In a time where it is prudent to minimize contact with others in order to prevent the imminent spread of Covid-19, companies must consider new ways to accomplish their mission and business objectives while serving their customers.
Home offices and remote work are, at least for the foreseeable future, the norm.
A modern New Workplace needs to be built upon principles of virtual collaboration and has supporting technologies and New Leadership in place.
If you have built a modern, New Workplace that already incorporates the flexibility of working remotely, and have invested in supporting technologies, then the shift toward more remote work and virtual collaboration is achievable with less extra effort.
If not, then you have some work to do - get started today!
Here are a few actionable tips that will help you prioritize and guide the transition toward creating an efficient and flourish virtual remote workplace - the New Workplace for short - as I see this capability of efficiently working remote and collaborate as a virtual team part of a modern DNA for each organization.
Upgrade your supporting Technology
A New Workplace should have established capabilities for team communication and collaboration, leveraging the latest technologies. Here are a few suggestions:
This is very basic requirement: Ensure that you have a subscription for a video conferencing software like Zoom Video (or Google Meet, Microsoft Teams) for everyone in the company. If not, pick one and start the process to make it available to everyone, along with the proper training.
Ensure everyone has a (Company) SmartPhone, and is able to install the corresponding video apps.
Set up video hardware in (most of) your meetings rooms. There are very inexpensive solutions from Logitech that are quite effective. Ensure the quality is at least HD (4K is nice to have.) Depending on your budget you can go fancy here, but at least get the basics working in some of your meeting rooms including a camera and microphone.
Needless to say, ensure you are having a solid Networking and Wifi setup as part of your IT infrastructure, with sufficient bandwidth to support the extra bandwidth needed when there are simultaneous video conferences going on.
As people are now dialing in and connecting remotely a secure VPN and firewall setup needs to be in place.
Work on creating a modern team communication infrastructure. I'm a big fan of Slack, but there are alternatives like Microsoft Teams. The advantage here is its scalability, as you can define information channels to group topics. Employees are generally well educated on how to use it effectively through their social media experience. I have seen that this potentially changes the company culture significantly, and replaces even email in most scenarios.
For smaller organizations (below 25 employees) using a WhatsApp group to connect everyone and disseminate information quickly is a simple option (but will not scale)
A very obvious necessity is that your employees have a laptop (with all required business software), so that they can continue doing their work.
Upgrade your Leadership Methodologies
A New Workplace depends on New Leaders. Assume that you have a sufficient technology infrastructure available (see above), which is preemptive for virtual presence and collaboration. If you as a leader have never done this before, this can be quite difficult at the beginning. But it can be done. I have worked in remote work setups in the past 20+ years with remote offices in India, Ireland, Finland, China (to name a few.) You will need to get creative and explore different models of effective remote leadership.
Here are some ideas:
Don't worry about mistakes. You will make them anyway, but make sure to learn from them.
Trust your employees that they are doing the right thing (autonomy), and are prioritizing properly. But you will need to think about checkpoints to verify and course correct if needed. My recommendation is to have a weekly (virtual) team meeting to review the current status and progress of the past week, and to plan ahead for the upcoming week. You define the "What" , but let the team define the "How."
In addition, a short 10-15 minute (virtual) daily standup meeting in the morning might be helpful. In agile software engineering processes this is a standard practice, that I think can be well adapted to other business areas as well. Focus here should be on a very brief update on what the plan is for today, and if there are dependencies or blockers that when not resolved would otherwise cause a delay on the progress.
A lot of the communication in an office happens informally and in the hallways. Think about ways that you can foster this informal communication in a virtual and remote setup. Certainly the technology tips above are helpful, but people need to learn to start reaching out to their colleagues using new channels of informal communication. For example, training in them in using Slack (or your favorite internal team collaboration environment) creatively. Or, ensuring they can conveniently send a text via WhatsApp to one of their colleagues. The latter sounds obvious, but employees may not have the phone number of their colleagues handy, as there was no actual need before.
As a leader you need to stay calm amidst uncertainty, otherwise stress will spread out. Read my previous article on this topic and review the suggestions.
Review the technology checklist above as an inspiration and tackle the appropriate points right away. Many of those can be setup in a few days. But getting all of this working efficiently will take a few weeks at least, combined with employee training.
Review the leadership checklist above and think about how those ideas could be implemented in your particular scenario.
I'm planning a Webinar about this topic, as there is a need for more detailed advise. Stay tuned.
If you need more detailed advise: I work as a trusted advisor and can help in topics of technology or leadership coaching to implement an efficient and flourishing New Workplace. Contact me in that case to explore how we could work together. As my bandwidth is limited, I work on a first-come first-served basis.
As always - please share your best practices on remote and virtual collaboration setup in terms of technology and leadership- looking forward to it!