Do You Have the Tools You Need for Effective Remote Work?
By Mike Raia Posted September 28, 2020
With the impact of COVID 19 closing offices, do you have the tools employees need to work effectively while remote?
With the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations worldwide are trying to adapt to a new way of working to survive. Despite the efforts of the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), governments, and private companies, the pandemic is still creating havoc, and lives are being lost to this deadly virus every day. Vaccines are in development around the world, but there is little visibility into their availability or effectiveness when they do become available. Social distancing and masks remain our best option for limiting spread.
In the meantime, how do organizations survive in this new world? We see examples of companies enduring and some even prospering in these difficult times by providing tools for remote working, allowing their staff to work from home. These organizations include luminaries like Apple, Amazon, McDonald's, Facebook, and Twitter. They have all embraced remote working to curb the spread of COVID and protect their workforces and their businesses.
If you and your organization have adapted to these changes, then you understand how critical it is to find the right tools to keep work flowing efficiently. For much of the business world, life during COVID has been difficult, and some businesses have been forced to close or scale back operations through layoffs and furloughs. So how do we adapt to these changing times? We outline below some of the areas that organizations can address to remain in business for the long term.
Adjusting Culture and Mindset
When the pandemic hit, the immediate focus was on business continuity and crisis management. The solution was to deploy remote or home-based working as a short-term measure. The workforce, out of necessity and for the survival of their jobs and the company's existence, adapted to this new order by learning to use online meeting tools such as Zoom, Slack, and Teams to facilitate their formerly in-person meetings. But as time moves on, employers must consider the cultural impact of home working on their organization.
Asking people to move their entire working environment to their homes, with little warning, has caused a great deal of stress and confusion. As we've seen, a significant percentage of workers were unprepared for this shift. Couple that with the fact that schools closed at the same time, leading parents to scramble daily to ensure their children were safe and meeting educational requirements.
Now that we've had a chance to live and work in this new normal for six months we need to consider how our culture is being impacted. In many cases, company culture will evolve or devolve into something new. For instance, companies that value transparency and open communication may need to hold all company meetings and survey staff more. Companies that force a rigid, top-down management style may have to get comfortable with people taking on a more entrepreneurial or autonomous work style. Free pop in the breakroom and yoga classes are no longer an option as employee perks to maintain morale so consider what else you can do to provide positive out-of-office experiences.
Leaning into Communications
Clear, purposeful company communications are needed even at the best of times. However, under the current pandemic environment, it is an absolute necessity. Business leaders will be making fundamental changes in their plans, budgets, and forecasts. These changes will need to be communicated across the business to ensure the workforce knows what is going on and how it adapts to the challenges.
This is vital not only for morale but to ensure that individual efforts are all synchronized and channeled in one strategic direction. Equally important is bottom-up communication of how the workforce is coping with its daily challenges and pain points. Management needs a listening ear to hear and address (where possible) many of the frustrations that individuals may be facing working from home.
These may include sharing the home environment with children who cannot attend school, a partner who may have lost their job, or a relative who has symptoms of Covid-19.
Remember that the pandemic has cut off normal social relationships to a large degree, so your daily communication call with your colleague may be the only contact he or she has that day. Showing empathy and genuine care for your colleagues is what will make the difference between a true leader and a name on the organization chart.
Smart organizations have been busy bolstering their IT infrastructure and scaled up to ensure they can facilitate home working for all staff. Concerns about the mass availability of broadband-based internet access have also mainly been alleviated. This means now is the time to add VPNs, cloud file storage, virtual meetings/training, project management, workflow automation, document approval, and more.
This improved infrastructure's benefits are that teams have become more familiar with a broader range of platforms available to work virtually. In addition, there are reduced financial and environmental costs of 'meeting' colleagues, clients, and contacts on a virtual basis instead of in person.
For many businesses and the staff, this is a welcome saving in time and travel costs. Organizations have done well to create an IT support environment for home working but is this provision of IT support at home for online communication sufficient for ongoing business survival? The answer is clearly 'No.' To be fully productive from home, we also need to adapt our working practices for remote working.
Revising Work Practices
As organizations realize that home or remote working is here to stay, a new question emerges.
"How do we get staff to contribute in a more efficient way to achieve their work assignments, tasks, and goals."
The simple answer is that we must adapt our working practices to home working by re-engineering our business processes. The difficult task is making that happen. For example, creating a work order or a purchase order from an office environment was set-up to be secure. Reviews and approvals could be done through workflow routines that were internally controlled and managed. These processes took many months and even years to develop, enhance, and mature. In the new world, we must be prepared to fast-track a new way for business and job survival.
Organizations that have implemented Business Process Management (BPM) or workflow automation tools are leading positions to make these changes and adopt a new way of working. As they already have their processes documented and managed through workflow tools, which allow for remote access of tasks that are part of a specific business process.
With less face time and in-person meetings, processes can bog down with people feeling less accountable to their coworkers (out of site, out of mind). Workflow systems can automatically keep process members in the loop and moving forward with task assignments, reminders, alerts, and escalations to keep work moving forward in a consistent, trackable way.
Honestly assess your tool portfolio from a remote work perspective to determine where your workflow gaps are. Survey employees and find out if people having a harder time getting things done away from the office and address these issues before employee morale and organizational competitiveness suffers.