If ever there was an adaptive challenge, corona virus is it. We didn't ask for it nor did we want it but now we need to work our way through it. There's an age-old saying: "Start like you mean to go on." So why not consider a permanent shift to a remote workforce?
The pandemic has meant that longheld belief systems, values and approaches to work have been challenged and entire organisations are now under immense pressure.
Many businesses and their leaders are in shock, doing what they can and hoping that a more stable environment will eventually come with time.
There isn’t an easy fix nor a simple path. Adaptive leaders are deeply engaged in understanding their human capabilities, their technology and their financials to navigate their way through this. Right now, the focus is on financial survival by holding on tight.
As we emerge, and the economy recovers, the focus will shift to recovery. Our newfound capabilities for remote working will be a decision point - what new ways of working do we want to keep or enhance?
Most knowledge businesses have simply replicated what happens in the office to an online world, albeit at home.
The pandemic has driven a seismic shift in human behaviour and shown us the possibilities for how we can work more effectively with technology and each other.
An idealistic and tantalising future awaits with a fully distributed workforce, where knowledge workers can craft their own day from anywhere in the world and performance is measured on outcomes, not hours worked.
Once people get used to working from home, there's probably little organisational financial incentive to completely return to our on-premise world. Significant cost savings on office space, travel, employee amenities, reduced future business continuity risks, improved productivity (less travel) and so forth would result.
I believe it's inevitable that a high proportion of knowledge workers will choose to ply their craft as part of a distributed workforce in just about every business. The ultimate goal is for organisational performance to be better overall than its in-person equivalent. Adaptive leaders will be looking for opportunities from this huge social experiment. Here's a five step process to implement it permanently.
1. Why stay (at least partly) distributed?
The first step is to determine the return on investment and identify the benefits of a distributed workforce. This will help assure your team there’s a good reason for staying the "working remotely" course. Remember, there will be a lot of people who cherish (and long for) coming into work every day despite some of the obvious in-efficiencies.
Determine why you need to invest time, money and effort to go through an evaluation process. What's driving this - costs, revenues, productivity? How will customers benefit? How long will this take before you’re settled into the new state where your model is more effective than its former self? What’s the value of lost opportunities of going through the process? What might you be giving up? All of these can be measured in time or dollars to have a clear understanding of why it’s important to take this approach.
2. What to distribute?
Before you dive in and start moving people around the country, identify what you’re good at and where your weaknesses lie. Diagnose your business and understand it first in those terms. Engage widely. Listen intently. You might impact the wrong part of the business and thus damage your brand or revenue streams (i.e. what you do well) if you don’t listen hard enough. Effective diagnosis will determine the right areas to look at for a distributed workforce while preserving what you do well. Back-office functions such as Finance, IT and HR are good candidates to consider with limited customer-facing responsibilities.
3. Explore options.
The critical step is to explore multiple options and properly consider them with your leadership. If we do option A, how will that impact our business versus option B? What are we giving up with option A? By ensuring your leaders have a say in these options, you then help them focus on what’s good for the organisation and allow them to own the outcome. The idea is to do away with self-interest, and allow leaders to determine for themselves if a permanent distributed workforce journey is the right path for them. The ultimate goal is to come up with one clear and coherent plan, and ensure all of your leaders get it.
4. Translate the intention into an implementation plan.
Next, translate the impact of the change into actions. Distributed workforces offer far more choice in how people engage with their work. Adaptive leaders start with empathy. Identify personal concerns, bottlenecks, risks and dependencies. How are you going to get to the new state? A distributed workforce will require new technologies, rapid upskilling in written communications, new processes, new ways of thinking, new leadership accountabilities and so on.
Develop an implementation plan by engaging as widely as possible and designing the metrics to monitor the outcomes and behaviours you need to evaluate your progress.
5. Reflect and gather feedback.
Lastly, review progress over a sustained period to embed your new model, people and processes. What went well and what didn’t? Feedback from all stakeholders will be critical. Develop a way to capture problems and lessons learned and use this information to have more meaningful conversations about how you are tracking and what needs to be adjusted.
A critical outcome of any change is to keep the right people, but there’s always a risk the good ones will go. With a bigger picture in mind, it’s easier to manage through the disruption on a day-to-day basis as you know what the end game is.
Don’t press ahead without making sure it’s the best thing for your organisation. If a distributed workforce is essential, make sure you set yourself up for success. Throughout the process be honest and open with employees. Find the best way to reduce the stress and uncertainty felt by your people during a period of transition and keep them up to date. Remember, some things can’t be planned for but by following the key steps above you’ll be more likely to succeed.
Thanks for reading to here.
I hope life's great, Bruce