• Scott MacIntosh

Six Challenges with Remote Work, And How You Can Act During a Crisis

What a week it has been.

It’s hard to believe that ten days ago I was skiing in Quebec with my family.

Now, I am faced with running my business and meeting all client commitments from my home office while my kids are at home as they have had school, classes, and training sessions cancelled.

I’ve spoken to a number of people in my network this week, and I know that you are all struggling to deal with the rapid changes as well.

Executives in large businesses are racing to enable their remote work playbooks for the white-collar workers in the company. For employees who need to work onsite, the focus is keeping them safe. While this is taking place, they are also trying to look out the front window, understand what the impacts are to the business, and decide how to manage them.

Smaller business leaders may not have remote work policies and infrastructure and are racing to get them in place.

Professional service providers are being severely impacted too. If the business model is based on face-to-face workshops to facilitate strategy and planning activities, they have gone from 60 to 0 as their clients have enacted travel bans.

Challenging times for all of us.

However, if you look at the history of past business crises, such as 2008, or 1997, companies that focused on improving their core business thrived once the crisis has faded.

I would like to see each of us respond to coronavirus in that way, and thoughtfully improve our businesses while reacting to the curve-ball we’ve all been thrown.

I’m looking at making tweaks in my business based on what I’m seeing and hearing.

Typically, the help I provide business leaders about digital capability results in digital transformation plans that can be implemented in weeks or months.People want advice they can act on in hours and days - right now.

I’ve been working with my virtual team this week to create some more tactical advice and tools. Responding to this challenge will make Second Spring Digital more effective long-term in truly helping our clients in a rapid and effective way that provides unique value.

The first tool that we are going to release is focused on helping companies be effective with remote work. Many companies are not effectively set up for remote work in a way that makes their team successful and protects business results.

With this tool, we are assessing remote work across six dimensions. There are typically challenges within each dimension, and we will explore those challenges briefly below.

Challenge #1 - There are policy gaps. While some companies have remote work, tele-work and flex hour policies - many do not. Policies need to be supported by funding for effective work-at-home equipment and high-speed internet.

Challenge #2 - There are infrastructure gaps. Most large companies have the technology infrastructure in place for remote work. However, many small and medium businesses lack this infrastructure. There are tools readily available to let you effectively collaborate, share files, and video conference. You may also need to look at cyber-security improvements, additional laptops/smartphones for team members, increased connection speed, and access to legacy document repositories.

Challenge #3 - There are process complexities. A lot of companies have ‘ways of work’ based on in-person conversation, paper-based processes, huddles around the whiteboard and one-on-one informal conversation. These approaches do not scale well outside of the four walls of your office, and you may need to look for some quick wins in this area.

Challenge #4 – Applications aren’t ready for remote access. If your company has ‘grown up digital’, you already have your infrastructure in the cloud. However, most companies have a legacy architecture they are dealing with. They are in the midst of migrating to cloud solutions, which inherently support remote access – but most have not completed this journey yet. Some companies have responded to this with VPN technologies; however, this is often ineffective and leaves team members frustrated.

Challenge #5 – Company culture may not support remote work. A lot of established businesses have defined office hours, with managers who expect to see their team as they work. Even for companies with work-at-home policies, these policies are often not used by employees for fear that it will hurt their advancement. Team members may not be used to effective remote check-ins and meetings, with the cameras turned on, and background noises from home life present. Finally, some companies are just change resistant in general, making the switch to more remote work difficult.

Challenge #6 – People need to buy in. Through this time of crisis, your team is watching carefully to see how leadership responds, and what measures they take. They will be using the leaderships’ response to this crisis as a gauge for how leadership will respond in tough situations going forward. They will be assessing if they are being provided new tools and training to increase their capabilities during this time, or if they are expected to ‘deal with it’. And when the crisis passes, they will factor these experiences into their go-forward career choices.

Some of these challenges can be tackled quickly, such as policy and infrastructure. Changing work processes and applications takes longer, however quick wins can be identified and potentially make a difference in key areas in short order. Culture and people dimensions take longer to change, and it is largely about awareness as you act in the short term.

These six challenges are opportunity areas to improve your business long term if tackled in a thoughtful way.

This is a way to increase your industry leadership during these trying times.

If you become highly capable for remote work as a company – you’ve made a lot of the long-term progress on digital that you will need throughout the upcoming decade. You will get long-term return on any investments you make right now, beyond dealing with the short-term pain.

We have created a new, free, tool to help you think through these challenges from within your company. This is a survey-based tool and assessment that takes you through the six challenge areas, and gets you started on actions to consider in each area.

It’s called the Remote Work Checkup. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Stay safe, stay positive. This too shall pass.

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