As I set about writing this article, the government announced stringent measures to fight against the Coronavirus pandemic. Those measures included curtailing public transport, shutting down public places, and asking the people to remain cooped up in their homes until threat passes over. We are living in extraordinary times with events occurring that we never in our wildest dreams thought would ever happen. The virus has pushed governments around the world into a corner with each one of those coming up with strategies to survive. As they say, ‘extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures’; this holds true for businesses around the world who find themselves on no man’s land suddenly. Most businesses had to ask employees to work from home, which just isn’t how many corporations operate.
For someone who works in a company with a relaxed work-from-home policy, this event won’t push down productivity levels and might even increase it. But, that isn’t the case with everybody. Many companies thrive in an authoritative culture and clear hierarchical patterns; constant meetings and reporting are the norm in such an organization. Even companies who allotted work-from-home option quite frequently have arrived to an unprecedented situation, this era is a test for the companies’ ability to operate and work under a unique situation.
This is unprecedentedly, the biggest work-from-home event this world has ever seen. Workers need guidance, suggestions, empathy, and a bit of leeway at this point of time to successfully function. How to bring in a strategy which allows you to smoothly function at this point of time? Where do we go from here? Let’s talk it out point-by-point:
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communication holds the key to all things wonderful, be it successful business modules or professional relationships. In times like these, communication is imperative to control outcomes of the business model and keep employees engaged towards work. Almost a fortnight ago, experts and analysts started sharing tips and suggestions how best to create a contingency plan; seasoned veterans started talking about the tools to be used for collaborating between teams and employees working from their homes. Firstly, assess your strengths; ask employees if they have any work-from-home experience? If they have, what process did they follow earlier?
Choose a few communication channels and ask employees to connect using those. Be receptive to different sorts of feedback and assure employees that you exist to sort out any problem. It isn’t that every employee will be able to function properly from the place they stay at, their home might not be as ideal as yours to work from. Be empathetic towards everyone and keep everyone in the loop. Ask employees how they are coping with changes and if they are managing activities through the panic-stricken atmosphere. A Harvard study shows that employees look towards their managers for inspiration on how to react in uncertain situations. If you are a manager, support the employees and give them directions on how best to function with an increasing number of conversations. Holding high spirits for your employees is crucial at this point of time.
Remember business landscape has changed completely
Letting a few employees work from home on regular days is a bit of challenge itself; bringing in a mandatory work-from-home policy for every employee extending a few weeks can amount to chaos. Look at the factors involved for people around the world; schools are closed down so are offices, people are keeping themselves isolated from others. This leaves us with a situation where a lot of things can go wrong. Imagine an employee who has kids and parents to take care of, he/she cannot call in daycare professionals nor a babysitter; it means that he/she will have to manage everything as well as he/she can. It means there will be lot of interruptions in work and the time he/she puts in to office work will vary from the usual work hours.
It means you might see faces of kids barging in virtual meeting rooms or the sound of a pet dog barking while you are in a conference call with clients.
Companies must understand that these times aren’t usual; if you want employees to put in work, you can’t expect them to do it during the same work hours or following the same pathway as they did before. Managers need to be flexible at this moment, let your employees know you are there for them. If workers say they will deliver the same standard of work but can’t do it in usual time, allow them to change their work hours and deadlines. If you require an employee to be in constant touch with you while an issue is being resolved, allow them to break contact if any personal matter needs attention.
Using the right tools
If your employees are working from home, you will need different types of technological tools to connect with them and work in collaboration all the while delivering reviews to fix issues. Don’t start off with a new tool which requires the employees to be trained to use it; stick to methods you know will work effectively. Skype will work wonders for written, voice, and video communication between two parties. For project management, use tools like Trello to enable different teams collaborate to deliver results. For documents and spreadsheets, you can use Google Suite which provides basic tools for office work and doesn’t require training to get adept at.
Measuring work on deliverables rather than the hours
Let’s say a manager runs a call center outsourcing company, where the productivity of employees is gauged on tickets resolved and the FCR rate; the expectations of manager must be in line with the situation we are in. That means if someone is staying at home, there will be less coordination between employees and managers than before; it will likely affect the delivery capability of each employee. The companies must understand that measuring work on deliverables is much more important than calculating the work hours put in by the employee. There is a fear among managers who are used to handle tasks and get together different people to work towards a single goal. They feel a loss of control over events and employees; quite frankly, they don’t know if employees will follow their directions as well as they did while working in office. People at senior positions have never known to work in this style, so they are more concerned about losing authority; this can lead to micromanagement which will spell doom for productivity of workers and teams alike. As a manager, don’t keep checking up on employees every half hour; don’t look to see when they were last online and gaps in between, allow them to work however they want. You don’t need to be in constant connection to work, allow for talent and creativity to breed.
Whatever it might be, you will need a tool to document every activity and event on a single platform. For customer service outsourcing companies, all information regarding a customer and his/her issue needs to be present for every existing team; just like a single piece of paper available to each employee. If that isn’t there, teams won’t be able to fully understand customer issues and frustrate them even more at a time when they require things to work in their favor.
Enthusing office cultural values
Every workplace has its own style of working and values; it exists because the top management tried to bring in unique styles of working which the employees adapt to. For many people, office becomes ingrained in our senses as being a uniquely important part of our life. You come in to office, say ‘Hi’ to everyone, talk to people, crack jokes, gossip, and have lunches together. If you have been working for years, you reminisce about the time you started working and how everything has changed. These moments are unique and existed because of the physical space you worked in. Now, it has all changed with people logging in from homes to work at different times. How will you bring the people together just like they were during office hours?
The answer depends on how creative you can get. You can set two times for employees, one at the start of the day where everyone can have a video chat to discuss how things have been and one at end of the day, to discuss how the day went by and share stuff one finds interesting.
Managers who prefer a ‘hardcore’ style of work might think this activity is futile but in reality, it is the exact opposite. For one, it brings the team together just like office which is necessary for seamless operations and it does wonders for the mental state of employees. You need teamwork and a motivated workforce to achieve targets for you, provide them the leeway to do that exactly.
Ask for help whenever necessary
Times are hard for insurance companies, event houses, airlines, and hotels. The incoming call count has increased up to three times since the advent of Coronavirus. Ask any call center or customer service department, and you will understand the work pressure they are facing for months now. Provide employees with as many self-help tools as possible including options to check status of product delivery or service timelines. More than that, a huge number of companies don’t have any idea how to operate at a time like this. It would be a good choice to seek help of professionals and experts. For example, an airline can take help of multilingual disaster back up call center to be a partner in tough times; the backup call center can talk to customers of different natives and remove the language barrier at the least. They can pick up calls at a faster rate and sort out customer issues quickly, enabling the airline business and customers to breathe a sigh of relief.
Keep your head above the water
These are extraordinary times with even work-from-home policies having a different feel about it. We are adapting to situations everyday striving hard to survive. There will be instances where you feel powerless or you make all sorts of mistakes every now and then. The important point to remember is that determination and the ability to stay strong is essential to surviving. I know you were not ready for this at all, but life happens and you adapt; this is just how it goes. Remember, you are as strong as the fight in you; keep on trying and you will do wonders at work this time too.