When Remote Collaboration Became An Imperative: Lessons From Covid-19 Lockdown
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in China at the beginning of the year, it has left 1,699,595 infected and 106,138 dead in its wake till Apr 13, 2020. The world as we knew it, the economy and businesses have been changed by it forever and will continue evolving as mankind grapples with the pandemic and its effects.
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Unlike other diseases and epidemics, in a fraction of the COVID-19 cases, fatalities are very high, and there seems to be no effective cure. And it is compounded by its rapid spread being a contagious disease. As a Public Health intervention, measures of social distancing, lockdowns, and travel, and several other restrictions being put in place across geographies—with a direct impact on trade, commerce, industry, and the economy.
This has had a tremendous impact on businesses and industry over the past few months–staring at shutdowns, lower footfalls/demand, disruptions in travel and supply chain, and an urgent need to comply with mandatory Public Health restrictions. Faced with the twin imperatives of keeping employees safe and businesses afloat—Remote collaboration is looked upon as a saviour. Businesses are using it to make the shift from physical to virtual with shutting down of office premises—to stay afloat or to maintain momentum with an uncertain timeline of returning to normal.
Remote Working – From Privilege to Mainstream Work Mode
But what has been genuinely remarkable through these chaotic times, has been the transition to Remote Collaboration itself.
Remote working as a concept has seen its peaks and troughs in the last decade. While a lot of companies see it as a means of being global, agile, and available, some have also been questioning effectiveness around productivity and collaboration. The other aspect, of course, is that not all roles have the luxury or ability to deliver in a remote working scenario.
The COVID-19 crisis has definitely pushed companies to keep their reservations aside and adopt Remote Collaboration at scale, given social distancing becoming the need of the hour. On the bright side, advances in internet data speeds, Wi-Fi technologies, Collaboration platforms, and a boom in conferencing applications have made this shift easier. Some of the challenges around productivity tracking and collaboration still need to be tackled.
Gartner in one of its immediate reports after the pandemic has acknowledged the shift and highlighted the path ahead for CIOs of organisations a set of recommendation to consider:
Preparedness and Building on Supportive Infrastructure
The migration has been smoother in companies operating in the Knowledge Economy, where the systems and infrastructure were available to support such contingencies. Businesses that worked in shifts with leased infrastructures, or brick-and-mortar companies with a huge operation offline have had to transition only part of their workforce to Remote Collaboration mode and must make investments in infrastructure and processes to support the situation if it lasts for a prolonged period.
Remote collaboration becomes possible if the organization you work for has the infrastructure and the technology solutions in place; organizations will now have to re-assess their IT infrastructure strategy, focusing on the need to have the right technological tools that support mobility, security, and freedom to collaborate.
At BRIDGEi2i, given the global team presence and partnerships with large enterprises, Business Continuity process has always been a top priority. Remote working has been integral to the BRIDGEi2i workplace since inception, not as a luxury but as an extension to employee welfare and productivity in specific scenarios. Combined with a robust IT infrastructure and robust cybersecurity ecosystem in place, BRIDGEi2i was able to scale to 100% remote working in a matter of a week. By the second week, employees had logged in from over 100 cities over the world, delivering to clients globally.
In one case of employee onboarding, the IT team guided office security remotely to configure a new laptop, load it with required software, and then have it door-delivered to the new employee.
Maintaining Productivity and Focus on Outcomes
The question haunting businesses ever since Remote Collaboration became the New Normal is, therefore, how to maintain productivity and trust. With little supervision, businesses wonder if teams can operate at par or better productivity than they were able to attain in a formal work atmosphere. The answer to this, however, is to redefine productivity and shift metrics based on quality v/s quantity.
So typically, rather than tracking how many hours employees stayed logged in or how many emails they answered in a day, the focus should shift to how much of a project got done and how much revenue impact their actions had. Jim Ware, the founder of The Future of Work, cites the case call-center workers who are being evaluated by metrics of how many customer calls they attended, with employee efficiency being equated to shorter calls. But this has practically demonstrated problems like employees transferring more calls or terminating them abruptly. Zappos has taken a precisely opposite approach by evaluating on the basis of longer service calls which means Zappos is building strong relationships with its customers.
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Trust is a two-way street existing between the business, its employees, and its clients. During these challenging times, businesses have to trust their teams to step up and deliver as in normal times. Employees again need to have trust in their companies to be doing the right things to support them. This is where leaders have to play a vital role in keeping teams focused and motivated. By showing involvement with personal attention toward the latter’s safety and problems and keeping communication open and honest, they can stay the course during troubled times. By doing this, the companies can also ensure that trust is built with the clients who need to feel assured.
In BRIDGEi2i, this was reflected by the top leadership engaging actively with employees and clients on a continuous basis and personally overseeing seamless execution of the Business Continuity Plan. “The real test of character comes in times of adversity, and with several stories of successful execution stories and client delight trickling in, we feel we’ve scored on both productivity and trust,” said Pritam Kanti Paul, CTO & co-founder.
Staying Motivated and Developing a Long-term Vision
Having said that, businesses must gear up to keep the workforce motivated in a Remote Collaboration scenario. In this, HR has to play a proactive role with the right strategy and actions in place. Having group video calls, informal events like gaming sessions or saree challenges help build up light moments and dissipate work-related stress while also keeping team-bonding in place. Allowing some flexibility to employees to work at a home setting (being tolerant of background noise, allowing short-breaks to manage kids or personal work and fallback steps for power or data outage) makes companies more understanding and inspiring employers.
As Gartner highlights, Remote Collaboration could evolve into a long-term digital policy to be rolled in specific geographies or org-wide having implications on creating alternative business models and keeping up productivity. Businesses may realize the impact of reducing overheads on physical infrastructure, improving business continuity, and benefits to employees due to minimized commute times. These would, however, call for introducing new technologies like AI for Talent, automate processes like recruitment, managing employee performance, and improving employee satisfaction with a data-driven approach.
At BRIDGEi2i a short glimpse of this was seen in play when the talent acquisition team working with IT and others made possible a ‘virtual onboarding’ possible for many new joinees. This was a huge leap in capabilities and kept talent supply open even amidst the disruption. “Due to the pandemic situation, was expecting a delay in my joining process. But the team here in Bangalore managed to virtually on-board me in this situation too.” an elated Sudip, a fresh hire commented on LinkedIn.