It is becoming evident that even after the cloud of COVID-19 has passed, work from home may be here to stay. Companies are already discovering that this variation will reduce costs, save travel time for employees and even boost their collective happiness quotient. But can this also ensure that productivity isn’t impacted negatively and the goals and timelines are met?
As we settle into the new normal of working from home, to optimise efficiency, there are four things business leaders need to embrace.
1. Establish Clear Protocols
It should be obvious that work from home is not meant to be a vacation in disguise. It only implies a change of location, albeit with a very different framework of routine. A clear and unambiguous protocol must be legislated for the team. This must be done without infusing unnecessary bureaucracy of multiple reports and timesheets, or these activities would replace useful work and become ends in themselves. Instead rules regarding logging on, a morning conference to set the agenda, the time within which emails are required to be responded to and an evening ‘summing-up’ session to take stock are some of the examples of the framework that should be put in place.
Establish protocols. Keep it specific and keep it lean.
Since teams will now be dispersed, the delegation of work and responsibilities to the members will have to be pushed up a notch. The inclination of leaders to micro-manage and perpetually monitor the work in progress will have to be shed. But for this to work, there are two critical requirements.
One, there must be absolute role-clarity that transcends the generic job-descriptions. While your employees will need to coordinate and exchange information, when it comes to allocation of responsibilities, they will also have to work in watertight compartments. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom against working in watertight compartments — but then, timer they are a-changing!
Roles should illuminate tasks and reduce overlaps to the bare minimum. Work must be ‘quantified’ to obviate omissions.
Two, employees who are to work unsupervised must be given the benefit of training. This would include training for the mandate, upskilling and even on facing the clients online. Such a capability building will be crucial to the success of delegation.
3. Constant Motivation
It will be harder to remotely motivate and influence workers. Hence, far greater effort will be needed to ensure that your team remains fired-up to produce results. Regular face-to-face contact through virtual platforms, emails of appreciation and encouragement, and ensuring that errors of judgement are treated gently so that initiative is not curbed while errors of omission and intent are treated with a firmer response, are among the stratagems that would need to be adopted.
A high degree of the initiative by every member of the team will be needed as constant supervision and guidance will neither be possible nor desirable. Managers must, therefore, increasingly adopt the ‘ask, don’t tell’ approach during interactions.
4. Command and Control
‘Command and Control’ is how we, in the Army described the entire gamut of ‘leading and managing’ from remote locations. This is achieved in the Armed Forces not by physical presence or geographically central locations of the leadership, but by use of every platform of technology, establishing measurable objectives, a structured system of feedback and ‘summing-up’ sessions and a focus on ‘lessons learnt’. All these can be custom-built for businesses as well.
We are about to face a new paradigm at the workplace It has its challenges but the new situation can also be turned into an opportunity to cut costs and boost productivity at the same time.
Maj Gen Neeraj Bali (Retd) is a Veteran and an ex-CEO of an engineering company. He consults on Disruption, Organizational Culture and Leadership. He is also a Leadership and Life Coach.
Ultimately, our ability to be imaginative and adaptive will be the keys.