The physical distancing rules nations have adopted to try and limit the spread of the Coronavirus have brought forward the need for organisations to find new ways of working including outsourcing more non-core functions and remote working for the masses.
Although early assessments look promising, the environment we’ve been working in says we've had little choice but to back it in principle and hope for the best.
This is because during the early stages, the only thing organisations had to do was figure out how to ensure their people could access the data they needed to fulfil their role. As we move forward, however, the challenge will be how to align them with their strategy and ensuring they execute the things that matter. In other words, the pressure point will shift from the technical challenges they were at the start of the lockdown to people being clear about the outcomes they need to produce and delivering them on time.
As it stands, we are still in the honeymoon phase of what is likely to be a significant change to the way businesses operate hence the majority of companies are still trying to understand what it means long term and how to do it in a way that works.
Although there’s a growing argument to support such a change, particularly from within the HR community, the fact of the matter is most organisations are not set up for the high trust model remote working requires to succeed long term.
While executives know remote working offers tangible benefits to both employees and their organisations alike (including such things as reducing costs by giving up on large central city leases and a reduction in travel costs and childcare etc for their staff), they also know they will be short-lived if they can’t achieve growth across the key metrics that matter to their shareholders.
For this reason, the conversations executives will be having around the board table is not whether they support it, it’s whether they’re prepared to take the risk when the assurance of achieving long term success under such a model is yet to be proven.
To this end, we can see two conversations taking place; one that's focused on the opportunity it offers to reduce costs and improve workplace flexibility and the other is about the organisation’s confidence to pursue a plan that exposes them to risks they’ve never had to consider.
Further to this, we need to accept the notion that remote working will always appeal to employees, however, because they’re not the ones facing the risk, the conversation is largely lopsided.
As most executives know, supporting this movement makes sense during a pandemic. However, it’s not without its challenges so cannot be considered a guaranteed path to success. Instead, what business leaders have to do is consider the risk of their people becoming disconnected from the organisation as a consequence and, therefore, the possible loss of focus and engagement it might cause.
It is interesting to note that commercial property agents the world over are confident we will see the trend of tenancy reductions start to slow as the impact of remote working starts to bite into organisations’ culture and ability to collaborate and, therefore, their proficiency in delivering on their promise to their customers and stakeholders.
So what is the answer?
In short, it’s not about one or the other (remote working or not) but the way organisations interact with their people and ultimately how they support them.
The fact is, the compliance-based processes organisations have largely applied for decades are not conducive to this new way of working because they are reliant on workplace supervision; that is, the requirement of managers to ensure their people deliver what the business needs from their role.
Instead, organisations need to change the way they interact with their people to ensure they know what winning looks like and that they’ve got the tools to achieve it.
If organisations institute the right tools, maintaining and even improving productivity in the new world will be easy. However, if they expect their existing processes to achieve this long term, they will be in for a surprise as in many instances, they simply won’t work.
As staff become less connected to their employer, their loyalty and commitment to the business could begin to wane. This could lead to a gradual breakdown in the relationship and ultimately, a loss of productivity. Over time, delivery misses will become more commonplace which will lead to managers demanding improvements in their people’s contribution which could compromise the relationship further. If that were to happen, the individual/s concerned will feel less supportive of the organisation as a whole and thus more comfortable (and justified) with their decreasing level of performance. In all likelihood, that would lead to a discussion about the individual/s performance thereby signalling the end to what may have otherwise been a perfectly healthy relationship.
What is the alternative?
If organisations take the lead on the topic rather than accepting the need to accommodate it, they could approach it differently and therefore realise the benefits it offers. In other words, they could present real-world options to their staff which is what they know they want as it’s the one thing research is telling them they value, i.e. the ability to work from home on days when it suits them.
To ensure both parties experience the benefits remote working offers, organisations need to ensure their people are set up for success thereby ensuring they appreciate the privilege and thus protect the opportunity.
To achieve this, they need to deploy proper performance-based systems that not only ensure delivery standards are retained but encourage the level of ownership and accountability the business requires to execute its strategy.
This includes ensuring their people have absolute clarity around the key deliverables they're responsible for and that the business has the ability (visibility) to track their progress against them. It also requires proactive leadership using the right tools to ensure they are supported in a constructive way and, therefore, retain a deep connection to the business in the absence of direct, daily interactions.
If these things are done well, staff will feel empowered to perform irrespective of where they are located. However, if they're not, the loss of contact will become an impediment to the organisation's growth which could undermine its appetite to support a policy our workforce will come to expect.
If you want to find out how our revolutionary Performance Improvement Programmes could support this new way of working in your business, call us on +64 9 522 9409 or email us [email protected] for a no-obligation demonstration.
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