It has been almost four months since the first reported COVID-19 case, and the whole world has come together to battle what is one of the biggest threats our species has faced in the last century. And remember, we are talking about a century that has seen two world wars! With unprecedented measures being taken at the community, organizational, government, and individual levels to stall the progress of the disease while a vaccine is found, we find ourselves living in a new normal.
Partial and complete lockdowns have been put in place to ensure large gatherings of people don’t compound the already grim situation. These laws and precautions, while necessary, have made things quite hard at an organizational level as businesses attempt to juggle rapidly plummeting demand, supply chain disruptions, other pandemic-induced issues, and perhaps for the first time, remote operations and a mostly mobile workforce. However, humanity has proved, time and again, its ability to bounce back stronger after setbacks. Every cloud has a silver lining and if approached with the right mindset and strategy, the current situation can be used as a springboard to an agile, resilient, mobile future.
The mobile workforce is one of the few paradigm-shifts, along with social and cultural transformation, that while currently being enforced, is slated to become the new normal in a post-COVID world. While there are a lot of write-ups talking about the advantages and the business and technological aspect of this massive endeavor, I would like to use this article to touch upon the human aspect of the equation.
The Organization Perspective
Enabling a remote workforce has been on many an organization’s agenda for years now, and a significant percentage of them have been preparing, or at least looking at it, with varying degrees of focus and success for benefits such as cost savings, resilience to crises, increased agility, etc. The current situation, however, has forced organizations to look at a remote workforce to maintain business as usual (BAU), regardless of their level of preparedness. However, several companies have also stated their intention of permanently shifting to a business model that allows them to operate with a mostly mobile workforce beyond the current crisis.
While not the optimum way to bring about change, the current situation, with its inevitable social and cultural transformation, could be the nudge that makes work-from-home and a remote workforce the new normal. For others as well, this is the chance to plan and make the transition into a more agile modus operandi. For instance, something as simple as mandating WFH for three days a week in two shifts, could reduce a business’s real-estate needs by half!
Of course, asking your workforce to work from home, and ensuring they maintain the same productivity and efficiency, are two very different things. Businesses imagining a future where most of the workforce would potentially work from home, are coming face-to-face with some of the questions that would need to be asked before such a massive shift can be undertaken, thanks to the induced COVID-19 lockdown.
For instance, how do you facilitate bonding within the team when work from home is the norm rather than the exception? How do you ensure that procrastination during the working hours doesn’t lead to employees sitting with their laptops open from dawn to dusk? How can you build meaningful connections with prospects, leads, and clients without meeting them (as frequently)? How can employees and employers ensure this blurring of lines between personal and professional spaces doesn’t end up affecting both in a detrimental way? These are just some of the questions that you should be trying to answer today, to ease your organization’s way into a remote work future.
Technologies such as tele-video conferencing systems, online whiteboards, collaboration tools, and mind maps can light the way, but the question of how these technologies can be leveraged strategically, and in conjunction with each other, with a focus on providing a seamless experience for all the stakeholders, including employees, clients, prospects, etc., is where businesses need to bring their attention to bear. It’s not a problem that can be solved by throwing a bunch of software at it. It’s as much about bringing the right culture along with the right technologies to the board. Businesses that manage to answer these questions successfully will come out on the other side with highly distributed, agile workforces that are not only more resilient and effective, but also more satisfied with the professional situation.
The Employee Perspective
While enterprises are trying to make things work by bringing the right combination of technology, guidelines, and directions to bear, the employee has his own share of challenges to face. From battling boredom, to forcing yourself to sit down and work when you want to laze in front of the TV with a snack, to avoiding becoming a couch potato, many employees are coming to the realization that perpetual WFH is not the paradise it seemed when they still had to go to office every day. From missing the interactions with colleagues, to the razor-sharp focus and flow, to the ability to work for hours at end in peace, these days are providing us with a new perspective and appreciation for going to office.
With that said, mobile workforce is the future, and the current situation gives us the time and opportunity to adapt to it and build the right habits and flow. Done right, this new model of work has a lot of advantages to offer for the individual employee. I am sure you are privy to and experiencing some of those yourselves. From the ability to spend more time with family, to saving the unnecessary time, effort, and energy lost in commuting to-and-fro work, and, of course, the ability to set your own schedule and work environment, the advantages are many and varied. This is also a time for the introverts amongst us to have a greater share of voice and build bonds with their teams. Interestingly, this change will also have an impact on the evaluation criterion for remote-first Agile teams where, traditionally, extrovert traits were preferred.
Thanks to technology, remote operations are also enabling connection and collaboration between a wider professional group. With multiple audiovisual communication mediums and uninterrupted internet connectivity at our command, we are now successfully conducting meetings across geographies. Having digital meetings replace in-person meetings has also made room for more contributors, allowing for more holistic group communications.
Invest Time with the Intent to Improve
If you can bring the required motivation to bear, this new model can also give you plenty of time to devote to mental and physical fitness—something we tend to ignore in our busy lives. In a work-from-home culture, your ability to take care of yourself would only be limited by your own willingness. From eating right to simple but effective exercises and yoga, there are plenty of resources available on the internet—you just need to access and leverage them.
This sudden influx of extra time can also be utilized by enrolling in online courses that can help you excel professionally and upskill and reskill yourself. There are plenty of resources available on the web, you can leverage both free and paid courses to earn a degree, get better at what you do, and move up in your career, or even learn completely new skills. You can also spend more time with your family, and since this is a global situation, take the time to renew your connection with long-lost friends, colleagues, extended family members, using IM and video conferencing tools.
In the end, what you can achieve in this period depends upon your willpower, accountability, discipline, and the ability to remain positive and look on the bright side.
6 Essential Tips for Building Your Work-From-Home Flow
I would like to leave you with a few pointers and tips that could help build the right flow as you start on your work from home journey:
- Choose your favorite place to work from. It doesn’t need to be very fancy, and a basic table-chair will do the trick. Making a habit of working out of your impromptu home-office will allow you to turn your work mode on/off at will.
- Try to start and finish your work at the same time every day. The temptation to sleep in or keep working on an important project till late in the night can be hard to overlook, however, you must ensure that your professional life does not cut into your personal space and time.
- Dress sharp as you would when normally going to office. This is a great way to ensure the seriousness and focus that will let you finish work on time.
- Work in bite sized chunks that can be anywhere between 15-minutes to an hour. Take a few minutes to walk around between these periods of intense, focused work. While this is good advice under any circumstance, it is even more critical today.
- Avoid the highly present danger of being inadvertently engrossed somewhere else during the breaks. Remember, there are other people depending upon you to deliver on time. One good way can be to jot down all your goals and tasks in the morning, and cross things out as you complete them.
- Communication is the key. To avoid misunderstandings and to ensure the optimum efficiency and collaboration, communicate with your seniors, peers, and juniors using all the different channels at your disposal. Many forward-looking companies are encouraging their employees to join formal and informal team calls as much as possible, and hold virtual events such as potlucks and birthday celebrations.
The current situation has proved that enterprises are poised to undergo a significant cultural transformation alongside digital transformation. While organizations need to provide the right technologies, resources, and guidelines to their employees to help them adapt to the new situation, it is also the responsibility of every individual employee to stay positive, optimistic, and responsible, and use some of the extra time for self-improvement while also maintaining high standards of efficiency and productivity at work.
Meanwhile, we are also very likely to see the emergence of new software and operating models to cater to the unique challenges of a work-from-home economy. It’s only a matter of time before better tools to facilitate meetings and collaborative discussions with colleagues and customers, track productivity and efficiency, and drive learning at both individual and team levels, emerge and are rapidly adopted by organizations in a bid to transform for this new normal. My advice in this situation would be to not just expect change, but also to embrace it.