BCP: Lessons learned by the REANNZ team about working remotely

Since early February the whole REANNZ team have been working in a distributed manner, after an evaluation of our Head Office building identified it as being earthquake prone against the new building code. As an organisation we have been fortunate to have a flexible working environment already in place, that enables the team to work remotely and securely, as well as maintaining operations and the flow of communication between the team and our members.

For some organisations this has not yet become a part of their general working practice. With recent updates from the World Health Organisation and the New Zealand Government regarding COVID-19, we thought it would be useful to connect with the community and also share some of the lessons learned by us about what has been working well, and what the challenges have been while working in this way.

Working environment

Working from home or remotely for anything greater than a week has its challenges. For a prolonged duration teams will need to consider their computer set up and ensure that the area that they work in is ergonomically sound. Not everybody has a suitable space to work in at home as kids, flatmates and partners may have schedules that do not mesh well with the normal working day. For these reasons and others some people simply do not like working from home.

Try to come up with some suitable spaces for people to work in so they don’t necessarily need to stay at home to work. We have held catch up meetings in local libraries, bookable office spaces and have also gone over to our colleagues, friends and families when they have had office space available.

In a self-isolation situation or when being mindful of social distancing this of course wouldn’t be possible, so consider ways in which you can help support your teams to be working at home as comfortably and safely as possible. In order to do this we returned to the office to collect equipment like screens and chairs that members of the team could then take home to use.

To help support your team’s wellbeing encourage a culture that promotes getting outside, sticking to a regular work schedule and taking a break to relieve some of the issues of being inside for most of the day. Don’t forget to check on your team members that enjoy working from home too, as it’s easy to keep on working without others around you providing a cue on when to take a proper break.


Communication amongst the team is critical, on an individual and group basis. Working as part of a distributed team does require a far more deliberate style of communication that is detailed and clear, especially in written forms. Encourage your teams to stay in touch with each other, be it by phone, instant messaging systems like Slack or by video conference. However, we have found that video conferencing isn't always a total replacement for in person catch ups. The tone, pace and formality of a video conference is very different to meeting in person.

If meeting in person is possible, do so as it will hold off cabin fever and some of the feelings of uncertainty that can come from working alone. Logistically, commuting to just one in person meeting a day can be expensive in time and money, so try to cluster meetings if you can. Ensure that you are feeling well enough and follow the guidance from the Ministry of Health regarding greetings and hand washing when meeting in public.

Be kind and considerate to one another and be actively inclusive in your discussions and decision making. It is very easy to have side conversations and make decisions without everyone being across it. Members of the team have described how collaborating on solutions often happens naturally in an office space, you may ask one person a question and then someone else also knows about the situation and can help. Together you can then all come up with the solution. When working remotely it might not always be clear where to go next to resolve the problem. Expect that conversations may take longer, be patient and clear in exactly what you need when working across projects together.

If you can’t get out of the house for in person contact, schedule social contact time. It’s hugely important to keep up the office cadence and relationships with social time that doesn’t revolve around work. We scheduled 15 minutes into our calendars to all do the daily Dominion Post quiz together, just like we would in the office.

Business Continuity- Staying fully operational

It has been really important for us and our members to ensure that there is no disruption to our services during this challenging time. Some questions you should consider from an operational perspective to do the same are:

  1. Can you get to all of the tools and information you need remotely?

  2. Are your machines safe and secure in doing so?

  3. What can you do to be extra vigilant on security while working in a distributed way? CERT NZ have shared this blog post which provides good tips for general cyber security when working remotely.

  4. Is everything up to standard with your VPN? Having a VPN that is secure and works well has enabled us to run the network remotely without issue.

  5. Do you have tools to allow for video conferencing and collaboration on laptops or phones? Rerelease documentation to your teams on how to install these tools on phones and laptops if needed.

Being ready to work remotely and work from home is a necessary response to the developing situation with COVID-19. It is also relevant to the wider set of risks that we face here in New Zealand and as an organisation with most of its staff in Wellington. Being away from the office is something that happened to us earlier due to earthquake safety. However, it has been an opportunity for us to test our BCP policies and put into practice those measures that look after our team and our members. It has been an excellent reminder to also keep up the same levels of interaction and consideration for our team members already working in other areas of the country. Making this style of work general practice for your organisation will help ease some of the discomfort and uncertainty in these types of situations.

For up-to-date information on the New Zealand Government’s response to COVID-19 visit the Ministry of Health’s website, and find information and guidance from the World Health Organisation here.

Please contact us via communications@reannz.co.nz if you have any questions, concerns or would like some support from the team during this time, we are more than happy to assist you. 


REANNZ is a Crown entity that operates the National Research and Education Network (NREN) for New Zealand. We provide a specialised high-performance network and other supporting services that connect and support creators and users in the science, research and education sectors both nationally and internationally. For more information, visit our About REANNZ pages on our website or follow REANNZ on Twitter.

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