Jim Steinlage, President & CEO of Choice Solutions,
In many ways, the organizational shock waves and changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic are still unknown, but one thing for sure is that it has forced organizations to become more versatile and open-minded. Many organizations have transitioned to entirely remote operations, while others that were considered essential moved quickly to find ways to protect their employees and customers from the virus. We don’t know where things will be from a business operational front when the dust settles as many organizations are still functioning under quick fixes that were used to get operations up and running remotely in a timely manner. Remote work will likely become the new reality for many organizations as they compete for talent in the future.
While some organizations continue to weigh options and assess practical ideas, those who’ve made the mass move to remote work continue to realize the benefits of expense savings, floor space, talent pools, and business continuity while they fine tune ways to support employees in four areas:
- Improved communications
- Increased cybersecurity
- Reconfiguration of Operations
- IT, HR and Corporate Culture
One thing most people will agree on is how the pandemic has affected employee well-being. Any sudden, stress-inducing change is hard for employees, and the changes that happened in businesses due to the pandemic were certainly sudden. The good news is that humans, especially the younger workforce, are remarkably good at adapting to change and adjusting to new environments. Change is accepted more quickly when there has been communication explaining why the change was necessary. Here are some ideas and suggestions your organization might consider adopting to provide a supportive experience for your employees during this continue time of change.
Before COVID-19, very few employees worked primarily from home. Employees not used to this type of work environment can feel isolated and disconnected and actually lonely and depressed. Great managers had to sharpen their remote communications skills and gave employees the tools and support they need to collaborate, stay engaged, and maintain productivity.
- Establish a clear communications plan by setting a regular schedule for group meetings, events, and happy hours. Choose a platform such as Skype, Microsoft Teams, Slack or Zoom and make sure everyone is trained to use it. Make sure there is good two-way collaboration, which should enhance productivity. Encourage feedback from employees.
- Practice compassion. Many employees likely feel overwhelmed and stressed, not only about work but also the pandemic itself. Leadership should openly discuss these worries and fears and be transparent about what issues the organization is dealing with due to COVID-19. It is important for leadership to stay positive, confident, and forward-thinking.
- Set clear expectations so everyone is on the same page from the get-go. This reduces frustrations and helps make for a smoother transition to the new work setting. It also helps curb the temptation to micromanage employees who will be more engaged when they feel trusted to get their work done on time. The lack of clear goals and expectations on both local, state, and national level has brought frustration to all of us.
Increase Network Safety and Security
Never underestimate the lengths that bad actors will go to take advantage of misfortune times. Aligning employee safety, company security and productivity with business continuity is a delicate balancing act. It is one IT must be able to perform for organizational functionality.
In addition to using standard security measures like two-factor authentication, advanced security settings, and data encryption, steps also should be taken to:
- Conduct a risk assessment to pinpoint where your infrastructure is most vulnerable.
- Know who has access, what devices, and where, especially now with a remote workforce.
- Implement cloud-based network security solutions to continually monitor your network.
- Conduct virtual training for employees to educate them on what to look for and what to do in the event of a cyberattack.
Employees should be periodically updated on newly discovered threats and reminded to be attentive. When in doubt, don’t do it! Any unusual email links or requests for password change should be run by IT for verification and assistance. There is an old farmer saying: “No matter how good the fence is, if the gate is left open you have got issues.”
Reimagine the Work Environment
As mentioned earlier, expect the number of employees working primarily from home to increase post-pandemic. You should already be looking at software that allows employees to stay productive and be able to work from anywhere on any device. It will require flexible working hours, ensuring 24/7 secure virtual access to the company’s network, and increasing the use of video to keep people connected. A wider adoption of AI technology should be incorporated into software tools to help enterprises deliver a better, more productive end-user experience and reshape the way they recruit, train, and retain employees.
IT, HR and Corporate Culture
For those not prepared, COVID-19 forced IT departments to think outside of the box and take on tasks typically handled by HR. Now HR and IT need to collaborate and work in unison. For example, once employees started working from home, IT teams were often more involved than HR leadership in maintaining the corporate culture. IT staff trained remote employees on content collaboration, UCaaS tools and communication platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. HR leaders and IT teams must continue to work together as companies on-board and train employees remotely, ensuring that those employees are experiencing the company’s culture and feeling of connectedness just as they would if they were on-boarded in an office setting.
The changes brought on by COVID-19 are challenging, but the crisis has also been a time to explore new experiences and solutions. If remote work is here to stay in a major way, organizations will need to continue to look to their HR and IT teams for risk mitigation and to provide the tools and technologies their employees need to do their jobs effectively.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, organizations that previously allocated resources to flexible work and digital workspaces were better equipped for employees to work remotely. Many say the lockdown emphasized the importance of more flexible, scalable, and agile cloud-based platforms which have now become part of everyday conversations.
With the right tools, vision, and support, your employees and your organization can not only survive but thrive in a post-pandemic world with additional agility, speed, and efficiency.