There is one thing that business has had to learn very quickly over the past couple of months. People are their most valued asset. Without people, whether onsite or remote, businesses are dead in the water.
Covid-19 has brought home the significance of the human element in economies around the world. If you were never concerned about your employees’ well-being outside the work environment, the Coronavirus has taught you otherwise.
Businesses and organisations have largely operated on models inherited from previous industrial revolutions. You show up at a location, do a job daily, and get paid at the end of every week or month-end.
The phrase Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) was first introduced by Professor Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum in 2015. However, the writings of a technological revolution were already on the wall over the preceding years.
We trust what we can see, right?
My experience of fulltime employment is that managers are generally more comfortable when they can see their teams, a legacy of productivity formats that decry the 4IR. The ability to walk over to someone’s desk to give a brief, change the brief, or schedule a meeting on the spur of the moment plays strongly into a lack of planning and more importantly, lack of trust. We trust what we can see, right?
As a senior manager, there were many times when I knew that my team was on social media, watching videos and so on. The ‘free time’ was attributed to elements outside their control. Contracts pending sign off or negotiation underway. They were merely fulfilling their contracts to be at the location where office rent was still due and Wi-Fi, phone and other consumption costs continued to accrue, regardless of income.
We’ve seen that mass-scale remote working is possible.
We didn’t know any other work models. But when you do know better, you have a responsibility to change behaviour. We’ve seen that mass-scale remote working is possible. However, the blanket stay-at-home was thrown at us and caught many off-guard; there are creases that we need to iron out.
For starters, not everyone has a decent workstation or office at home. Then there’s the issue of connectivity and office equipment such as printers or scanners. Let’s not forget those with families and children and that assortment of distractions. When my kids want to eat, they don’t care if I’m meeting the President, it’s lunch time.
Flexibility is a given
I actually don’t know how we’ve run an economy without ingrained flexibility. No wonder we’re a generation suffering with anxiety, high stress levels and increasing mental illness. We talk of a work-life balance but there have been no proper structures to support this.
Digital is one of the enablers of flexibility. Granted, this does not always work in what we now know as ‘essential services’. But for the most part, anyone who produces work via any device using Wi-Fi, can operate remotely. Flexible scheduling is still possible in essential services; this is actually part of our ‘return to the workplace’ legislation.
Businesses must reassess what productivity means. Is it a product or an outcome? A value must be given to that product or outcome, set targets and handover to an individual to deliver. This is where it gets a little scary for those employed fulltime where all their time has been given a monetary value.
Flexibility means that you are the owner of your time. It’s no longer in the hands of an employer. If one is able to deliver their product or outcome in four hours a day and use the rest of the day to sew face masks – conflict of interest will be a consideration – or relax in the park, you start to understand the power of flexibility.
Authenticity is Queen
Business 101 pre-Covid-19 was about understanding audience needs and wants and delivering on these. Coronavirus incites us to delve deeper. We have to understand fears and worries as these are not going to miraculously disappear once lockdown is over and influence economic activity.
Concern for employees and customers is one thing; but actions speak louder than words. Businesses will need to demonstrate this care. It will mean paying greater attention to diversity and inclusion. The marginalised have borne the brunt of lockdown and yet have been at the frontline during this state of emergency.
Do you understand your employees’ home and personal circumstances beyond their physical addresses? And what will you do once you understand these?
Trust is a two-way street and is earned.
We’re about to move to level 3 of lockdown from 1 June. This means that “all economic activity is permitted, with a few exceptions where the risk of transmission is high”.
As we restart our economy, remember these wise words from the late Steve Jobs. Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday.