I am starting a new series to write about future of work. Having worked with state of art digital workplace platforms on Microsoft, Google & Amazon, I have seen small businesses and enterprises shift their goals towards new normalcy. What was privileged in 2019 became a Plan B (Business Continuity Plan) in 2020 and after first quarter itself, we are seeing organizations defining their remote working plan. The first blog on this series discusses fundamentals of remote work. While there are some organizations that had remote working culture for years together, there are others who considered remote working either as a taboo or as a special case to support one of those employees.
Startups, Digital Natives & Enterprises – they are all challenged when their employees work remotely. The Place (Workplace), The People (Workforce) & The Productivity (Work) are no longer confined to their offices on an official computer working under a secure network.
The work society has evolved from cabin based offices to open offices to telepresence based apps that allow you to work from anywhere, whether you are working at the airport, at the café or confined into your home such as now when Covid-19 has confined people into their homes. But this is no longer a compulsion that has coerced employees to setup work from home policy, but also an experiment on how productive the people are when working in their “comfort” zone.
But as a small business, how safe is your remote work? Some of the common concerns I come across are
- CEO – Will my “People” work?
- CFO – Are my people working against what they are “Paid”
- CIO/CTO – Is my data secure? Are my people secure? Are the devices secure? And is their network secure?
- Tech Support – Can we handle the ever-growing support requests?
- Procurement – Can our infrastructure scale? What if we run out of hardware? Licenses? Software applications? Who will deliver?
In the ever-growing list of questions and concerns, one thing remains common. How will your organization respond to unprecedented challenges across technology, talent management, and operations?
Organizations needs to take a three dimensional approach towards integrating three interconnected and interrelated pillars – The Place, The People & The Productivity. The three dimensions are
Culture – This is a very important pillar that organizations often give less precedence over the others. The culture of remote work should be triggered by a pandemic or by business continuity plan, but it should be built as part of standard operating procedures and supported form top down hierarchy with not looking remote work as an incentive or work around but as an integral part of people’s commitment towards work. This will also ensure that “remote work” can never be the reason of lack of productivity or under performance. The three important areas that organizations should focus on for making remote work as part of the culture are
- Collaboration – Ability to work together without any binding on time of the day, physical space, or hierarchal restrictions.
- Communication – Availability of people to communicate with each other based on urgency or necessity of the issue at hand and call to action required.
- Knowledge – Easy access to information like company policies, escalation matrix, procedures and guidelines based on authorization of the person.
A culture is built when actions are repeated, transparency and consistency is leveraged and is followed by everyone from top management to employees.
Technology – Just like a well-defined culture fosters employee productivity, a well defined technology stack is important to sustain culture in an organization. It is imperative that organization strike a right balance between total cost of ownership vs tools that can increase productivity, and boost employee efficiency. The technology stack can vary from small business organization to large enterprises because your digital estate has direct impact on cost as well as adoption. Technology stack with lower cost may not necessary be easier to adopt, nor expensive tool stack can guarantee you efficiency. The four important areas that organization should focus on enabling technology for remote work are
- Communication & Collaboration – Tools like Microsoft 365, G Suite & Atlassian enable you to collaborate effectively with tools like enterprise grade email, video and voice conferencing, and document and content sharing as well as real time co-working.
- Ease of Access – It is imperative for your employees to easily access your tool stack remotely without any complicated software installation like VPN Client, Remote Desktop Client, etc. It it is a critical pillar that fosters adoption when a particular software application simplifies end user experience as compared to making it difficult.
- Security – In order to enable Ease of Access, Security takes utmost precedent in the order of magnitude. Organization wants to ensure that the data is accessed by authorized personnel without the risk of data leak through USB devices, or storing umpteen copies on personal cloud storage as well as malicious events like hacking, malware, ransomware or phishing attacks.
- Total Cost of Ownership – Value realization is a very important aspect of any investment and if an organization does not see return on investment, the remote working concept can be futile. Cost of end user devices like Laptops, & workstation, cost of software licenses, VPN tools and expensive servers can increase TCO. Add to that cost of training, adoption and technical support to end users would be a recurring cost.
Technology Stack or as we call Digital Estate is very important aspect of remote working and needs to strike right balance between ease of access, end user experience and adoption as well as security and access needs.
Governance – What good is technology and culture is if they are not governed. Governance helps build consistency in applying policies and processes across people. Governance is not about who can do remote work vs who cannot. It is about how to ensure that the organizations interest in data safety and goodwill is protected while an employee gets a safe and cohesive working environment. This also what kind of devices an employee can use, what kind of content an employee can share and what are the safety mechanism an employee needs to follow. The three important area that an organization should focus on while building governance framework for remote systems are
- Support – IT Support is a very important aspect of ensuring consistent user experience to remote work. Issues as small as password reset to as complex as data protection require preset policies approved by key stakeholders. Using the right technology stack like Zendesk or Atlassia Jira along with Conversational Bots like Microsoft Luis or Google Dialogflow reduces the need of increased manpower to support your employees. Support has to be SLA driven with multiple tiers to ensure optimal usage of highly skilled people.
- Training – Technology and Process trainings are required to ensure that people know how to use the technology stack, when to use the technology stack and how to report any issues related to process. Other than that, it is also important to train your remote users on soft skills like business email writing etiquettes, video conferencing etiquette, time management as well as
- Metrics & Scorecard – What cannot be measured cannot be improved. Running an organization with remote working needs to ensure that there is way to measure productivity and efficiency, not in terms of time spent but in terms of goal setting. Metrics can differ based on roles, profiles and employee engagement. Hence, it is imperative to invest into a time tracking tool to measure time spent on each activity, as well as setting quality goals like employee engagement, result driven metrics and turn around time.
The future of work is always dependent culture, technology and governance and not on physical location, time spent & type of work. Covid 19 pandemic has made many organizations realize that with the right set of cultural mindset, technology stack and governance, regulation & compliance, the time and space barrier will vanish and your employees will be more productive than ever.