2full months into this coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (longer for some countries in Asia) and organizations are still scrambling to strike the right balance on business continuity, operational efficiency, employee engagement and customer success. It’s a hard one all around, and no one can truly be blamed for not having a handle on this as something like this has never been imagined, let alone lived before. Its causing economic uncertainties and showcasing a murky near-term future as businesses overcome the turbulence and attempt to get back into the swing of things. But as things have gradually worsened week by week, one silver lining is that from a technology perspective, businesses now (or will be soon) better prepared than ever (or at least starting to think in the direction) to deal with sudden disruptions of such magnitude and potentially look at adopting some game-changing models to digitize, learn their customer, and efficiently manage the cost and ways of doing business in the future. Even industries that have traditionally required boots on ground, butts in seats, and hands on deck (banking, retail, construction and others) have haphazardly switched from conference rooms huddles to video enabled web calls from their dining tables, sofas, garages and yoga mats (you name it), all made possible by innovative tools and machines that help us connect, collaborate, and execute.
How does one make their workforce successful in this model?
Create the right policies and procedures
- Establish employee-centric guidelines for working from home, office and hybrid models: The more employee-centric and clear the guidelines, the more likelihood of succeeding with this model. If you wish for your workforce to be as productive as they were in the office full time, you have to somewhat mimic an environment or a thought process that enables that. More employee care and less bottom line-driven would work best for the time being.
- Back to work should be handled with care: If bringing the workforce back part-time in shifts or full time in spread-out spaces, the process that governs this should be carefully thought through. Ensuring that the right number of shifts are created and assigned factoring in the employee’s willingness and comfort to return to a work environment is essential. If some employees chose to work from home for a longer period, they should be allowed to do so and open lines of communication must be established between all parties to help and support each other during these turbulent times.
- Ensure provisioning of the right hardware/software resources: Systematically, enable the provision of a select list of software and hardware components that make remote professional life easier for everyone. It’s time to reconsider the budget allocated for phone lines, mobile packages, monthly Wi-Fi allowances, and the types of hardware and software that can be made available for each job type to be successful.
- Define new performance monitoring measures (and keep adjusting them): Set remote-work oriented and transparent performance metrics to garner unwavering support from your workforce. It is also important to keep monitoring these metrics and adjusting them based on the ebbs and flows of the cycle caused by these uncertain situations. Also, continuously reinforcing to the workforce that the type of work environment assigned to them (home, office, hybrid) is not a reflection of their importance to the organization and that their work performance would be determined by their outputs and attitudes rather than the physicality of where they are productive from.
- Safeguard company assets in their possession: Create provisions to help them in safeguarding company assets they have in their possession in their homes. For physical protection of equipment, provide covers, cleaning supplies, and screen protectors, etc. The data stored within these devices must also be secured through the use of appropriate cyber and network security solutions and appropriate backup protocols to company approved drives and cloud spaces should be allocated and made available.
- Understand employees’ motivations and recognize achievements: As a policy, understand the psychological aspects of work from home policies and recognize wins (even the smaller ones) to build an environment that is conducive to learning and success. Accomplishing this is one of the harder parts of the transition but if done right, this does wonders to form a winning culture of growth and success.
- Ensure the well-being of the workforce: Invest further in their health initiatives and provide them with allowances to take care of the essentials (especially if you provide these essentials to them in the office). If care packages with medical and food supplies can be sent to them at a time like this, try to make that a priority. Giving them allowances to purchase exercise equipment and adding in physical and mental health coaches to aid in such times can also ensure a continuously productive environment.
Make foundational technologies and hardware readily available
- Dedicated work machine(s): Depending on the nature of the job, laptops or desktops should be considered. A run-of-the-mill current-generation Core i5 machine is a safe bet for most employees, regardless of industry. The standard amount of RAM of 8 GB, and storage between 500 GB – 1 TB can do the trick (although they should be saving all data on shared drives and cloud anyways). Built-in graphics these machines come with are enough for the most part, unless, intensive video and graphic editing are needed for the job function. Any specific requirements based on job function should be kept in mind on top of these.
- Stable internet connection: Collaborative video conferencing generally requires at least a dedicated 8-10 Mbps connection and one has to factor in other apps that are running in parallel. The right speed of the home or mobile connection varies depending on the job type (for your specific markets). If dedicated connections are not available, then make internet devices available with adequate speeds needed to perform their job functions.
- Assortment of input and output devices: Microphones, headsets, and webcams have become more essential than ever in work from home environments. If the job function requires external speakers or other accessories, one has to ensure that they are made available to maintain the levels of productivity one expects from employees.
Invest in the right tools and software and monitor periodically
- Operational, infrastructure, security & business continuity: While this may not be the time for major changes to the operational landscape of the foundational IT systems that run your business, one has to ensure that the tools/systems that are made available to work from home provide the needed protocols (security, access, data, etc.). From switching on mobile access, to sharing the right VPN, all measures mandated by the CIO, CTO, CISO must be followed for a smooth transition. Operational systems like ERP, CRM Mainframes, Business Intelligence tools etc. should all be monitored for integrations, accessibility, security, data backups and integrity. In the case of cloud architectures, maintenance schedules based on outages and backup routines for each of the providers must also be established and tracked against timelines of your own IT activities to maintain continuity in these difficult times.
- Collaboration, productivity & learning: A host of tools are available in the market that helps keep the lights on, people connected, and productive, even remotely. Most organizations that employ enterprise suites offered by Google and Microsoft can get up and running in no time. Other key tools highlighted in the infographic are needed for specific use cases, many of which are used across the board and some by specific industries and segments. Most of these are offered under cloud-based subscriptions which allow expansion of features and scale per as-needed basis, many of them without a need for painful implementations and integrations. Some are even being offered for free these days to aid business continuity efforts in Covid-19, providing a window into trialing and testing ideal ones for your use case.
Keep them engaged, motivated and productive
- Schedule regular check-ins and communicate often: In the absence of face-to-face communications, scheduling timely check-ins to keep employees engaged and motivated. Typical norm in the software industry is at least one meeting per team, group and individuals a week and more can be done if needed. The idea to have weekly 1 on 1’s is to provide the opportunity for employees to go through questions/clarifications that they might need from the group/team’s meetings.
- Provide clear guidance on work expectations and requirements: Ensure (and reiterate) that employees have completely understood the expectations to meet goals/deadlines and continue to hand hold them on regular check-in calls to ensure that things are operating as they should.
- Set limits to their working hours and screen time: While working from home eliminates commute times, it also removes the opportunities to socialize and take breaks (like in a typical office environment). The drawback of this model is that one can find themselves continuously in front of a screen and in an ‘always on’ mode (which can be exhausting to the eyes and mind). Employers/managers must understand the importance of providing adequate breaks, setting limits to working hours and also be cognizant of employee screen time while assigning tasks (doing 25 and 50 minute meetings instead of 30 and 60 can be a good option). Everyone could use the extra 5 or 10 minutes to catchup on other things or take a break.
- Be creative in leveraging tools & technologies: Find the right mix of technological solutions that are most relevant for your industry and organization and integrate them in creative ways to ease your operations. Most tools of today offer advanced analytics (reports, dashboards, data) to keep tabs on business streams, outcomes, activities and allow in tool communication methods to keep up the productivity. Use them wisely and engage in a productive dialogue with your employees.
- Assign outcomes/deadlines, not activities and provide extra time to complete their work: If working from home is a new model and your workforce is still learning the ins and outs, the likelihood of tasks and activities taking longer to complete are higher. Focusing on outcomes and goals rather than activities (unless the nature of the job requires to do so) works out better in this model. As time goes on and one gets to better understand the ‘digital strengths and weaknesses’ of their employees and the typical time it takes for them to achieves the outcomes and goals, one can adjust. Those measurements could be used to assign appropriate levels of work going forward and better productivity levels can be managed.
- Foster a growth mindset: Encourage employees to work towards moving targets (rather than fixed ones) to build upon their knowledge and intelligence continuously, (even when there is no one to monitor them on a continuous basis). It is important to give them some time to do so as the more they learn the inner workings of this models, the tools and best practices, the more productive they will be in the long run.
- Regularly motivate workers and celebrate achievements: In the absence of regular check-ins, it is even more important now to celebrate one’s achievements (even if they are done virtually). Many tools offer badges, buttons and other forms of achievements on digital profiles, which can be great motivators and often gamify work to achieve better results as an organization. Shout outs on public forums or in a larger email to the group/organization can also go a long way to motivate them in the time of transition.
- Build their trust: Trust is a two-way street and best built-in person. But, given the circumstances, understanding your employee’s motivations, life goals, cultural differences and treating them with fairness and equality on a continuous basis ensures loyalty, better work outcomes and stellar work culture. Invest time and effort in such activities and be creative in achieving such goals. You will thank yourself later.
Enhance focus on (continuous) training and development
- Make trainings simple, easy to access and interactive: Digital trainings (general and role specific) should be made as convenient, accessible as possible. Plus, the more interactive these trainings are, the more the employees would enjoy the experience and learn better. Employees not typically used to a digital learning environment should be given ample/extra time to complete these trainings and get up to speed on the skills.
- Build new and innovative learning journeys: Based on the types of employees and the skillsets needed, employ experts to build tailored learning curriculums that enhance employee progress. Many universities and learning platforms like Udacity and Udemy are also running free online training courses during COVID–19 time which can be leveraged.
- Invest in dedicated learning management systems and collaborative tools: A central learning hub with access to training, progress, and learning roadmaps, should be made part of the workers’ day-to-day jobs. Investments in the right Learning Management Systems and Learning Experience Platforms enable employees to monitor and track their processes that can be utilized.
Achieve mastery in the work from home model; the TransformX way
While the ongoing Covid-19 situation has forced organizations to get bunkered hurriedly, the wiser heads will take advantage of this time to re-access their future strategies and do their part in keeping things afloat for others around them. The operational, technological and even psychosocial aspects of this lockdown may be challenging, but as we have established throughout this write-up, work goes on and the good news is that you will not be the first employer to go through a new normal of producing, being serviced by someone working from home. And while Covid-19 may have warranted the need for quick action and decisions, it is important to keep in mind the long-term aspects of this model.
As is the TransformX way, for such initiatives, we recommend that our clients bring an open state of mind to defining a new normal of going digital (especially as far as the Covid-19 pandemic is concerned). ‘Digital’, as you can well imagine by now is far more than technology, a process or a mission statement; it is a way of doing things, a state of mind, a belief system. We help clients achieve success in their long-term work from home and overall digital operating models by combining two signature offerings Organizational Transformation and Employee Enablement to run Digital Maturity Assessments and Digital Acumen Assessments on their employees and the organization. These assessments provide a baseline of where things stand and identifies key areas that need to be addressed from a strategy, process, technology or a skill-building level across the board. The insights are then used to create bespoke Digital Transformation Roadmaps and Learning Journeys to set our clients on a path of growth, profitability and the exploration of new digital, data enabled business models and revenue streams. With the Covid-19 pandemic on track to changing the way businesses fundamentally operate, such initiatives become a necessity for the survival of the business. We look forward to partnering with you and making you ready to combat these turbulent times and any future businesses disruptions that may follow. We hope that you and your loved ones are continuing to stay safe and healthy!!!!