March 17, 2020 by Adam Malik
Brokerages that don’t have a pandemic or business continuity plan in place that allows employees to work from home could follow the lead of one Ontario brokerage that is trying to recreating the office workspace experience in their employees’ homes.
Mitchell & Whale has shut down its Whitby, Ont. office and arranged for its employees to work from home. it’s having workstations packed up – from their office chair to their stand-up desk – and sent to the employee’s home. But their computer will stay at the office. Instead, they’re being given a refurbished one that will allow them to connect remotely to their office computer to conduct any business, explained Adam Mitchell, president of Mitchell & Whale, in an interview with Canadian Underwriter.
There are a few general ways a business can have their employees connect remotely, Mitchell said. One is to have a cloud enterprise set up and connect to that from an offsite machine. Some broker management systems are set up this way to allow users to connect to the cloud. The two other ways – which Mitchell & Whale utilizes – involve a connecting to the on-site server through a terminal that creates a virtual machine or connecting to an office computer – which is connected to the on-site server – through a remote desktop connection.
The brokerage is providing employees with re-purposed computers to make the connection with anti-virus and spyware monitoring, so that their home networks aren’t under threat. “The upside of when you’re doing remote desktop is that you don’t need the processing power of the machine you’re [working from],” Mitchell explained. “It works much like a Chromebook. There’s no real horsepower in the local machine. You will dial into a place that has the horsepower – whether it’s the server or the computer hosted here.”
The brokerage is also helping employees recreate their in-office experience by providing them with their phones and headsets, on top of chairs and desks. Anything that makes them feel more comfortable, Mitchell said.
“You are now moving to your new office, which is your home, until the world comes back to normal and then we’ll bring it back,” he explained as the rationale. “But plan to be there, be comfortable and effective.”
That’s an important message for any brokerage looking to accommodate their employees, he said. “It’s important to be there for your team and make them be as comfortable as they can be. It’s hard enough on them. I challenge back: Why not [make the extra effort]? What good is a chair going to do in an empty office?”
It’s a strategy that came together quickly, since Mitchell & Whale didn’t have an emergency plan set up to have all staff work out of the office.
“We never contemplated a global virus, I’ll tell you that,” Mitchell said, adding that about 10% of his staff work from home currently and 30% connect remotely on occasion. “So this is a much bigger task when you’re planning on moving the entire workforce to home indefinitely.”