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Companies that were reluctant to embrace remote work prior to COVID-19 disruption can take this opportunity to develop a lasting program.

It’s become increasingly clear that the coronavirus crisis isn’t going to last for a few short weeks. We’re facing a protracted global situation that some experts believe could come in multiple waves over the next 18 months. That means the abrupt mass adoption of remote work could last just as long.

Many companies suddenly practicing remote work are doing so out of necessity and likely plan to convert back to conventional office life as soon as possible. This is a mistake. This crisis will expose the lie that remote work can’t be as productive as office work and forever change employee expectations.

A recent GetApp report found that of those survey respondents who don’t work remotely, 29% don’t do so because management doesn’t see the value. That matters, because other studies show that employees are inclined to leave employers that don’t offer remote work for those that do.

Flexible work environments are no longer exceptions — they’re expected. Companies that were reluctant to embrace remote work prior to COVID-19 can take this opportunity to develop a lasting program that will keep employees happy and productive for years to come.

Use these five steps to convert your short-term remote work stopgap into a long-term strategy.

Companies commonly start a remote work program without establishing a formal policy. This can lead to confusion, and cause problems resulting from a lack of guidance. Take the time to develop a formal remote work policy that defines requirements for eligibility, productivity, availability, and security. If you don’t know where to start, this resource can help.

Step 2: Cultivate communication

Communication is key to a successful remote work program—but too many businesses try (out of expediency) to make do with email or other systems intended for onsite collaboration.

Instead, consider software for remote workers that best erases the distance between employees. This includes collaboration software, video conferencing tools, and project management solutions. These products tend to offer a free trial period with many vendors currently offering expanded features and freemium products during the COVID-19 crisis.

Try out a few solutions and go with the tools that best suit your needs—ideally those that integrate with your existing software.

Step 3: Focus on security

Remote work adds a host of new security concerns and COVID-19-related scams are already proliferating across the internet. Many remote workers will be using personal devices and home networks that are less secure than those in the office. Fortunately, there are several steps you can taken to mitigate the most common security threats:

  • Make sure employees use a VPN when connecting to WiFi
  • Instruct employees to use long and complex passwords for network and router
  • Update all hardware firmware and set software to update automatically
  • Require two-factor authentication (2FA) for business applications
  • Update security policies and provide a training refresher on data protection

Step 4: Demonstrate trust

Don’t micromanage remote workers. Technology offers all manner of options to closely monitor remote workers, but employers must resist this temptation and trust their workers to get the job done. Successful remote work programs demand confidence in your team and require goals that can be measured by outcome. Workers must reciprocate by maintaining meeting commitments, providing timely updates, and setting availability status.

Without support, your remote work program is doomed. Remote work can be isolating and lead to burnout. Ensure that teams meet regularly via video conferences and encourage colleagues to reach out to one another to keep in touch. Make sure that employees keep track of how many hours they’ve worked, and proactively seek feedback to identify opportunities to improve your remote work program.

Moving forward

COVID-19 is a monumental crisis that will change the way we work, live, and play for years to come. Remote work is only one of those changes, but it’s one you can embrace today to better prepare your business for tomorrow.

This article first appeared on SSI  sister site MyTechDecisions.

Zach Capers is a senior analyst at GetApp, a business app discovery platform that provides research, insights, trends and user reviews to help buyers make informed decisions.