Before COVID-19 spread worldwide, many businesses trained full-time employees to follow standard operating procedures for every imaginable obstacle. This helped reduce unexpected delays and increase work efficiency.
However, when we suddenly transitioned to working remotely, these exact procedures became a hindrance. For example, you might have an approval workflow for employees to request time off. While an employee could directly approach their manager in an office environment, it's much harder to gauge the manager's availability when they both work from home. In some cases, they might even have to schedule a formal meeting and add it to a calendar to get it approved.
To retain productivity in a remote working environment, you have to implement resilient systems across your organisation. That's more than offering a one-time bonus to set up a home office or going virtual for your after-work socialising. It requires a shift in mindset and operations.
Your processes should be flexible so they can be altered according to changing conditions. You'll also need employees who can do their jobs well, even as their roles adjust to the changing demands. That means being open-minded about the candidates you're recruiting. Choose people who have the skills and traits you're looking for rather than only those who have the necessary qualifications. Reassess your HR criteria to include and prioritise intangible skills like adaptability and transparency. For instance, a self-taught programmer might be able to approach problem solving differently than someone that went through traditional learning methods. Having a varied workforce will help your operations flow easily and enable you to adapt to new technology quickly.
Review your work design and enable employees to be more responsive
A Gartner survey found that, 90% of employees across the globe have a responsive mindset. They also have the necessary skills to be the best at their job. However, on a day-to-day basis, less than 40% of those employees say they're working responsively.
The reason for this gap is friction. Employees who don't have a smooth-flowing work environment won't function at their best. According to Gartner's VP, Caroline Walsh, there are 4 types of friction at work:
Misaligned workflows. How you ought to do things is wildly different from how you actually do things.
Overwhelmed teams. It's helpful to have a handful of tasks to avoid boredom, but too many tasks and unrealistic goals put a lot of pressure on employees. They won't know which tasks to prioritise.
Trapped resources. The organisation doesn't adapt to changes as quickly as it should, and as a result, has a lot of its resources stuck in old budgets and projects. This prevents them from re-allocating people and money to more pressing tasks at hand.
Rigid processes. Some employees still have to schedule a formal meeting to get a couple of days off. These old systems are too rigid and make it hard for employees to be responsive to real-time changes.
The first step to overcoming these issues is identifying them in your work environment. Most employees can take on additional work in an office setup, but their capacity may be more limited than usual when they work from home and are juggling family activities. Review your work processes every few months and make changes that reflect your employees' current situations so they can be more efficient in their jobs.
Recruit those who can adapt to changes rapidly
Over the last 5 to 10 years, the skills required for the average job have been constantly changing. Most of these new skills are displacing old ones, creating a larger demand for a highly-skilled and relevant workforce.
As an organisation, if you've always leaned towards the reliability of full-time employees, consider how you can maximise productivity with a hybrid workforce. Prioritise workplace skills over hiring profiles, and identify who's best suited to get the job done.
For instance, if you're looking to hire a marketer, first look within your organisation and identify employees who have the skills but are in a different role, such as a technical writer or sales associate. This helps reduce friction in your onboarding process because they already know how your organisation works.
Then look beyond marketing graduates and people who've had previous experience. While that may be your ideal profile, don't ignore the value of hiring those with customer service experience who are self-taught writers or have degrees other than marketing.
Let's face it. Remote work is here to stay. Even when the world is safely inoculated against COVID-19, some people will still want to work from home at least three days a week—and some organisations will prefer this hybrid format in the long run! As you look ahead to the new year, consider how workplace friction and the lack of relevant skills are impacting your business's productivity. Choose technology and workflow strategies that help employees be productive in the long term, whether they work remotely or in an office.