One of the more intriguing aspects of pandemic has been its impact on the thought leadership business. As businesses around the world were forced into home office environments due to COVID-19, what was once vehemently opposed by some organizations became their only mode of operation. Those that said, “It will never work” found that when forced, it did work. Now that we know more, will remote work remain the reality in a post-COVID world? And what will this mean for managers and the industries worldwide? Will it bring in a truly global competition for talent that previously was only seen for the most strategic roles?
The change allowed us to see the possibilities of working from home. Many appreciated the relief from long commutes (extra time for sleep or self-care), and most certainly, our Earth appreciated the drop in pollution. The experiment forced innovation, growth, and new ways of thinking. What used to be unusual became the norm. In a post-COVID world, our workforce will benefit from these learning experiences.
ENGINEC and consulting industry:
Vladislav Vodatinskij is a project manager, senior consultant and founder of the German consulting company ENGINEC. Since more than 10 years he is leading European projects in the sectors of railway, automotive and aviation. Starting from 2016 Vodatinskij has been awarded already two times by Rolls Royce Germany with “CO2ST” Award for successful project management.
Nowadays his business consulting company “ENGINEC” needs to manage projects remote. Communication is one critical element of remote work - innovation, and leadership is the other. The question facing companies today is not whether innovation is better done in-person or via remote teams, knows Vodatinskij. The real question now is how can leaders organize remote teams to be innovative. Almost every innovation project leader is likely to have to innovate with team members working remotely. In that sense, most teams today are virtual teams.
New digital reality:
So, will this be our new reality? Twitter announced it will allow its employees to work from home “forever,” in part because “the past few months have proven we can make that work” assuming an employee has a role that is possible to do remotely and desires to continue to work from home. Mark Zuckerberg announced that he expects half of Facebook’s employees will work remotely within the next five to 10 years even after COVID restrictions are lifted. Google declared the majority of its employees would continue working from home until 2021, and in a Gartner survey in March 2020, 74% of CFOs expect to shift some employees to remote work permanently.
Fields such as law, accounting and consulting were already prepared for remote work because they typically service clients off-site, said Vladislav Vodatinskij. Workers in these industries were already using technology to work in their offices, at the clients’ offices or at home as needed.
It might seem counterintuitive for manufacturing firms to move roles off-site, because not all manufacturing and distribution companies are equipped for workers to perform their jobs from home. But some roles, such as finance, project management, marketing or human resources, were able to shift off-site. The fact that most of the survey respondents in the sector said the remote transition was good or excellent indicates that the industry could allow some of its employees to work from home with some success, Vodatinskij says.
Maintaining the “teaminess” of teams is going to be difficult when working remotely. This is especially true as team members are working under stressful circumstances out of their homes and having to connect electronically over email, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The team can come unglued pretty fast as members begin to feel psychologically disconnected from one another. To counteract this, Vodatinskij advises recognizing that leaders are the glue that can keep teams together. Leaders can foster member inclusion in remote teams through personalized leadership by reaching out to each member. Frequent communication and a personal connection are critical for members feeling part of the team. When members feel included, they are more likely to contribute their ideas and solutions, which is critical for team innovation.
Reinforcing the expected rebound for consultants is the fact that digitisation is a trend that is here to stay. In today’s rapidly digitising world, organisations can no longer disregard automation and the adoption of technologies, and digital is key for any business to survive in a post COVID19 world. While the pandemic may delay the trend, digital will remain the largest business driver of consulting spend.
Company culture and hybrid work environment:
Vodatinskij outlines: “Many companies are wondering how to deal with the situation and the economic consequences. As manager, while you’re trying to be compassionate and help your workers deal with the stresses of the pandemic, you’re dealing with a lot of the same things they are. Supervising remote workers requires more intentional effort. But if companies are going to get through the pandemic and not only survive but excel, it is important to maintain their culture and values and continue to build and retain the trust and loyalty of their employees.
Onboarding and offboarding become even more important in a remote workforce. Setting up one-on-one meetings, encouraging virtual lunches or coffee chats, providing easy access to an organizational chart or a buddy system can all help. Once we are in a hybrid model, it will be easy to forget these things, assuming people will meet at some point. Ensuring that happens now may improve new employees’ connection to the company and help with attrition.
Monitoring performance has always been a concern with a remote workforce, and right now companies have an opportunity to get this really right or really wrong. We’ve all been encouraged to be more understanding where performance is low. In the future hybrid workforce that consideration won’t necessarily apply, but managers should still consider external circumstances more than before. Ensuring regular check-ins and appraisals will become a necessity and a real opportunity for companies to put employee well-being first. These priorities may have slipped in the past, but as we go forward, employees will still care about their career progression. Making sure reviews happen and are tailored to getting the best out of each individual will be more important than ever.
Digital transformation and adopting platform-based business models will define the shape of individual organizations' recoveries, and there are rules, guidelines and established best practices to ensure success in this area.
Can incumbent businesses think like a digital native as part of their digital transformation? Yes, this is possible, knows Vodatinskij. Businesses can combine engineering excellence with industry experience, niche horizontal expertise, platform assets and IPs that form the core of modern digital businesses today.
Covid-19 has sped up digitalization, albeit through necessity. Those companies who had previously started their digital transformation journeys were faster to adapt to the new reality, and had an easier time responding to the pandemic. Things will not return overnight to the way things were before. Digitalization is here to stay.
The ability to embrace technology is down to culture. Without people who are willing to adapt and look for new solutions, needed services will quickly fall behind. Moving into the future, the companies must continue their drive to smart digital transformation and harness all myriad benefits digital brings.
We are currently at an inflection point. With no end to the pandemic in sight, organizations must meet the call to support and to force processes and flexibility of employees in their workforce and ensure they can thrive both personally and professionally—or our economy and society could face long-standing repercussions.
The pages slugged ‘Brand Connect’ are equivalent to advertisements and are not written and produced by Forbes India journalists.
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