No doubt about it the coronavirus has impacted how and where we work. For some areas, like Seattle, it has become a more extreme situation with whole organizations responding by working remote.
"Disruption to everyday life may be severe," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned at a news conference.
We are already seeing a global response to the virus. Some employers are ready to respond rapidly to the unexpected workplace changes, most are not. Business travel could decrease or come to a full stop. More employees may need to work outside of local "business hours" and use video conferencing to operate across time zones. And, in some areas, many have been asked, or requested, to work remotely.
Are most organizations ready? Chances are probably not. But even for those open to rethinking how the work would get done, are they ready for the post-crisis question: "Why don't we do this all the time?"
How do you prepare your organization respond to this potential disruption, but also to use it as an opportunity to reimagine your work? Here are five steps to get started:
1. Acknowledge that all or part of your workforce may need to work remotely.
Hoping and praying it doesn't happen is not a strategy. Plan as if the only way to remain operational will be for as many employees as possible to work remotely. Gather a cross-functional team together now that includes business-line leaders, IT, HR, operations, communications and facilities to start to plan for different scenarios and optimize execution, should circumstances require a rapid response. Be sure to include both tactical and strategic thinkers in this equation as they will bring different ideas and concerns to the team.
2. Map out jobs and tasks that could be affected.
Note which roles and duties: 1) Can be done, even partially, without a physical presence in the workplace, 2) Cannot be done, even somewhat, outside of the physical office, and 3) Not sure. Challenge any assumptions about specific jobs you may have thought couldn't be done remotely. And for those in the "not sure" column, be willing to experiment. For example, for years it was long believed that Administrative Assistants needed to be in house. The virtual assistant role has blown that theory away. The majority of their tasks can happen effectively outside of the traditional model of work and benefit the business. Be sure to have clear Job Descriptions on each job with expectations outlined and updated annually.
3. Audit available IT hardware and software and close gaps.
Assess the comfort level with specific applications across your workforce, such as video conferencing and other collaboration/communication platforms. Where you find gaps, provide training and opportunities for practice before people need to use them. Determine if there are any data-security issues to consider and how best to address them beforehand. Track all devices assigned to individuals.
4. Set up a communications protocol in advance.
This communications plan needs to outline how to reach everybody (e.g., all contact information in one place, primary communication channels clarified — email, IM); how employees are expected to respond to customers/timeframe and how and when teams will coordinate and meet. A clear plan will need to be monitored and updated frequently.
5. Identify ways to measure performance and adjust.
After the flexible response period is over, this data will allow you to reflect on what worked, what didn't and why. The data will also prepare you in advance to answer the inevitable question once the crisis has passed, "Why don't we do this all the time?" Depending upon the outcomes, you may decide to continue certain aspects of the flexible response permanently. For example, perhaps you cut business travel by 80% and substitute video conferencing. You determine afterward that about 80% of those meetings were equally as effective virtually. Therefore, a 20% decrease in business travel will continue, but this time as part of the organization's sustainability strategy to cut carbon emissions.
Global health emergencies, like Covid-19, are scary, disruptive and confusing for everyone. And if you plan and nothing happens? Then, at minimum, you have an organized, flexible work disaster response ready the next time there's a challenge to operational continuity, which chances are, there will be.
Patricia Darke, RCC™ Owner and Founder of Darke & Associates, is the author of DNA Professional Leadership Development Program™. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cali Williams Yost, CEO and founder of Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, is the author of Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day.