With the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, everyone is being urged to adhere to strict social distancing and self-isolation guidelines in an effort to reduce the spread of the highly contagious virus.
These social distancing measures have greatly impacted virtually every industry and many companies are now scrambling to quickly transition their in-person workforce into a remote workforce. According to financial data platform Sentieo, in February of 2020 approximately 77 public company transcripts included “work from home” or “working from home”. In February of 2019 the phrase was only mentioned 4 times.
This has proven to be a challenge as many companies do not have an emergency plan in place to be able to support employees as they work from home and many teams are not adequately trained on how to work and collaborate effectively in a virtual environment. Having remote access to applications/files/archives with appropriate security can also be a challenge.
This new pandemic is rapidly changing how organizations operate and companies need to be prepared to make this sudden shift.
The first step is to meet with all of your different departments and assess what tools (i.e. laptops, mobile phones, etc.) and software are needed so your IT department can best decide how to meet these needs.
As a leader, you want to be sure that everyone on your team feels like they have the tools necessary to succeed and work at the highest level possible; you don’t want anyone to feel left out and disconnected from the organization during this transition.
During times of uncertainty and unplanned transitions, it becomes more important than ever to actively work to build and sustain a strong company culture. It is important for employees that are working remotely to still feel a sense of purpose and connection to their colleagues and to the company.
The way to achieve this is through consistent communication; be sure all employees are informed and up to date on what is happening throughout the organization. Specifically, you may want to take your “middle managers” and empower and ask them to step up as middle leaders vs. middle managers. Inspire them to lead their group. Become the cohesive glue that gets their team to be able to process and problem solve as a team with a results/outcome orientation to become an example for the organization.
Working from home does not have to signify a halt to productivity, collaborative work or company progress.
Transitioning all or part of your workforce into a remote setting is an opportunity to usher in a new phase of digital transformation and up the company’s digital IQ and implement new tools such as Slack and/or Zoom.
Slack can be a fantastic way to upgrade how your team communicates even in a post-coronavirus world. The business social networking site creates a streamlined and simple way for employees to communicate, share files, information and more all in one easy to access space.
Zoom is a leader in modern video communication and is a fantastic way to enable “face-to-face” contact and communication amongst employees and clients who are now in remote settings. Zoom can help you host engaging and productive meetings which is especially important as studies show that working remotely for extended periods of time can lead to feelings of loneliness and disengagement; face time (even if virtual) can help ease some of that burden.
I suggest training for all employees on all of the new tools that your company chooses to use during this transition to working from home. By making the training mandatory across all level it ensures that no employees feel left out and “behind the curve” if they are not familiar with the new tools/programs and gives other employees the opportunity to refresh/augment their skills so they are not only more prepared to use the tools effectively, but can also lend a hand to new users in the company.
Unfortunately, it is not feasible to transition 100% of every company’s workforce to work from home. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says only about 29% of Americans can work from home; the employees that remain on the frontlines must be provided every resource necessary to ensure a safe working environment.
This is also the time to extend even more flexibility and kindness towards employees who may also be facing additional worries including difficulty securing childcare as more and more schools announce closures.
Acting with kindness and compassion during a crisis is not only the right thing to do, it will augment your brand halo and drive more loyalty from employees and consumers. This is the time to operationalize your company’s cultures and values.
A great example of a company that is truly living their mission statement is Wynn Resorts. On March 17th CEO Matt Maddox announced that while the resorts will be closed for public health/safety reasons, all employees will continue to be paid.
Boards have a key role here to engage with CEO’s/Management to oversee how the company’s values, culture, productivity, and efficiency is operationalized in our new work from home reality.
Boards may wish to ask their CEO to report to the board on how efficiently the company’s remote work environment is. Assessing this early will help organizations optimize their effectiveness.