Leading a distributed team both locally and globally has become one of the key issues facing businesses as they continue to adapt to the COVID-19 world that we find ourselves in. We’ve talked about how workflow management and technology has helped us to quickly address these new needs. Many would agree, and have demonstrated, that if it wasn’t for business continuity and cloud services it would be a very different story and businesses would be struggling to function during this tumultuous time.
A lot has changed and there’s a new dimension to our lives. We now have our office life, the new remote working life and home life. It has become a three-way balancing act, that is far more complex to manage. With the pressure of working from home, running a household (with limited access to the outside world), and either caring for relatives or juggling home-schooling this complexity comes in many layers. We’ve talked about the generational differences at work before, and that millennials already account for at least 50%¹ of the workforce, with the Gen X’ers following hot on their heels. However, we also need to remember that there are people who have worked in an office environment for many years and some of them￼ will miss certain aspects of office life. In contrast, many younger people will have a more flexible approach to their work and consequently their working environment.
With the somewhat fluid Government advice, many businesses are in limbo and staff are looking for guidance from their employers as they start to interpret easing the lockdown guidelines. This is where organisations are having to demonstrate their softer skills, become more human in how they treat and trust their employees. Several large businesses are stepping up and demonstrating that even the behemoths of the past can be agile and adapt quickly to meet these needs.
Some of the biggest businesses in the world are leading the way. Unsurprisingly, Twitter announced that remote working will continue ‘forever’ and Google, Facebook and Amazon quickly followed, advising staff that working from home will continue until October and potentially into 2021. It’s also worth noting that organisations such as Barclays have demonstrated that even if you’ve been operating for over a century you can still be agile and adapt to new demands by advising that working from home will now be the norm even after lockdown.
Notably, businesses are acknowledging that one size in their new approach to running operations won’t work for all. As well as finding new ways to operate as a business, senior figures and managers within companies are starting to look at how people are treated and importantly, how they react and behave. The working population are adults and, as such, want to be treated properly, but that also means that people’s expectations need to be set realistically and managed appropriately.
This is where flexibility and trust can and should flourish across your business. It’s critical that you continue communicating and connecting with people from your CEO, down to managers and across shop or factory floors to maintain the working environment, with or without the actual office. People have shown that they’re becoming more tolerant and more accepting of one another’s behaviours and commitments outside of work. The work façade is dropping and, in turn, people are finding ways of communicating that are creating a more trusting and supportive, and, most importantly, realistic way of working.
In meeting these new requirements all aspects of human behaviour will need to be catered for and managing the connectivity that so many individuals need will be vital. Business leaders and managers need to review and modify processes to ensure people can work productively while incorporating the social aspects that so many miss from the office environment. Commentators have rightly pointed out that mental health needs should be carefully monitored and supported where appropriate. Technology will go a long way to supporting organisations and their employees, but the human touch should never be underestimated. Creating water cooler moments albeit remotely where people are able to chat over a drink, is essential.
Business leaders and managers are being forced to think differently about how they do things. For example, companies that have previously adopted a hot-desking policy will now have to change their working environment in this era of social distancing. Others are adapting one-day training courses into a series of two-hour sessions spread over a week because it is unrealistic to expect participants to stay engaged online for that length of time. As proved by researchers at the Technical University of Denmark² last year, the human brain’s attention span simply does not stretch that far. The long term working from home policies being announced by so many employers means that traditional workplaces and some of the archaic behaviours, such as presenteeism, will be lost forever. COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change, and some of it for the better.
As we start to navigate this new virtual world we will evolve in more positive ways and continue to identify the best ways to cope with it. Good practice is about trying to engage people and being honest about the juggle and trusting one another. The fact that everyone is becoming more accepting of one another, along with the proof that people can perform and do their work, even when they take an hour out of the day for something else, shows we are all capable of advancing in a remote way. Resetting expectations and adding a huge amount of realism means that trust has developed, for the majority of people, beyond all expectations. This is partly thanks to the fact that we’re now seeing and connecting with the human side of our colleagues and bosses. In the words of the late 19th century, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “Out of chaos comes order”, just a very different one.
This post was created in response to the COVID-19 virus and its impact on tax and finance professionals. For more information to help support you and your business, visit our COVID-19 resource center.