities that require account number/log-ins
- If clients or other people in your team will be affected, inform them
- Inform stolen computer registry to prevent it from being sold in the future
- Get a new/temporary laptop and sync with company databases
- Conduct unit testing to verify the data on the new laptop
Company passwords compromised: Emails and other accounts can be a gateway to a lot of company information.
People Involved: Remote worker, immediate team, TL/IT Department, recipients of emails, third-party vendors
Time Lapse: A hacked account can be difficult to detect, but the response should be immediate.
- Inform account administrators so that the email/user account can be temporarily blocked
- Create a firewall between the user account and admin accounts to minimize damage
- Segment users, and watch out for and block unusual activities, like sending mass emails from an unauthorized account
- Prevent duplicating information from any user software, especially those not on cloud
- If it’s a third-party (like a vendor) breach, follow their specific protocol
- Know the limitations of your systems. Password managers, for instance, are not the most effective when your computer has a keystroke logger present. Two-factor authentications and installing an anti-keylogger software are better options
- Also, inform your teammates if you can’t log into your accounts, which might delay work
Server down or no internet connection: The internet is the lifeblood of remote work. So not being able to connect to the internet can put you into a panic mode.
People Involved: Remote worker, IT person, TL
Time Lapse: A few-hour server outage may not be debilitating unless you have an urgent deadline.
- Here are twelve probable causes why you cannot connect to the internet and how to bypass them – it’s a good list to keep handy offline
- If none of the above helps, contact your IT person who can walk you through the troubleshooting process
- Inform your TL/teammates how best to reach you during this time
- When a company website (like SaaS) is down, you may have to wait for them to fix it. But you can reach out to them and inform your team
- If using a public Wi-Fi, make sure you have a VPN, the firewall is on, sharing off, and anti-virus updated
- Check whether you need a new provider or a device, like a signal booster, if the problem persists
- Let your team know if you can’t meet your deadline
File missing: When working offline or saving information only on your laptop, recovering files can be fiddly, but not impossible.
People Involved: Remote worker, IT person, teammates, supervisor
Time Lapse – In most cases, it shouldn’t take more than 25-30 minutes even if you have to do a systems restore.
- Have your computer’s system restore options enabled before you make any major changes. That way you can go back to a safe mode
- Take regular backups, preferably on a cloud database
- If you accidentally delete a file, check your Recycle Bin, DropBox, SkyDrive, Google Drive, iCloud or even email
- In case you permanently delete a file, use recovery software like Disk Drill
- If none of these methods work, inform your IT department for help and your team if it will delay your work
Didn’t understand brief/instructions: In a distributed team, handling this situation also means dealing with different time zones.
People Involved: remote worker, teammates, immediate supervisor/manager, client
Time Lapse: The closer the deadline, the faster you’ll have to be reverse the problem.
- There are two possible scenarios. Either your understanding was wrong, and the work you did was erroneous, or you weren’t clear on the instructions
- Update the team of your work progress regularly so they can detect mistakes sooner
- Clarify instructions with your teammates and supervisor
- Figure out how much time you have before the deadline and ask for help if needed
- If someone doesn’t respond immediately, maybe they’re in a different time zone. Keep that in mind before you panic or escalate the issue
- If the problem is irreversible or it will affect the final delivery, inform everyone concerned
Mistakes made by another team member with an impending deadline or waiting on another teammate to finish a milestone when your work is dependent on theirs – If the deadline is imminent, you may have to step in – without worrying about ruffling feathers.
People Involved: Remote worker,team members, TLs/managers
Time Lapse: Turnaround should be quick so that work can be re-assigned or checked.
- Contact the team member and find out where they are on finishing the project or whether they can fix the mistake even at a late hour
- Keep the TL in the loop and find out if it would be better to delay the project or proceed with that mistake
- If they’re unreachable, and you can’t fix the error, figure out who the next best team member would be to step in – perhaps someone familiar with that part of the project
- Work alongside them to brief them on the problem and clarify what they have to do
Missed deadline: If the delay is due to a personal crisis or even the worst, most inclement weather (like we’re seeing due to climate change) – there might be little you can do. But for work-related reasons, trace the source of the problem so as not to repeat it in the future.
People Involved: Remote worker, teammates, TL
Time Lapse: Inform the manager as soon as it becomes obvious you cannot finish the work within the timeline.
- Inform and keep everyone concerned in the loop
- Find out if the delay would affect other segments of the project and if you could get an extension
- If not, break down the work so that it’s easier to distribute amongst other team members
- Re-schedule remainder of the project keeping significant milestones in mind
- If the deliverable was for a third-party, let them know when to expect the finished work
Personal emergencies: Studies show that remote workers take fewer personal days than in-office workers. But everyone faces emergencies and may need unscheduled time-offs.
People Involved: Remote worker, teammates, TL/manager, HR
Time Lapse: Let the team lead/manager know at the soonest so that work can be re-scheduled.
- Inform the TL as soon as you become aware of the emergency
- Have an idea of how many days you may need to take off
- Update your supervisor and team on what you were working on and the deadlines
- Once work is re-assigned, Skype/Zoom with your teammates and clarify any concern they may have about your work
- Make a plan whether you can be reachable during your time-off and if so, when would be a good time to interact and on which platform
- If any changes occur—like you need a few more days or can come back to work early—inform your TL
Workplace violence/misconduct: Unfortunately, remote workers also face bullying, verbal abuse, trolling, and online stalking. So much so that it becomes impossible for them to continue their regular work. Alternately, remote workers can also come across workplace misconduct or non-conforming colleges.
People Involved: Remote worker, another team member, TL/manager, HR
Time Lapse: Ignoring abuse or misconduct sets a dangerous precedent, so both the remote worker and the manager should act promptly.
- Encourage your team that it’s safe to bring up any abuse they have encountered firsthand or seen someone else go through
- If feasible, have a designated person who is an expert and can address these issues
- Since speaking out about abuse or misconduct is a frightful prospect for most people, give your employees the choice of how they want to communicate (email, video chat, phone) or even how much they want to share
- Listen to what they have to say without judgment. Don’t demand proof before speaking with them
- Conduct an impartial investigation. If it involves another person, listen to their side
- Consult your HR team about what action you should take. But one-size can’t fit all here
- Provide the remote employee suitable support, such as counseling
- Leave it up to the victim how much of their story they want to share with the rest of the team, don’t force them
Compiling an emergency checklist for your distributed team
There are other general precautions that you should take in addition to training your team members on the above protocols:
- Train-and-update, rinse-and-repeat: Revise your emergency protocols based on what you observed worked or didn’t.
- Compile contact details of all employees: Include addresses and have one emergency contact on file for each employee.
- Mass alert system: Have a mass alert system ready to reach all your employees at once.
- Being aware of time and time zones: Make sure your distributed team members don’t panic just because they didn’t get an immediate response. But train them on how best to tackle the situation on their own.
- Instill a chain of command: One common aspect of following protocols is knowing whom to contact. If a TL can clarify an instruction, there’s no need to involve others.
- Know about emergency levels: Losing a work laptop is a much higher level of emergency than missing a file. While you have to sort both problems, it’s better to maintain some clarity on how to prioritize them.
- Do the right damage control: If there’s a situation that makes the company look bad to its clients and other stakeholders, give those situations the highest priority. If it’s a publicly-known situation, use the correct PR tools and social media to share the story, don’t hide.
- Cultivate a culture of understanding and sympathy: There’s no way to avoid adverse situations fully. Accept that and provide your team with the right support that’ll help solve the problem and let them get back to their regular work.
Perhaps the most critical factor in dealing with emergencies in a distributed team is the ability to communicate. That’s why a workplace culture of open communication, sympathy, and support can go a long way in overcoming crises promptly and effectively.
At DistantJob, we do our best to find you remote candidates who will fit into just such a work culture. Contact us to learn more.