COVID-19 has pushed many of us into remote work situations, something many workers had been asking for before the pandemic entered the conversation. And while at least 30% of employees had worked remotely at least part of the time prior to COVID-19, adapting to this new normal has been a huge transition for others. Add all the extra stress of a global pandemic, people sharing space not designed for work with roommates, spouses and children they are responsible for teaching, and the transition has been a challenging one for many.
However, with adversity and change, there often comes opportunity. Being forced to re-think completely how things get done, how we support our customers and how we ensure business continuity all while working in a way that is brand new to the majority has sparked some ideas that might not have been given airtime in the past.
We enable people to work without boundaries, so the move to remote work remote work led to a surge in business, both from new customers and many government and not for profit organisations we supported with remote work kits and resources. At the same time some of our traditional office roles were no longer needed and our employees were asking what our plans were for those colleagues. Many companies have been forced into making tough decisions, reducing pay or furloughing team members or having to reduce their workforce. We had a demand from one side of our business and a supply of talent on the other side and decided to explore how we could match the two. Given the unprecedented times we all found ourselves in, it was as good a time as any to get creative.
Reimagine what is Possible
Nobody could have imagined how this pandemic has changed the way we work and live, within just a few short months. Yet people are resilient and adaptable and are finding creative ways to connect with each other and keep spirits up. Tap into that creativity and consider what roles are most needed and how employees who may not be an obvious fit for those roles could in fact be valuable in helping in other areas.
Our remote working tools saw a surge as everyone shifted to being remote. Even as we pivoted our own workforce of 4,000 to their new home offices, we saw an increased demand for video collaboration and remote IT support tools from new and existing customers. We were in desperate need of extra help to support these customers and that is when the spark of an idea came to life. We had several roles that could not be done outside of the office such as some of our facilities team members and the baristas who worked in our onsite coffee bar. We were not recruiting as much while we figured everything out and our talent acquisition team, had a little spare time in their days. We had the demand and we had the supply and all we needed to do was match it up. We asked for volunteers to provide first line customer assistance and within a few days we had 100 employees volunteering 2, 4 or 6 hours per day to help field customer inquiries. A training programme was assembled and by the end of the week, we had a whole new team ready to go to work and help our customers.
During normal times, we would have gone out and hired, or contracted in, those additional resources we needed, the unusual circumstances caused us to try something new and now we know we can try it again.
Shift to Virtual and On-Demand Training
The move to remote work shouldn’t inhibit an employee’s onboarding experience when taking on a new role or a company’s ability to keep investing in their people’s capabilities.
Given the erratic and flexible schedules many of us are keeping while juggling home and work lives, self-paced on demand content can be a very appealing and effective solution. Reimagine your current development offerings and convert them into shorter virtual learning sessions, perhaps complemented with a live office hours session to reinforce the learning and give people opportunity to connect with a trainer live. If you don’t have an in-house development team, there are a great many third-party content providers out there, you will likely find one to fit your needs. The fact is that learning does not need to be classroom based or in person and can be equally effective in ensuring skills and knowledge transfer when delivered virtually. People can continue to learn and grow even in this remote environment and many appreciate the flexibility to learn when and where they want. Apply that theory to teaching new skills in a time of high demand and you can train and enable a whole new team quickly and effectively.
Practice Makes Perfect
As employees broaden their skills remotely, it’s helpful to identify opportunities to put their knowledge and skills into practice. One way to do this is to identify or create low-stakes assignments that employees can tackle independently. That helps in developing both the skills and the confidence and can still provide some basic support to the teams that are over stretched. If it is all hands-on deck and there is no time for low stakes assignments, then assign experienced team members to mentor the newly trained and provide a safety net that way. We put together a slack channel where the new team could find answers to questions or get instant help from an experienced colleague.
Providing the Tools
The transition to remote work has presented an opportunity for us to think about what it truly means to collaborate, and most importantly how it can benefit organisations. Beyond ensuring workers have the skills and experience for their new jobs, businesses at this time also need to provide their employees with the tools to handle new tasks and work together with their remote colleagues.
A survey conducted during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US found that while the virus caused broad disruptions, roughly 75% of respondents felt they had the resources necessary to work remotely. While that certainly leaves room for improvement, it also highlights the value that the growth of videoconferencing technologies and remote IT support have had in preparing employees for the current remote work environment.
With the right tools to support your workforce, especially those taking on new tasks, it is possible to achieve almost everything we could in the office.
Culture Matters More than Ever
This is a very unique time we’re in, where patience, empathy and understanding are essential to creating an environment where everyone can thrive. Employees tend to leave organisations, or managers, when they no longer feel a positive connection, and while everyone is apart, it is more important than ever to stay connected with our teams and colleagues. How we manage our culture during a time like this will stay with us long after the beaches, playground and restaurants have re-opened.
Connections are important whether in the same physical space or not. The same ways we find to connect with colleague in other countries can be applied to newly remote team members, working form their home office just a mile or two away. Frequent check ins, for both work and social purposes are easy to replicate with video conferencing tools and we’ve seen teams get creative in reimaging trivia nights, baby showers and team birthday celebrations. Understanding what works for different people based on their home situation is important, and adapting to varying needs, offering flexibility and a listening ear to each other will help all of us get through these uncertain times.
Managers with high EQ and a strong sense of empathy for each team member’s personal situation will be the ones who come out on top. When asking people to take on new roles, support from their manager, their teams and their virtual mentor are key to success. Knowing that volunteering to help won’t impact your performance reviews or your bonus payments and understanding that it is ok not to be perfect first time, these are critical conversations that managers need to have directly to create a safe and supportive environment where people feel empowered to try something new.
COVID has caused new challenges for many businesses and putting more smart minds to work on solving those problems will inevitably lead to more ideas and solutions. Who knows where our internal supply and demand experiment will lead, perhaps some of our volunteers will find a new career path from this experience, while others will take what they learned about customer service, about our business and be better at the job they did before. Adversity can bring opportunity and my hope is that we can all reap some reward from a more skilled, flexible and dedicated team to help navigate whatever new challenge lays ahead.