The workplace is changing. Prior to mid-March, only 1.3 percent of ZipRecruiter job postings offered work-from-home opportunities. It has since grown to at least 11.3 percent. With a greater number of people potentially working from home permanently, if only part-time, the new normal in the professional world is going to require a paradigm shift for business leaders.
As businesses contemplate their sunrise plans—the steps they are going to take to return to full operations—they face both new constraints and new opportunities as compared to the way they operated before. Here are some things to consider as you reimagine the new normal and take this opportunity to make your business stronger than ever.
“I think operating in a virtual manner can create efficiency. However, it does present obstacles as well –not only in terms of the capacity of our hardware and infrastructure to sustain the digital load, but also in areas like employee engagement and culture,” says Jim Harenberg, chief operations officer at Apex Benefits. “Many companies already have high numbers of remote- or home-based workers and experience the challenge of creating connectedness between employees and the company.”
Operating within the context of an all-virtual or hybrid environment means that old solutions (even if those solutions were new!) may not work anymore. Companies with sunrise plans that involve remote work will have to provide permanent solutions for infrastructure and technology to support remote employees. Can IT keep track of the devices they’re loaning out? Are efficient workflows in place to make sure all the work gets done? Without the benefit of in-person interaction, businesses need to get creative about how they offer tech support to their employees.
But, as Harenberg indicated, creative solutions must go beyond technology and extend to culture as well. Flexibility and clear communication will be key for success going forward.
“As teams play an increasingly important role in recovery, leaders should provide their workforces with clear direction on new assignments and priorities,” Deloitte reports in the Harvard Business Review. “Given the ongoing challenges workers may face in recovery as they balance their work and home lives, team assignments should allow for flexibility while still supporting critical business needs.”
It is likely that many workers around the world will remain fully remote or else come into the office just a couple of times a week—whether because they choose to or because their home situation requires that balance. Businesses should work to reduce the stigma and penalty surrounding at-home work and also provide tools that facilitate flexibility and clear communication. These changes may require sacrificing old habits and shifting paradigms.
While remote work creates constraints for companies, it also presents exciting opportunities to incorporate into a sunrise plan.
With remote work becoming popular, offering at least part-time remote work will be a big incentive for the most skilled candidates. To facilitate this balance of remote and on-location work, companies can implement practices like hoteling—having desks at the office that employees can use but that aren’t assigned full-time to individuals. When remote workers need to come into the office, hoteling gives them a place to sit and work. When companies work quickly to get the tools, infrastructure, and culture in place, their workplace will be an attractive option for candidates.
This new focus on remote work has been a wakeup call about how effective certain office practices were in the first place. For example, many companies have found that remote communication is not nearly as effective as in-person communication. Could there be a way to improve both in-person and remote communication among coworkers and clients?
Whether companies have their employees come back to the office or change their policies to allow employees to work from home, a key to clear communication is having a single source of information and straightforward workflows. Tools like ServiceNow help teams get on the same page, whether in the office or at home. ServiceNow automates manual tasks to make workflows simpler and takes the place of disparate systems so that all employees have a single source of data that they can agree on. It’s a tool worth incorporating into your sunrise plan. Or, if you already have ServiceNow, it might be time to rethink and revamp some of the workflows and apps you’re using to better support your return to full operations.
Strengthen Management for the New Extended Infrastructure
With business infrastructures extended to accommodate employees working from home, there is an opportunity to strengthen management to make sure workflows run smoothly, no matter the situation. ServiceNow, for example, provides a way to standardize the asset management lifecycle across the organization and give governance to managers.
“[ServiceNow asset management] is really an area where organizations can see a large return on investment,” says Mark Brownschidle, VP of solution consulting at Crossfuze. For software, it can show managers which licenses have been purchased and deployed and help make sure the company is not over licensed. For hardware, it can show which devices have been deployed to remote workers, which is critical for attaining those assets if there is an exit event.
ServiceNow offers automated deployment of software of standardized titles, which, as Brownschidle puts it, “saves time, effort, and money [and] gets things to end-users, typically in a much quicker fashion than organizations that don’t have those capabilities deployed.”
Elevate the Role of IT
Another opportunity that companies can implement in their sunrise plans is to elevate the role of the IT team from side support to frontline strategic leadership. From the perspective of many non-IT employees, IT is there to reset their password or troubleshoot their VPN issues. But the IT team doesn’t just make technology work: it enables employees to excel and innovate.
When employees work virtually, IT has an even more vital role. As Workday reports, “As the organization’s IT leader, the CIO, and their IT teams, are at the center of crisis response in a digitally enabled world—and their most critical priority should be business continuity in the face of unprecedented change.” IT is there to help all employees keep functioning at full capacity. As businesses continue their digital transformations, spurred on by the pandemic, they have the opportunity to elevate their IT teams from technology enablers to innovation enablers. Whether employees are working from home or not, IT can play a vital role in taking businesses to the next level.
As the business continues the transition into the new normal, some things may never go back to the way they were before. “The comfort of being in the presence of others might be replaced by a greater comfort with absence, especially with those we don’t know intimately,” says Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University. “Instead of asking, ‘Is there a reason to do this online?’ we’ll be asking, ‘Is there any good reason to do this in person?’”
Whatever sunrise plan makes the most sense for your business, work creatively with the constraints of a post-shut-down workforce and embrace the opportunities. Improve communication and take full advantage of your IT teams.