The outbreak of COVID-19 required a rapid switch to remote work and digital services, causing many companies to rethink how they do business almost overnight. In many cases, the change caused a great deal of frustration, confusion, and adjustment. The long term uncertainty of the pandemic means companies must innovate and build strategies for a digital transformation that could become permanent. This means a shift in thinking from "how can we be productive in an office" to "how can we be productive remotely?" Technology designed for communication and collaboration will reinvent how people conduct business and its impacts are already being seen now.
According to the U.S. Census, about 5.2% of the workforce, or 8 million people, works from home. This growing trend is expected to continue to rise, especially as employers review their processes at the conclusion of social distancing. We interviewed people from different industries to see how these sudden changes have impacted them.* Within the variety of responses, we found consistent topics companies should consider as they move forward into uncharted territory.
Moving from a traditional workplace to a partially or fully remote workforce requires structure. Expectations should be detailed and specific. How and when employees are permitted to work from home needs to be outlined in writing to prevent confusion. This should also include how to apply any paid time off while outside the physical workplace. Having the ability to work from home without a clear permission structure leads to uncertainties on the part of the employee, especially at a time when decisions must be made quickly. In these instances, communication and transparency are key. One individual put their challenges this way:
"I didn’t want to ask if it was okay to work from home. We had a similar experience during a natural disaster when there was a similar attitude about reporting for work. There is also confusion about how and when to use and apply time off in this instance." -C., Magazine editor
Trust was often cited as a major factor in why employers are hesitant to allow employees to work from home. Many people surveyed reported their direct supervisors struggled with the switch to digital communication. It was also common that leaders had reservations about workers completing tasks when not in the same physical location. An attitude of accountability should be established as employees reach goals together, yet separately. This comes from a supportive set of policies and strategy to ensure everyone is reaching their potential and meeting deadlines.
People are seeking work-life balance more than ever before. Flexibility in hours and work locations can give companies the advantage over their competition and create employee loyalty. In fact, applicants, especially millennials and gen-z, may reject a company without a well-established telework policy. Traditional ways of doing things have been shaken up by the COVID-19 outbreak, and companies have had to make decisions in a short amount of time to accommodate their workers.
"We already have a work from home structure, so the transition was easy. Recently, we upgraded our VPN and cloud services, so we were ready for this. We are a forward-looking company, as far as IT." -A., Biomedical engineer
For companies looking to be leaders in their industries, a forward-looking strategy that incorporates technology and telework is essential. This means shifting a business focus from a customer-centric approach to an employee-centered, technology driven approach.
"Our company is already in the risk space, so we had to set an example of a response to a situation like this. We had work from home set up, early closures, and repeated messages from the CEO saying that it’s okay to cancel in-person meetings of any type for any reason." -M., Insurance adjuster
In a perfect world, each company and individual would have the ability to work together anytime, anywhere, using technology. However, differences in the familiarity with technology, the availability of a computer or Wi-Fi, or budget constraints greatly impact the success of remote working. The lack of access to resources creates a burden on the individual to connect and complete tasks. Those who are less tech savvy may not have time to understand the tools or the process. Here are two examples we found in our interviews, both with vastly different outcomes:
"One of my colleagues teleworked last year after she had surgery, but they had to scramble to get enough licenses for GoToMyPC in order to have everyone be able to do it. Some people don’t have internet or computers at home, so they needed to let them borrow laptops and hot spots." -E., Librarian
"We don’t have the infrastructure in place to provide at-home educational services to our students. We lack the equipment at the school, and we don’t know what kind of technology our families have available." -V., Special education teacher
It is up to leaders to determine where these gaps exist and how to bridge them. Look at your organization's technology as a whole. Understand what technology employees have at home versus what is available to them in the workplace. Consider providing mobile hotspots, VPNs, and cloud services everyone can use to collaborate. Security concerns should also be reviewed when employees take equipment off-site or use personal devices. Don't forget your customers and partners. They will need to know what to expect when you transition to online services or telework.
"My IT department set me up so that I could work from home, but we are not allowed to because of the decision of our leadership. Our organization is resistant to change." -B., Local government employee
Change is hard and slow and not without a little pain. Adjusting to a new way of doing things comes with both internal and external risks. When a change feels threatening or unfamiliar, people often recede and return to what they're used to. Combating the anxiety of changing to a non-traditional method takes time and preparation. If a company intends to restructure their business model, use a new technological tool for communication or collaboration, or allow employees to work from home, the process must be considered first. After completion, employees should be given a chance to learn the new tool or process. The initial plan may need adjustments along the way as the workforce makes discoveries on how to be more efficient and maximize the opportunity. Having a clear vision cuts down on resistance and provides transparency and trust.
Critical Ops can review your policy or strategy as a partner to your successful digital transformation. Companies who have partnered with us have eased the friction of transitions, built trust within their teams, and assessed security risks. Contact us today for how we can help you reach your milestones!
*Names have not been used to protect anonymity.