Providing remote workplace services in emergency situations (staff support)
Eva P. Gil Rodríguez
Staff support during the coronacrisis
21 September 2020
Providing Remote Workplace
Services in Emergency
The case of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)
Table of content
● Emergency remote working vs. teleworking, what’s the difference?
● Teleworking at the UOC before the crisis
● Remote working during the coronacrisis
○ Reinforcing remote access to our applications
○ Providing staff with workplace equipment for their homes
● Current situation
● What does the future hold?
01 Emergency remote working vs. teleworking, what’s the difference? (I)
01 Emergency remote working vs. teleworking, what’s the difference? (II)
● The International Labour Organization defines teleworking as a way of working that
takes place away from central offices or production facilities. It involves transforming and
planning one’s work accordingly and thinking in terms of working hours rather than office
● Teleworking is related to the concept of smart working,* which involves three
○ People (cultural organization)
● Working from home in an emergency is not teleworking. There is no planning
involved, children are at home, appropriate equipment or connectivity may be lacking or
nonexistent, and information systems could not be adapted to working from home.
02 Teleworking at the UOC before the crisis
● It was partial and voluntary (requiring an agreement with one’s manager). Most
employees teleworked for about 20% of the week.
● Home equipment and connectivity were the responsibility of the staff, both for teachers
and managers. The University provided some funding for personal equipment.
● The University provided a secure environment for remote work, using internal
applications (VPN and virtual desktop). Moreover, the UOC’s main applications were
cloud-based or openly accessible on the internet (requiring secure access with a
username and password).
03 Remote working during the coronacrisis (I)
On 13 March 2020, a state of emergency was declared in Spain:
● Schools were closed the day before.
● Suddenly everybody had to work from home! Some companies, such as IKEA and ING,
were teleworking-ready within 48 hours. At the UOC, everyone was working from home
the very next day!
03 Remote working during the coronacrisis (II)
03.1 Reinforcing remote access to our applications
Our main systems are:
• LMS, open access via the internet (requiring a username and password)
• Cloud applications: e.g. G Suite for Education
• Other internal applications, mainly for management staff. We needed to access them
through virtual desktops or VPN, but we did not have enough licences and servers!
We fixed the issue by:
• Providing more licences and servers in order to solve concurrency problems. This
was taken care of the weekend after the state of emergency was announced.
• Moving virtual desktops to the cloud. This made them more stable and enabled the
possibility of adjusting licences and servers (and prices!) with just a click.
• Moving access to very specific internal applications to the cloud during peak times.
03.2 Providing staff with workplace equipment for their homes
● Some people lacked the appropriate technology or ergonomic equipment required to
work from home.
● We had no specific budget for the sudden peak in demand for such equipment, not to
mention the scant in storage.
● However, we had more than 1,000 unused equipment units in our offices!
(98) Technology pack 1: full computer setup (CPU, monitor, keyboard, mouse, Wi-Fi dongle and
(6) Technology pack 2: CPU, keyboard, mouse, Wi-Fi dongle and charger
(53) Technology pack 3: monitor, charger and VGA cable
(159) Ergonomic chair
So the University
decided to equip
workers’ homes. They
had the following
04 Current situation
We will carry on working
from home until at least
July 2021, mainly
considering the dire situation
facing Barcelona. If we
need to go to our
buildings, we can ask for a
measures) and we have
rooms set up for face-to-
We can work from home! This was true even when it came to
carrying out important transformations at the University to handle the
COVID-19 situation, such as moving the entire final assessment test
05 What does the future hold? (I)
Google has extended its teleworking policy until July 2021:
Tweet by @DiseñadorUx
05 What does the future hold? (II)
From Gartner (2020)*: “Experimentation in digital workplace technologies is accelerating in
order to ensure employee productivity in the post-COVID shift to remote work. The number of
digital workplace technologies on the roadmap that are in pilot have almost doubled to 82%
this year as compared to 44% in 2019.”
Some specific cases:
● Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg announced that in 10 years’ time, half of Facebook’s
workers will work from home.
● Twitter: teleworking is now an option for all staff members.
● Dell estimates that half its workers will opt to telework when the crisis is over.
● Standard Life officially announced that most of its workers will work from home until
● Amazon and Microsoft are teleworking until October (for now).
On the other hand, companies that telework have coped better with the crisis.**
* Gartner 2020-2022: Emerging Technology Roadmap for Large Enterprises
05 What does the future hold? (III)
But... what about online universities?
If we strongly believe in quality distance education and lifelong learning:
● Is it not consistent to believe in the quality of our work irrespective of where we do it
● Could this be an opportunity for online universities to move further online?
And, if this is so, we should ask ourselves important questions, such as...
● Teleworking model design:
○ We should strive for smart working, which considers technology, spaces and
human issues. Thus, we should transform our organizational culture too.
○ We should listen to the experts*: we should avoid setting strict schedules, avoid
specifying places and associating telework with a specific job or a specific kind of
person (e.g. women).
● Legal issues: the Spanish government is now drafting a new teleworking law. Although
it has not yet been passed, it seems that employers will not be required to pay all the
expenses derived from working from home
● Business model: according to Viñoles**, teleworking is like cholesterol, because it can
be good or bad!
○ You can design it with the wellness of your organization in mind, or
○ You can design it thinking only about reducing costs.
Either way, it is important to figure out how to make your proposal economically viable.
What about you?