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‘To Zoom, or not to Zoom’ ?

Increasingly ‘That is the Question’! ……as the pandemic restrictions are relaxed.

When the lockdown was put in place remote working/virtual communication was the only show in town for businesses not involved in the provision of essential services. The pandemic significantly accelerated an existing trend towards remote working, which for most will be working from home (WFH). The question now arises as to the extent to which businesses revert to their pre covid -19 operating model?

The potential benefits of WFH are obvious. It can be much more efficient to work remotely. Time and cost savings on travel to/from work are potentially huge, not to mention the opportunity to avoid the stress associated with commuting. Also, the ability to share documents on line, chat lines, virtual breakout rooms, real time surveys etc are arguably better than the physical world equivalents. And there has been a major up skilling of the general population on the use of virtual communication tools, such as Zoom.

There are challenges, of course, such as establishing a secure local technology platform, the right physical work space, and managing boundaries between work and personal life. But these are manageable and creative solutions are increasingly available.

However, other challenges associated with remote working do not have clear cut answers and warrant careful consideration. The best workplace solutions in the ‘new normal’ will vary depending on the specifics of each situation.

First and foremost are customer expectations. What has been the impact of remote working on your customers experience of you as a business? What has been the impact on customer relationships? What are your customers expectations going forward in terms of communication and delivery channels? Same questions apply to those in your supply chain.

More fundamentally – has your business model and strategic direction changed including your definition of the ideal customer? Has your brand promise changed ? What changes are required to organisational values and behaviours? Do existing values need to be re-enforced?

Employee wellness. Your ability to support employee wellness will be a key consideration in deciding on the mix between a return to a physical work place and remote working.

Your reputation as an employer will be influenced by how well you look after your employees at this time. Your wellness programmes need to ensure that you are well informed as to the wellbeing of your remote workers on an ongoing basis and have supports in place for those who need support.

This is a tricky area as there is a fine line between ‘checking in’ on employees to see what supports they need and what might be seen by employees as micro management.

Employee preferences. This will tend to vary by employee personal circumstances, nature of work, and even different personality profiles. There will be limits to the extent that employers will be able to accommodate exceptions to your general policy on remote working.

Measuring and managing employee productivity. It is generally easier to get a sense of employee commitment and productivity in a physical workspace. With the increased prevalence of remote working it is now more important that ever to have good measures of productivity, especially if there is evidence that productivity has declined since the onset of the pandemic.

Many employers have been surprised by who have emerged as ‘star performers’ and conversely those who have failed to ‘show up’ at this time of crisis.

The question also arises as to how performance reviews should be different if conducted remotely. It may be best to simplify the process.

When teams are the unit of performance, remote working is more challenging than when employees can work effectively on their own, with minimal support and supervision.

The best teams have high levels of trust and understanding between team members, underpinned by good personal relationships. Impromptu informal conversations are more difficult remotely – can be important to avoid miscommunications. There is some evidence that teams are expressing a desire for physical meet – up’s after several months of remote working.

Future recruitment. New recruits should be happy to sign up to company practise in terms of the balance between attendance at a physical workplace and remote working. This is a reason why clarity on the mix between remote working and the traditional workplace for your organisation is decided on asap.

Conclusion. For some businesses the future will be to create totally virtual organisations, but for many a hybrid approach will be more appropriate. Decisions businesses make on this will be a key determinant of future success.

This is new territory for all of us and we will need to be open to new insights based on experience. Some of our current assumptions of what will ‘work’ will be wrong. So we should have effective feedback loops in place to facilitate speedy adjustments to our operating models as we go forward.

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