The recent coronavirus outbreak has caused shockwaves across the globe. In just a month’s time, we’ve gone from piecemeal safety measures to mandated shelter-in-place and work-from-home policies that have radically changed the patterns of our lives and work. Meanwhile, recommendations from the CDC develop and change at breakneck speed.
For many business leaders, this crisis is the ultimate test of business agility. Amid the pandemic, it’s become rapidly clear that one measure of this agility is a company’s readiness to shift to remote work.
(Note: Remote work and working from home are not necessarily the same thing. However, for the purposes of this blog, we will use the term “remote work” more loosely to include any form of working away from the office, whether on a temporary, permanent, or semi-permanent basis. Our emphasis is on the general concept of collaborating virtually across physical and geographical distance.)
The need for business agility
We’ve talked before about the importance of business agility: that is, a company’s ability to respond and adapt in a highly unpredictable environment. This means putting systems in place that allow a company to act quickly and nimbly in the face of change – whether that be a budget or scope change in an internal project or a pandemic that prevents international stakeholders from attending a scheduled visit everyone was counting on.
Covid-19 is an ugly reminder that in a globalized world where illness can hop from continent to continent in the blink of a (red-)eye, one major marker of business agility is the extent to which a company’s workforce is equipped to change the way they work. In this case, that means a total and indefinite shift to a kind of work some employees have little to no experience with.
Of course, not all workers can do their jobs from home, and the unfortunate social and economic implications of workers who have lost their jobs in such industries are still coming to light. . But for those industries where work already takes place largely on screens and in the cloud, equipping your workforce with the skills and tools to work more flexibly can not only keep your business afloat, but is also indispensable for keeping workers safe during a public health emergency or natural disaster.
Remote work is a failsafe, not a failure
Seven years after Marissa Mayer infamously banned remote work at Yahoo!, it’s hard to imagine a starker contrast between the wisdom of that policy and what the reality of modern work has borne out. Here are just a few statistics reflecting the benefits of working from home (WFH), remote work and telecommuting for both workers and employers:
- Managers report that WFH employees are more productive and less stressed.
- Employers offering the option to WFH lose fewer workers. (Stanford University)
- Companies offering telecommuting flexibility can save tens of billions per year.
It’s clear that under normal circumstances, offering the option to WFH or telecommute has financial, productivity and mental health benefits for employers and workers alike. That’s not to even mention the benefits of offering telecommuting flexibility for business agility.
When WFH, telecommuting and remote work are already built into the company culture – complete with processes and tools to help workers collaborate effectively even when they’re not in the same room – disruptions to business as usual become much easier to weather, because flexibility is business as usual.
Tips for remote work readiness
One of the biggest challenges cited by business leaders amidst the coronavirus outbreak is weathering the disruptions to collaborative work when workers can’t physically show up to the office. When you’re used to brainstorming with your colleagues on the way to the breakroom, suddenly working away from the office can come with a steep learning curve.
Below, we cover some tips for empowering your company to get work done from whenever and wherever they need.
- Start now. In the event of a public health crisis or natural disaster, the top priority is worker safety. Business leaders understandably go into crisis mode, and may be forced to implement policies and culture changes that might have seemed too difficult or simply not pressing enough during times of calm. Business leaders should learn from this experience and aim to build on such changes once the dust has settled, rather than treating them as temporary.
- Take advantage of technology. Collaboration among remote workers and telecommuters requires tools. From videoconferencing to collaborative task management software, these tools should be cloud-based, secure and easy-to-use to facilitate employee buy-in.
- Properly train workers on tools and processes. If employees have to work too hard just to understand new workflows or how to use a particular software, the productivity boon of remote work becomes a productivity killer. Like with any culture change, establishing more flexible work policies means supporting employees through the transition with good leadership.
For more tips on making your business more agile in today’s changing world of work, explore the Clarizen blog.