“All successful revolutions,” a wise man1 once said, “are the kicking in of a rotten door.” In other words, a revolution is the final push, bringing to the end something that was long overdue for change. Its role in destroying the door is minimal; other factors, not least the passing of time, had already weakened it irreparably.
Today we are witnessing another revolution in how many of us go about our working lives, driven predominantly by the restrictions, or more recently the easing of, those imposed by the health crisis. Yet, for a long time now, we have had the opportunity to consider work, not as somewhere we go every day from nine to five, but something we do wherever and whenever we are best placed to do it. The technology to enable this has been available for years – smartphones, laptops, cloud software, ubiquitous broadband and 4G – so why haven’t we made better use of these technologies to transform not just the way we work, but the lives we lead?
Why couldn’t someone who spends a large portion of their life stuck in traffic jams on the A1, the M25 or any other congestion zones, spend more time working from home? Surely replacing the stress of daily commuting with quality time spent with one’s family is better for one’s mental and emotional wellbeing? How is that even good for business?
Perhaps there is no stronger force than inertia, the resistance to change and the reluctance to move too far away from old methods? Operations managers who have traditionally “managed” by walking around, or by the passive aggression of simply being present to ensure compliance with whatever task is in hand, can be reluctant to let employees disappear into the ether. Sales managers, focused on making sure staff hit their monthly numbers want to ensure that their team members are hitting the phones, putting in the calls and racking up orders. How can this be achieved if they are out of sight? Furthermore, how can organisations trust them?
This way of thinking is out-dated and moreover, I believe that organisations that fail to put the needs of their staff first will ultimately fail post-pandemic.
Staff realise there is more to life than work, and businesses need to realise that lead-times and the buying cycle within the critical infrastructure industry can be a long one. Now is not the time to focus solely on sales, it is the time to add value.
Businesses that depend on physical footfall are suffering greatly in the current climate, but many knowledge-based organisations, who have leveraged technology to adapt and develop different methods of collaborating with distributed teams are finding that little has changed. One must remember, however, there is so much more to remote, or home working than just the response to this crisis.
Nowadays, working from home allows businesses to build and embrace a new culture based on trust. One where having confidence in your staff to deliver their work on time, regardless of when—or where they carried it out, can produce more productive outcomes. Knowing that they are trusted to work without being micromanaged or scrutinised incessantly can be a powerful motivator. It empowers team members to work smarter, harder, to focus on delivering value to customers and it instils both a greater sense of self-worth, alongside a much better appreciation of their own spare time.
Now more than ever, service is essential and having a workforce with a balanced attitude to work and life, ensuring their mental wellbeing and their families remain the key priorities, undoubtedly pays dividends for the business and makes for happy customers!
This dynamic shift to remote working can benefit customers too. Forsaking a smart, and expensive, physical headquarters to house your staff removes a hefty expense from the corporate balance sheet, but think of the knock-on effects this can have for one’s business?
Replacing the tyranny of hitting a monthly sales target just to “make rent” or keep the lights on, frees businesses up to take a longer term collaborative approach to dealing with customers. No longer a chancer who turns up at the end of every quarter to squeeze the last drop out of a customer’s budget, they can instead use the greater freedom to become a truly trusted advisor: recommending better long-term solution to a customer’s problem based on the value to their own business.
Certainly, there are issues to address with this new approach. Utopia doesn’t arrive as easily as all that and for some organisations, being located together is essential. New management methods must be developed to replicate the positive and often vital aspects of having all staff under the one roof, so how do we approach it?
Remote performance or measurement is one issue, which is easily addressed by developments in CRM (customer relationship management) and other software tools. The ability to mentor and train new staff, especially younger, less experienced employees, not just in the technicalities of their jobs but in the culture and values of a company will have to be addressed in newer and more innovative ways – especially with new incentives offered by governments to bring in young staff and apprentices into businesses.
For the data centre industry, which is experiencing an endemic skills shortage, this incentive is an incredible opportunity. With more consumers and businesses worldwide becoming ever-more dependent on data-driven services and digital infrastructure there’s never been a better time to become an expert in engineering, consultancy or marketing.
However, even the intangible benefits of socialising, such as a trip to the pub at the end of the week, will have to be replaced with other, perhaps more informal, occasions. A Friday pint on TEAMS with your staff might now be more important than you’ll ever realise.
Nonetheless, not one part of the above should be beyond the wit of competent leaders to resolve. The revolution in remote, responsible and trusted working is at hand, and as we emerge from lockdown, I believe it’s paramount we don’t forget about the importance of staff wellbeing.
1] JK. Galbraith