COVID-19: Explore working from home with examples from Sri Lankan Startup and Tech industry

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Since our previous article on COVID-19, the number of infected cases in Sri Lanka has spiked rapidly. As the number of infected individuals continues to increase, the Government has enacted several measures to encourage social distancing. This included declaring Monday the 16th of March as a public, bank, and mercantile holiday. 

This is the best course of action as social distancing will prevent more infections and deaths. Many local startups and companies in the tech industry have taken this to heart. They’ve also introduced measures enabling employees to work from home. 

COVID-19 | Sri Lanka | Working from Home | Remote working
The importance of social distancing and other precautions to prevent COVID-19 in one graph. (Image credits: The Guardian)

Emphasizing on the importance of such measures, Madu Ratnayake, CIO of Virtusa, a global IT services company founded in Sri Lanka, spoke to ReadMe stating “As a top priority, we have to safeguard the wellbeing of our team members and of fellow citizens, while ensuring we minimize the economic impact to them.”  

Sharing his thoughts on a broader perspective he also added “The IT & Knowledge industries must adopt modern ‘work from home’ practices and enact policies for social distancing while enabling businesses. The government and the industry must work hand in hand in this hour of need; a necessity to safeguard our country from this epidemic, and set the foundation for a ‘new normal’ to prepare for future pandemics.” 

Sentiments of the tech industry around remote working 

Previously, we shared how Ruwindhu Peiris from STAX Inc, a global management consulting firm and Jiffry Zulfer from PickMe, a local ride-hailing app have completely adopted remote working. But they’re not the only ones. “All of our staff in Kuala Lumpur & Colombo have been asked to work from home. All travel has been banned. Some of our regional staff have flown back to Sri Lanka and have been asked to practice 14 days of self-quarantine,” said Harsha Purasinghe, Founder & CEO of Microimage, a leading regional software provider based in Sri Lanka. 

Rootcode Labs, a local software product engineering startup, too has encouraged its employees to work from home. Explaining this decision, it’s Founder and CEO, Alagan Mahalingam said, “Being a software product engineering company, Rootcode Labs belongs to one of the very few blessed industries which can withstand an outbreak like this by deploying distance-working measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.” 

COVID-19 | Sri Lanka | Working from home | Remote working
To keep COVID-19 at bay, several companies have announced measures to allow employees to work from home (Image credits: The American Genius)

Yet, if we’re to keep COVID-19 at bay, other industries too need to adopt similar measures. Thankfully, technology has evolved to facilitate this for several industries. Elaborating on this, CEO of Hutch, a local telecom service provider, Thirukumar Nadarasa shared, “Working from home has long been a workplace aspiration. Today’s confluence of circumstances and technology has made this a more mainstream reality for businesses. We have at our disposal, cheaper laptops, VPNs, and alternative communication channels. These channels include social media and OTT apps alongside traditional SMS to directly communicate with customers.”  

Sharing his thoughts, CIO of ESOFT Metro Campus, a private educational institute, Shageevan Sachithanandan said, “This is an opportunity for companies to experiment the readiness of their employees to adopt remote working. They simply need to be brave and identify creative ways to monitor the progress of their business activities, meanwhile making sure their employees stay safe at home. We’ve been running a pilot with a limited number of employees for the last 3 months and it has increased efficiency, productivity and availability.”

COVID-19 | Sri Lanka | Working from home | Remote working
Cheaper laptops, VPNs, alternative online communication channels, and other technologies have made remote working a mainstream reality for businesses (Image credits: Shelly Palmer)

Omar Sahib, CEO of WEBXPay, a local online payment gateway, also shared, “Our staff has been advised to work from home. It’s not a challenge as we operate off the cloud. We’ve also posted an online directory where consumers can shop for essential goods online. This is the time for entrepreneurs to spread the message to adopting online purchasing. With the Central Bank announcing 2020 as the year of digitalisation, it’s a good time for customers to explore the online space and pivot into the digital era.” 

Indu Nanayakkara, Head of Digital Marketing at Boost Metrics, a digital marketing agency based in Sri Lanka added, “Personally, I believe working from home is one of the best solutions to curb the spread of the diseases. For some industries and workplaces, this may seem like second nature, but for others, it might be a really tough decision to adopt remote working. However, there are several tools available to support them.”  

How can companies facilitate remote working?

Thanks to modern technologies, it’s now possible to carry out several jobs remotely. Even complex jobs such as keeping a telecom network running can be carried out seamlessly. 

COVID-19 | Sri Lanka | Working from home | Remote working
Today, even complex tasks such as managing telecom networks can be done remotely once the necessary infrastructure is in place. For most jobs, the only infrastructure needed is an internet connection (Image credits: Conbit)

Explaining this, Thirukumar Nadarasa added, “Hutch has deployed the necessary IT infrastructure to allow its critical operations staff to safely work from home and keep the network going. The rest of our staff have smartphones and laptops at their disposal to communicate and coordinate via the Internet to ensure continued running of the business remotely.” 

So what tools can your company utilize to operate remotely? There are several options available. A familiar place to start exploring your choices might be with the free Google products you already use. Indu Nanayakkara elaborated on this further, by guiding us through a few steps a company could take forward here. 

Hey everyone🙋‍♀️,How did Monday work out for you? Did you chill or did you work from home? Since some of us got a…

Posted by Indu Nanayakkara on Monday, March 16, 2020

Still, it’s up to individual companies to test and identify the approach that works best for them to facilitate remote working. Sharing their experience with remote working, Jayomi Lokuliyana, CEO of zMessenger, a local digital marketing agency said, “We’re utilizing Google Hangouts, JIRA, and other tools to connect and monitor our progress. Since last week, we have asked team members to use their own devices and work from home.” 

COVID-19 | Working from Home | Remote Working | Sri Lanka
There are several approaches a company can use to adopt remote working amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. The 3 common principles to make it effective are effective communication, use appropriate online tools, and to be well organized (Image credits: Prototypr.io)

Whichever tools you choose, there are 3 common principles that form the foundation of an effective approach to remote working, remarks Fathhi Mohamed, Co-founder & COO of YoHo Bed, a Sri Lankan travel company with a network of premium budget hotels. These 3 principles are; a) Effective online communication between employees b) Use of appropriate online tools and c) Being well organized and disciplined to work from home.

Sharing his recent experiences, Fathhi also added, “Working from home is the future of work. We’ve been discussing this for some time now. Since we’re in the travel industry we wanted our staff to be able to travel while working. We’re not a complete tech company, so we do face some challenges. Regardless we took the opportunity and have begun trialling working from home. It’s been fun so far and everyone is enjoying it.” 

What (more) can you do?

As the days pass, one thing is for certain – the number of COVID-19 cases will rise. While the authorities continue to tackle the situation, there isn’t much we can do as individuals. The best weapon we have in this fight is social distancing. This means we should actively maintain personal hygiene and refrain from public gatherings. 

Does your company have a policy of allowing you to work from home? Then use it to stay safe indoors. If it doesn’t then speak to your management and maybe share these tips above. Ultimately, our safety is our own collective responsibility.  

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