Remote management in a post COVID security world by Tony O’Brien

While there can be no doubt that COVID-19 and its related restrictions have fundamentally changed society and the world of work we cannot look past the fact that there was a world of work before COVID and there will be a world of work after. The role of security will remain (and hopefully adapt) to protect that world. Like any risk,  the pandemic has obvious threats but also perhaps less obvious opportunities. Opportunities to change and improve how we as a service industry, do things for the better. There is no better example of that than the management of remote workers.

Remote work

The security sector is no stranger to remote work. Security officers can regularly go days or weeks without seeing a supervisor on small sites. On larger sites, supervisors may go similar lengths without seeing a manager. Visits usually being a tick box exercise or the result of something going wrong. The remote monitoring of sites and guards is not new to security. Until the recent past though it was generally either audit based, app based or compliance-based monitoring without a human interface. Remote working could be siloed and often isolating for the workers involved leading to poor habits emerging, higher turnover and lack of standards.

Security staff also rarely got to see, meet or learn from other security staff on other sites apart from their own. Working in isolation and never having the opportunity to benchmark themselves.

New normal

Since the onset of the pandemic and restrictions being implemented the world has undoubtedly changed. There have been those who fell by the wayside, those who remain in denial, those who have resisted change and those who have embraced it. The old saying that ‘the only constant is change’ remains true. The resilient few who have not only accepted and adapted to change but embraced it to improve their operations are the ones I see succeeding at the moment.

I count myself very lucky to call a number of these companies as clients and I can only admire the way in which they have not just adapted, but improved the way they manage remote workers. Not just for the time of the restrictions but into the future.

The How

As restrictions started to be implemented in Ireland in March we went immediately to the highest level of restriction and security was listed as an essential service. Operational staff continued to be deployed to sites however many of the senior management teams in the security sector were working from home and many support functions were laid off altogether. I had begun hosting client webinars on business continuity and embracing change and one of the first steps we made across many of my clients was to begin to use Video conferencing platforms as remote management tools. Firstly, this was done through necessity but it very quickly became recognised as a great management tool and one with unexpected up sides.

The calls started as one to one site check ins with security officers taking no more than 5 to 10 minutes each day. A quick video call with an update from site and a chance to say hello and see a face from the employer. It morphed into a great tool over a few weeks with video calls used to walk through issues on sites in a  face to face (at least virtually) format. The site check ins became a morning ritual for many client managers with more than a few commenting that they felt it had a positive impact on employee morale and increased their own productivity.

Remote monitored community

With one client we saw an opportunity to address an issue that had arisen in previous staff surveys. The issue of sites operating in silos. We experimented with a Tuesday morning site call where all the site leads from all client sites would log into a call together. The agenda at first was just introductions where each site got to introduce themselves and their team and talk about what they did there. Once each site had a turn (after about 3 weeks) a more formal agenda was started. A topic was chosen each week and the site leads discussed their approach to it and listened to others. Over a few weeks a sort of subconscious benchmarking started to occur with sites starting to implement new ideas to talk about at the meetings and improvements in KPI’s to report back each week. Of course, this can have its own associated risk as sites left alone and in competition can sometimes stray outside of operational requirements to achieve an edge over the perceived competition or can be pressured into mistakes in an attempt to make an impression. With careful monitoring and moderating of the calls however what we started to see appear was a community spirit.

This spirit was not there pre pandemic as the sites rarely if ever got to speak to each other or to hear directly form each other. It became a great example of peer-to-peer learning and support within the company. The truth is that this opportunity always existed, but the isolation had never been a high priority risk and so the issue was never raised as a possibility. When lack of monitoring became a risk and video became a control measure then the opportunity was highlighted.

Post COVID

To look to the future, it is highly likely (hopefully) that a vaccine programme will continue to lessen the impact of the virus and the world will begin to return to ‘normal’ throughout 2021. It would be a real shame however for us to forget the lessons that COVID -19 has taught us and the opportunities it has presented. Realistically, I know that many clients and security providers will return to how it was always done, and we will go back to managing remote workers as we have always done with apps and devices and the odd phone call or site visit. Why should we though? Why should we pass up the opportunity to take what we know to have been a success and let it go by the wayside because normal is back? Why can’t what we did during the pandemic be better than normal?

Remote working has always been a staple of the security industry. Remote does not have to mean isolated though. The tools have existed for a long time to allow us to engage with and involve remote workers and sites in company cultures. We just never did it. Now that we know it can be a positive tool and employees can benefit from it then I think we should not waste a chance to build on it. It will not be for everybody, but it will make a big improvement for some. If a weekly site call or team call taking 10-30 minutes a week can improve what sites do by 2% or lower staff turnover by 2% or improve morale by 2% then is it not worth it?

https://securityoperative.ie/

Tony O’Brien

Tony is a highly respected specialist in the field of security, safety and the

management of conflict and risk in organisations. International celebrated for his informative website : www.securityoperative.ie he is also a top industry consultant, who on a daily basis helps organisations develop solutions to their risk and conflict management issues through formulating effective processes and designing training, policy and risk assessments to meet real world challenges. Based in Ireland, he’s also qualified as an expert witness in the use of force, and most security related fields. Tony is also a QQI subject matter expert for the security and safety sectors and Winner of the 2016 IITD Rising Star Award