A cup of tea, some toast and watching the news. That’s my morning routine for when I am working in my office. The news often gives way to a black and white western that plays in the background with no sound, and my inroad to work is a review of my emails, messages, and social media before the heavy lifting begins. Having been a home worker for 20 years for a blue-chip telecoms company and three years as a consultant I know how to get the best out of me, and how best to reward myself too!
The exodus from the offices and cities is now in full effect and people have been busy setting themselves and their staff up so that they too can work from home following the impact of COVID-19. And what has surprised me most is the scramble to get this achieved, and how unprepared many companies are for a full time working from home policy, even when ‘home-working’, albeit an occasional policy, was meant to have been deeply embedded in the culture of companies.
Within the first week when staff began to work from home I was hearing about a lack of hardware for all staff (laptops, printers, phones), a lack of relevant software licenses and programmes installed, failing to comply with security and regulatory protocols, phishing and scamming, social engineering, and wi-fi hacking. But given the new global environment, all these need to be overcome so that businesses can maintain some operational continuity.
But what has fascinated me most, is the move of banks and investment institutions having to deploy this policy, when for so long they have resisted such a move. I work for a company that promotes the use of global talent and integrating them into business as usual within organisations – whilst being based remotely. The argument for them was that they were often in countries where wages were lower, the talent pool was broad and deep, time zones could be used as an advantage, and the service was scalable to take into account client demand.
But a key objection from some of those people I’ve spoken to was that they wanted their people on-site so that they can see the whites of their eyes and smell the coffee on their breath! Why? Well they simply did not trust their people to work well outside of the office, to not be constantly on their radar even if they themselves were not viewing it, and it made their own empire seem smaller and less important. And rather than state this directly, they would use ‘regulators’, ‘compliance’, ‘security’, as coded language for ‘ I don’t like or know how to manage this!
And that has hindered firms from becoming more agile, dynamic and achieving the cost savings that their shareholders have been demanding. It also meant that many firms have struggled to hire the right people and adding staff to the payroll has simply caused them more headaches down the line.
So over the next few weeks and months you will see good managers who are able to ride out this COVID-19 impact by managing their staff effectively, with approaches that take in to account individual personal circumstances, use collaboration tools to bridge gaps, have a good understanding of technology and how to integrate it, that are motivating and inspiring in these difficult times. And you will see bad managers that do the same things that they did in the office and expect the same results. And then they’ll argue that working from home (or remotely from elsewhere) simply does not work and they need their people visible and on-site.
So once this coronavirus condition has passed and things return to normal (or the new normal!) what do companies do? Do they go back to what they were doing before or is there a new path they must tread? One thing is for sure, there will be more disruption in the future – be it another pandemic, climate, social, or economic impact.
Companies need to be agile, less reliant on traditional structures, look for ways to de-risk, and have a diverse set of hard-wired solutions, not something that gets cobbled together after the event. This includes using a blend of staff – on-site/remote, own/outsourced; co-locating geographically; integrating scalable solutions into your operations now; taking advantage of technology and collaboration tools; and developing your managers to work in new ways. This is nothing new and COVID-19 shows us how lacking some institutions have been in investing focus and resources in achieving the above. Those that have, have less of a panic to deal with and can focus their attention on what they were doing before the crisis and how best to keep their business alive.
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