Take your workforce to the new normal
This article was first published in The new IT playbook, a report that explores what it means to be resilient and adaptable in the face of disruption.
Changes triggered by the pandemic may be considered only quick fixes by many organizations. However, what was a necessity during the crisis can become a prime opportunity to implement organizational changes that are long overdue.
Once the immediate crisis has been managed, organizations should identify changes that were positive with the goal of instituting new ways of doing things (see Figure 1). Leveraging momentum and improving outcomes are an intermediate step to a potentially new organizational culture. The ultimate outcome is a shift to a new normal―driving innovation and breakthrough, and sometimes even leading to new business models.
Immediate crisis management
When it comes to your employees, the top priority during crisis management is to maintain productivity as much as possible while taking care of their health and well-being.
The first task is to identify areas that require immediate attention in order to maintain business-critical operations and continue serving customers. Existing organizational structure and processes may be too slow and complex or not set up for finding unusual and never-before-seen solutions to unprecedented situations.
To respond to these challenges, emergency teams may be needed―shifting people, at least temporarily, to new teams and roles. This leads to a level of uncertainty for the people moving, as well as for the ones remaining. For emergency teams to get up to speed as quickly as possible, uncertainty must be managed as new routines are established.
Enabling work in a mobile environment has become a top priority. Having online access and the right equipment is a necessity, but equally important is an understanding of how to effectively and efficiently use various tools for collaboration and communication.
In whatever ways team members are impacted, they need support to settle into the new environment. A number of enablement activities are required to preserve morale while ensuring the best possible business outcomes.
To facilitate and accelerate the transition to a remote work environment, the workforce requires accurate and timely information and training to stay up to date and gain necessary skills. Working remotely is a game changer and requires well-thought-out preparation. From the beginning, procedures and guidelines are needed for collaboration. For example, routines must be established for creating, editing, storing, and circulating documents, since email is not the best solution. New procedures for handling reviews and approvals are important, as casual interactions are less likely. Perhaps most important, remote workers need to be aware of cybersecurity and data protection risks that may be amplified while working from home.
One key aspect, for each and every team member, is to get self-organized in the new environment. In remote work environments, casual, face-to-face interactions don't happen—there are no spontaneous chats in the hallway, informal exchanges during lunch, and unplanned access to experts. When isolated from co-workers, some people struggle with prioritizing tasks and finishing assignments on time. Teams need to be made aware of the potential pitfalls of remote working and new ways to collaborate. To get them started, it is important to discuss proven techniques and simple tools and tips that can help maintain alignment, alleviate frustration, and avoid miscommunication.
While these measures can help people stay productive throughout the crisis, new practices can be carried beyond the crisis period into the next level. Once basic operations are up and running again, organizations should take advantage of opportunities to improve processes and optimize outcomes.
Maintaining the momentum
Crisis situations force people to work in new ways and do things that may have been considered risky from the perspective of people management and productivity in the past. However, barriers have been removed and new habits are proving successful. This is the time to improve outcomes and optimize the way of working (see Figure 2).
Some organizations may start out with the notion that mobile and remote work environments are only temporary solutions. However, once successful, these environments reveal benefits that may be useful over the long term—such as spending less time in traffic, freeing up office space, and balancing work and family life.
Implementing a structured remote working environment and making it a company policy is a next step. Initially, more work processes need to be digitized. A fully mobilized workforce requires a paperless office and access to applications and documents anytime, anywhere, and from various devices. To make that work, several critical areas must be addressed, including system access, safety, security, and office hours. In addition, a number of other issues need to be considered:
- What are the do's and don'ts for a remote worker?
- How is communication kept alive?
- What is the most effective way to share information?
- How can workers manage the potential effects of isolation and deal with stress and overload?
- How can conflicts be detected and solved?
- How are good relationships with colleagues—especially new colleagues—built and maintained?
Since managing a remote or mobile team requires much more effort and explicit action than in a face-to-face team, the role of the team leader is critical. Leaders have to build a new set of leadership competencies, especially as the quick look over the shoulder and the short spontaneous chat in the coffee corner are not possible. Quick checks on work quality and spontaneous instructions cease to exist. Team members need to make their own decisions to solve day-to-day problems and achieve work results independently from leadership involvement. Leaders need to learn how to trust their teams, empower them to make more decisions on their own, and manage the relationship from a distance.
The crisis also necessitates a different way to solve problems. The focus is on quick solutions that fix immediate issues, involving out-of-the box thinking and short decision cycles. Interdisciplinary teams may be required to speed up the process and leverage collective knowledge. Such solutions may not be perfect from the start, but they must be established quickly and need to deliver solid results.
This means the organization must focus on speed over perfection—trying out alternative routes without an upfront, detailed analysis of every potential pitfall. Out of necessity, the emergency team has already dealt with many of these challenges and sets the example for new competencies like innovative problem-solving, collaboration across silos, and acceptance of failures as learning opportunities.
Communication, collaboration, change management
The remote work environment requires a stronger focus on communication and collaboration—within the team and across the organization. Teams need to know how to facilitate online meetings, actively listen, and balance conflicting interests. Learning new and better ways to communicate and collaborate takes time and practice, and breaking old habits will not happen overnight.
A change management program is recommended to address the inherent people challenges in a crisis-driven change. The program must make sure that all people impacted by the change are aware of what is changing and when, how they are personally affected, and what they are expected to do. Ideally, people will be willing to give new ways of working a fair chance.
An effective communication program becomes a key success factor in driving employee motivation and positive change. Without communicating upcoming changes and informing individuals and teams about the effects, any change is likely to fail. The communication program needs to address all target groups, accommodate feedback, and provide the opportunity to ask questions. People need to know where to find information on new technologies and processes, be able to acquire the required skills, and get access to available resources.
The world changes so rapidly that conventional training programs are not sufficient anymore. An upskilling program that delivers formal training and informal exchange of knowledge provides options for learning how to navigate the new environment. For teams and leaders, a coaching program helps to define ways to operate and overcome specific barriers in the new environment.
The next level
According to an Owl Labs report on remote work, 44 percent of companies globally don't allow remote work at all. However, having implemented new processes and work habits, at least in parts of the organization, provides the opportunity to drastically reconsider how things can be improved, leading to change on a broader level. Once out of the crisis, the business world will not look the same anymore—new products and services will emerge, purchase processes and consumption patterns will evolve, and values and beliefs of individuals and groups may change. Understanding what is possible provides the chance to move to the new normal (see Figure 3).
Being forced by the crisis to work in different ways, barriers are broken more quickly than with other events. Before the disruption, many organizations doubted that working remotely with flexible teams could lead to the same good results achieved in the traditional way. This crisis proved them wrong. It has become apparent to many supervisors and leaders that more things are possible than ever anticipated, and in the future, they can be braver when it comes to changing the way they work. The data supports this:
- 76 percent of workers would be more willing to stay with their current employer if they could work flexible hours.
- 21 percent of workers would give up some of their vacation time to get flexible working options.
- Companies that allow remote work have 25 percent lower employee turnover than those that don't, according to Owl Labs' report.
Stepping up to the next level requires new ways of innovation that aren't generated in silos but rather built on the wisdom of the many. To find solutions for new challenges and new opportunities to innovate, experts from all parts of the organization need to collaborate. New organizational models may be a better fit for faster innovation and higher quality customer service.
New work methodologies are needed to respond to challenges with flexibility and agility. To enable this, the culture of the organization has to change. It must be built on team success, rather than individual success. It must be failure tolerant and built on constant learning, and it must allow for a variety of career options while challenging—or even overcoming—old hierarchical models. The new mantra is to act quickly and move forward with great agility. Decision-making lies in the hands of the teams, with the top priority being the customers' (internal or external) best interests.
To achieve these goals, organizational development programs are required to consciously shift the culture to support the new ways of working. It starts by changing the organizational setup to create and support flexible, agile, and temporary teams, built for a specific purpose. Traditional hierarchical management styles will not work here—which means a change in the roles and behaviors of leaders. Leaders are less involved in day-to-day tasks and instead provide a vision and purpose to set the frame and the guardrails for everybody. They must develop coaching skills and learn how to lead in uncertain times with an unpredictable future.
Everyone in the organization needs to develop skills and competencies on an ongoing basis. Skills development in a rapidly changing world requires access to a variety of learning opportunities―online training, e-learning, on-site classes, knowledge sharing with peers and experts, mentoring, job aids, and many more. Knowledge and skills related to the latest technologies and methodologies must be developed within the organization. There need to be smart ways for everyone to share expertise and exchange information and ideas. Pooling knowledge and leveraging expertise across the organization brings desired innovation and drives creative solutions for the complex challenges of the future.
New ways of working
The current crisis has suddenly—and without warning—pressured organizations to maintain employee productivity and respond to customer needs in new ways. These challenges have provided a hidden benefit by forcing businesses to consider ways of working that were previously unthinkable.
Organizations are discovering that there are alternatives when it comes to how, when, and where people work, collaborate, and communicate. Lessons learned while navigating the crisis can push them to develop structures and work habits that are far more suitable for new ways of working—not developed in the ivory tower but based on tried and tested best practices.
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This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.