The pandemic has pushed several major corporations to test their feet on implementing a work-from-home (WFH) model. Many companies were even aiming to promote an entirely remote working model, with no physical offices. WFH is being spoken of as the future of the workplace. However, in just a few months, many companies seem to be realizing that this model is ineffective, as has been reported by The Wall Street Journal. However, the issue is not in the concept of WFH, but in its hasty and improper implementation made necessary due to the pandemic’s sudden impact and the resultant lockdowns and restrictions by Governments.
In a rush to ensure business continuity amidst the pandemic, most firms have failed to consider all key aspects that are key to a successful transition to the WFH model. Companies have to consider 4 key elements for a successful WFH transition:
Infrastructure is the primary enabler for the WFH model. Employees required to work-from-home should be equipped with adequate infrastructure to be as effective as in an office setup. At a basic level, the employees have to be equipped with personal computers, telephone connection, and stable and adequate internet connectivity. Companies also have to be able to provide support systems for employees to execute their activities without experiencing infrastructure challenges. From the employee’s perspective, it is important to remove any ambiguity on the expenses incurred by the employees for such infrastructure setups.
The challenge in infrastructure is usually not related to the physical infrastructure but with access to data and protecting critical data. Cloud servers and remote data access are only picking up, and most companies have traditionally relied on central servers on their premises. At a basic level, the data is protected by the fact that it is housed in the Company’s premises. Making this data accessible to employees who are now working remotely could become a challenge and severely impact productivity. At the same time, the data housed in remote and scattered locations poses an additional challenge of data security. It is on these aspects that the companies need to rethink their data architecture and security systems to ensure that the infrastructure is adequately provided for enabling people productivity.
#2 People Capabilities
Remote working can pose new skill and capability challenges for employees, which will require them to upskill themselves to be able to continue contributing as they used to earlier. It is in the organization’s interest to identify such new competencies and impart the necessary knowledge, skills, and capabilities. For e.g. even your top salesman whose success was based on personal relations and in-person meetings may need support to transition the same skills to a digital-selling mode.
Capability building will need hard skills as well as soft skills. The capability building on hard skills easier to identify, and the WFH-triggered skill requirement includes tele-calling, video calling, video presentation, basic system troubleshooting, etc. Soft skills such as leadership, communication, discipline, remote team management, maintaining mental health, etc. also gain a lot of importance in a WFH transition. Soft skills requirements can become a greater challenge to identify and to address through intervention. Mentoring and coaching processes may have to be strengthened and institutionalized to address these issues and to provide personalized interventions.
#3 Policies & Processes
Most existing business policies, rules, and processes are made with a conventional office set up in mind. As with people skills, the challenges faced in a remote working model are unique. Thus, it’s important to review key business processes and policies to ensure no disruption in operations and continued value delivery to customers. Simple examples are company policy related to office timings, recording attendance, travel allowances, data access, etc. However, it is not just the personnel policies that need to be addressed. Even core business processes related to purchasing, sales, invoicing, collections, logistics, etc. may need to be revisited to ensure that the processes can be managed by a remote resource operating under many restrictions. Appraisal parameters and criteria may also need to be changed in view of the new model.
#4 Organization Culture
One of the major challenges organizations face when implementing their remote working models is translating the positive culture and values that guide them into a model with limited interpersonal and group interaction. This is usually the most neglected part of the transition. For organizations that have built their culture though personal interactions and activities, replicating the same to an online environment can be challenging.
A comprehensive culture transition program built on the foundation of constant communication – top-down, bottom-up, and peer-to-peer – enabled through the formal and informal process would be important for the success of the transition.
By addressing these 4 elements, any organization can make itself WFH-ready not just to ensure uninterrupted business operations, but also to positively affect employee morale, people productivity, and customer service. While it is advisable to ensure that these steps are taken in the early stages of implementing remote working models, it is never too late for organizations to improve the impact of their work-from-home efforts using this framework.
A strategy consultant since 2006, Santosh advises clients in a wide range of sectors including consumer, agribusiness, automotive, chemicals, and private equity. Prior to Consulting, Santosh has spent about six years in brand management and sales with leading Indian FMCG companies - Amul and CavinKare.