Management of technology often looks to the future in maximising the benefits it offers, or more importantly, what it can offer if used properly. However, we should focus on what constitutes ‘properly’ and whether it matches best practice in the environment we find ourselves in.
And, if best practice refers to the working-day techniques used by individual employees in compliance with adopted organisational processes, are management also ensuring that employees are appropriately supported with the allocated technology and applications when working-from-home?
We need to rethink what is best practice, train for effective remote working and demonstrate true corporate citizenship. Here are some points to consider:
1. Avoid using technology just because it’s there
Successful business practices should consider technology management rather than allowing embedded systems to determine best practice. Most working office automation works on the basis of 80:20. That is 80% of staff use 20% of the functionality available. Most users use what is useful: stress and frustration arise from often being coerced into using overly sophisticated systems.
Lack of corporate standards favour the enthusiast, so those unfamiliar with new technologies will feel under pressure as they aren’t possibly using the available functionality to its maximum as perceived by its usage by colleagues.
And, whether we like it or not, technology has resulted in us being contactable, unfortunately! Too often, technology places psychological pressure on its users with the adoption of a ‘here and now’ mentality.
2. Reassess meeting culture
The normal office environment encouraged the development of a ‘meeting culture’ which has been extended into remote working. The extent to which remote meetings can be effectively held is clearly dependent on bandwidth availability, as well as the degree of familiarisation users have with the systems being used.
To remove the demand for extensive system usage, it makes sense to remove the dependency on meetings and empower staff to work independently. This removes the need to schedule time to discuss every situation we face. Although teamwork is clearly effective, there needs to be a degree of empowerment to encourage effective working.
Without doubt, meetings are necessary, so the focus should be on ensuring they are designed to get the most out of the time allotted. Narrowing the scope of the discussion and focus on the issue(s) being addressed - i.e., the point of the meeting - clearly helps. An appropriate agenda reflects a purposeful approach to the meeting, rather than that of a hastily convened session because we can.
3. Cut down on emails
Another common criticism of working remotely is being inundated with emails. Clearly, sending emails helps to facilitate communication between remote workers; however, the obvious danger is that critical communication is missed in the noise of mass emails. In particular is the use of ‘reply all’! There are examples where the ‘reply all’ on a corporate level can bring technology to its knees.
Emails should be effective and thought must be given to the question ‘Who needs to know what?’ In deciding who needs what information, due consideration should also be given to why. Answering those questions ensures that management is clear about the workings of the business processes and what information is required to successfully perform the duties expected.
4. Limit technological intrusion
We need to control technology in our lives. Societal pressure has resulted in technological intrusion. It should be managed, as should the time allocated to the working day. Just because the equipment is there doesn’t mean it has to be switched on or even looked at. If a personal laptop is being used for work purposes, close the applications down when you have decided that work has finished for the day/week.
There needs to be more focus on individual rather corporate needs. The lack of formal surroundings can blur the boundaries between individual and indeed, group responsibilities. Formal relationships with subordinates and peers within the office are significantly different when remote working as it does impose and affect the mental health of some individuals. Respecting individual scenarios and ensuring effective, empathetic, working conditions is welcomed and rewarded through employee loyalty.
5. Provide adequate tech support for remote workers
Technology and embedded applications are often introduced, or in some cases imposed, on extant working processes with the aim of increasing efficiency. However, improving effectiveness may necessitate a review of working practices to achieve a more desirable effect from all viewpoints.
A classic example of this is evident in many areas where the proliferation of technology use has resulted in many support staff being asked to undertake technical support: e.g., advice on setting up video conference sessions, or the more generic ‘Do you know how reformat documents in...?’.
In many cases, the reluctance to provide the technical support sought is mainly due to adequate knowledge, as it isn’t their role or area of expertise, rather than the often-perceived blanket unwillingness to help. This doesn’t help working relationships! Adequate technical support for remote workers is a critical success factor in any business operation.
6. Check equipment requirements are met
Feeling comfortable has physical as well as emotional components. It is clear that the equipment for remote working is largely based on the presumption that personal workstations or work laptops use existing bandwidth connections. That statement alone has a lot of assumptions as not everyone has the same computing power and network accessibility.
Network connectivity varies according to region and service provider. Corporate standards are invariably not specified or provided; thus, some staff may feel under pressure when their normally adequate domestic network connection embarrassingly fails in crucial work discussions.
It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that adequate resources are provided, or the sub-standard performance of an individual’s environment is acceptable. Going forward, these factors need to considered if remote working is a possibility in the future - as is the procurement of a decent camera, microphone, bigger monitor, separate keyboard and even a chair!
7. Involve staff when choosing applications they'll use
Encouraging staff to self-learn greatly assists overall confidence, which with appropriate empowerment, significantly contributes to team spirit and loyalty. It is clear that the best developers of application usage are the users themselves.
Too often those truly involved in the day-to-day usage of installed technology do not get consulted, particularly those who primarily see problems: the rollout of IT projects involve tech savvy enthusiasts who do not see the obstacles one experiences when under pressure.
Encouraging staff to explore alternative options / approaches can only add value if for no other reason than perhaps what is installed is the best solution after all.
8. Make information digestible and accessible
Too much information can be a problem. Emailing a spreadsheet which contains every possible permutation is not helpful and just exacerbates the problem of data-drowning. Concise dashboards homing in on particular issues helps to focus people’s attention and subsequent discussions.
One of the frustrations of working remotely is knowing where corporate data is within the labyrinth of adopted systems and databases. Ensuring people have the right information at the beginning is not only obvious but crucial when remote working. It isn’t the simple issue of being inefficient, the additional stress of feeling inadequate or embarrassed to ask just creates unnecessary and unwarranted pressure.
9. Scrutinise operational processes
Working relationships need to be tenable whether working in the office or online. Technology should be there to support in the development and operation of business-as-usual functionality. Too often, technology is used to plug gaps in operational processes.
Too often, information is disseminated without true context or relevance (because it can be) and it is left to the recipient to discover its usefulness. The time dedicated to this discovery and the application of this information must be worth it and not dissuade users from further engagement.
10. Ensure data privacy and security
Business processes need to be auditable for quality assurance whilst being legal! Collecting the necessary information that enable processes and staff performance to be analysed needs to be carefully considered. Trust is key in any form of remote working scenario.
The use of sophisticated remote data gathering systems that try and assess individual performance via any technology (let alone personal, home-based equipment) needs to be vetted under the auspices of any corporate data protection. If challenged, would the integrity of the information/evidence and/or the manner in which it was acquired stand up to scrutiny?
The integrity and security of any retained data also needs careful consideration, particularly within corporate contractual situations, which could potentially deteriorate. Recording confidential (i.e., disciplinary) or contractual meetings needs agreement from all parties. Customer data needs to kept safe - on home systems used as well as corporate provided equipment.
11. Update the employee handbook
Another factor in maintaining colleague camaraderie is with the knowledge that the HR guidelines are clear. As we have said, employees should be able to switch-off at the end of the day. But if stress is a corporate concern and time-management is key, who takes responsibility for managing it? Is delegation to staff clear and consistently/uniformly applied? Whether deliberate or not, the boundaries of responsibilities become blurred when working remotely.
Notwithstanding the importance of reassessing the practicalities of remote operational restrictive practices on BAU efficiency, there are also the ethical and professional factors to consider. These are heavily dependent on the type of business being conducted.
Clearly, professional services have to consider many ethical questions regarding client confidentiality, validity of data being recorded in relation data protection and legal framework (i.e., rules and regulations) in which the corporation operates.
In addition, the modus operandi for remote working and ‘new normal’ must ensure that the dignity of the office is upheld. It is imperative that the office of management and senior professional positions is not compromised and the positions held by people are respected when we emerge from current restrictions.
This is not about the involvement of business consultants to revamp existing processes. It is about understanding how the business works, for both in-person and remote modes - and suggestions for to make them work better. The willingness of those to embrace the advantages of future technological advancements is dependent on how well extant systems are embraced within current and imminent business environments.