I’ve just spent the last three days touring investors and banks in the City of London. Without exception, in every meeting the conversation turned at some point to coronavirus.
- Are we prepared? (Yes)
- Will it damage us? (Probably not)
Everyone had their own theories about it, some interesting, some a bit left field. What staggered me, when I turned the conversation the other way, was just how unprepared so many people’s working methods are for something like this.
The meal some companies are making of ensuring their people can work remotely is staggering; such was the fuss, you’d think they’d just been asked to make preparations for working on the Moon. And commuting there daily.
How can that be? In the last 5 years, the availability of digital tools that only require an internet browser to function has increased exponentially.
Communication tools (Zoom,Slack, even Outlook 365), VOIP (RingCentral, even BT), productivity apps (Workiro, Trello), online document management apps (DropBox, GoogleDrive or, for more sophisticated requirements, SmartVault), and even your accounting, HR and EPOS software are all 100% available remotely to anyone with a smartphone or laptop. And who doesn’t have those?
The idea of business continuity planning isn’t new, either. Since 9/11, we’ve all taken scenario planning more seriously - how would we keep going as a business if X, Y or Z happened? It’s been over a decade since SARS, and then bird flu and swine flu, thrusted the risk of a global pandemic onto the top of the pile of the scenarios to plan for. Keeping your business going when your staff are distributed at their homes is now basic stuff. Or so it should be.
But amazingly some of the world’s most sophisticated banks, investors and businesses seem to be on the back foot. Sure, there are complications in every service industry (MIFID II - a monster piece of legislation affecting the financial services industry in the UK - seems to be blamed for many of the challenges in the City), but there’s never been a better time and fewer excuses to ensure you can run your business from anywhere, anytime.
So what are you going to do about it?
Personally, I think this current outbreak is the perfect catalyst for a step change in the working practices of a lot of businesses. This could be transformative.
The goal shouldn’t be about business continuity - that’s just an ancillary benefit. The goal should be to transform the culture, productivity, resilience and attractiveness of your business. It’ll lead to you having better insight into your business. It’ll lead to you being more on top of what needs to be done. It’ll lead to you recruiting better talent. It’ll lead to you trusting your people more. It’ll lead to you having happier customers.
It’s time to take a look at what’s chaining your people to the office. Here’s some thoughts:
- It is you? Do you trust your people to get the work done wherever they are, or do you have to physically see them to make sure they’re not skiving? I had a boss like that once. I now use him as a model of how I never ever want to be. If that’s the way you think, you either need to take a serious look at your hiring practices, or your management style, or you just need to move on from the 19th century.
- Do you have systems that support remote working? Ideally your tech stack and systems should be cloud based so you can access them from anywhere. If you’ve got some trickier, on premise applications there are dozens of really simple VPNs that allow you to access your servers remotely or set up remote desktops.
- Can people work at home comfortably? Clearly this is going to vary by individual circumstances, but do people have the right monitors and docking stations etc to make their work at home efficient? That might seem like an unreasonable outlay for some, but a lot of people probably have monitors or HDMI-compatible TVs at home that could also be used.
- Have you got the tools to allow people to stay connected while working remotely? If you're reliant on e-mail, you'll find it really hard to keep on top of things and communicate well with your colleagues. Remote workers are at their best when they can replicate the informality of communication that you get in person. That could be, for example, through video chat (if you've not tried Zoom, you're definitely missing out) or group chat tools (WhatsApp's desktop app isn't a bad starting place, but use Slack for something that's a bit more grown up for work, or even Teams). Most of these operate a freemium model - you could try them out for free and see how they suit you - you've really got nothing to lose.
- Can you keep on top of your tasks and your team's tasks remotely? Workiro is an insanely cool app that allows you to do just that, from anywhere and with any size team. It organises your work, your team's tasks and communication around them in a really simple, intuitive way and it's a lot more secure than e-mail - important if you're working on confidential stuff or collaborating with clients. Again, you can start using it for free.
The benefits of enabling your teams to work from anywhere are enormous.
- So many of the apps I've mentioned integrate and talk to one another - no more manual transfer of information between systems. You can use best-of-breed software tools designed to do a particular job really well, rather than trying to shoehorn the usual collection of Office products into your workflows - they're a step change in terms of efficiency.
- The data being collected by them can provide valuable insights into what's going on in your business; for example, Workiro measures the quality and quantity of your interactions with colleagues, helping you to delegate work fairly and get the most from your team.
- Increasingly people value the ability to work from home or elsewhere. Businesses expect flexibility from their people and people expect that flexibility to be reciprocated. Tammy in Customer Success worked until 10 pm to fix that issue for your prized customer and she was glad to do so because she knew that a couple of days later she could work at home and take a couple of hours out to meet her husband for a surprise lunch. Personally I find I get a different, often more contemplative sort of work done better while at home - there are fewer distractions and the change of scene helps me to think more creatively. I also get to pick my kids up from school.
- You have a more resilient business. One of the most pleasing things in all the discussions I've had about coronavirus this week is that all of our business could work remotely. Our biggest concern would be the risk of the milk in the office fridge going off, or the plants not getting watered. That's come about through a series of deliberate decisions over the last couple of years to move everything incrementally to the cloud. In many cases all that's needed to work is a web browser and half-decent internet connection. We trust our people to work at their best wherever they are; it's embedded in our culture and I think it's led to a more satisfied, more productive and happier workforce. I simply don't understand why more people wouldn't want to foster that kind of culture.
So why not use this virus epidemic scare to reboot the way you're doing business? If people need to be in everyday, you're probably not doing things in the best way. You could be a lot more productive, a lot more resilient and a lot more attractive to talent. Why not give it ago?