Design a remote-first organisation
David Jacobson, MD of SYNAQ, starts out by saying businesses shouldn’t regard its workforce as work-from-home employees, it should rather regard them as work-from-anywhere employees. “Work from home somehow implies they might be less productive, whereas work from anywhere (WFA) makes it clear business is able to happen, regardless of the location.”
Having said that, the majority of businesses in South Africa – even those that were vehemently opposed to permitting employees to work remotely – find themselves in a hybrid state of having a workforce that is divided between the office and other locations. How do they ensure all employees have exactly the same experience and feel engaged with the business, regardless of their location?
“Building and maintaining relationships with employees can prove challenging when human interaction is limited. The CEO or MD of the business has to set the tone for the entire company. The challenges that people face when working from home have to be understood and allowed for. People also need to be encouraged to switch off at the end of the workday so they don’t overwork because they feel they have to compensate for being out of the office. Switching off and recovery time is important for productivity.”
Jacobson says the primary thing is for the business to treat all employees as though they were remote workers to ensure everyone is treated equally and that people who aren’t in the office don’t miss out on perks that office-bound workers get. “An example of this would be if the company were to buy cake for the office, it should send vouchers to remote workers so that they too feel included in the gesture,” he says.
The primary concern of many businesses is knowing whether their employees are actually working. “The answer is simple: if you can’t trust them you shouldn’t have hired them in the first place. It all comes back to the interview and on-boarding process as well as instilling the right culture and values across the business. Business needs to measure output and not input. In an office environment it’s very easy to be busy doing nothing. When someone is remote, the only thing they can show is the work.
“Being confined to a building isn’t what makes for a great employee, and this has to be clear to both employees and management alike. Prior to COVID-19, companies routinely outsourced tasks such as IT or legal services, having offsite staff shouldn’t be any different.”
He goes on to advocate strongly that all businesses develop a work from anywhere policy document. This policy will set a standard for the way the business will operate. For example, it can cover things like Internet signal, employees notifying the office when they’re online and when they aren’t, using the PABX to make and receive calls, availability for meetings, the hours they work, that they be available via the usual communication channels and even compulsory days at the office. Failure to adhere to these guidelines could result in remote working privileges being revoked.
From a technology perspective, it’s important to ensure all staff have good connectivity at home and provide them with the technology they need to do their job. If they’re unable to operate remotely despite this, then they need to work from the office. An essential piece of equipment, according to Jacobson, is a good set of headphones so that people can communicate clearly. It’s also advisable to encourage people who are working from home to have a dedicated workspace that’s apart from the family to help them get into the right frame of mind.
Jacobson says that to ensure a seamless experience for customers when interacting with the business, a PBX system in the cloud makes a lot of sense. “For this to work effectively, it’s important to enable staff to communicate when they’re at their desks or when they take lunch breaks, so that calls can be forwarded to them, using an application that allows them to indicate their availability.”
It’s key to provide the necessary training for people working remotely so that they can make the best possible use of the tools at their disposal. “So, for instance, sales people will require additional training on how to conduct slick sales calls using the likes of Zoom, Teams, Hangouts or Skype. It’s vital that they be able to engage customers and sell remotely.”
He also advises that the business hold regular internal meetings to keep people in touch and to check in with how people are coping with the new way of working. “It’s important to plan properly for meetings, even internal ones, draw up an agenda and minimise time wastage. Only set up a meeting if you need one, you don’t need to allocate a full hour, and use other methods of communication where required such as WhatsApp or even a quick phone call. Every single discussion doesn’t require an hour-long video call.”
To track productivity, Jacobson proposes the use of cloud-based work- and project-management tools that enable people to collaborate and track the progress of projects. “Remote workers tend to be in their own bubble so it’s important to encourage them to share their progress with colleagues.
“Share the tasks that you’re busy with, ask for help and look for collaboration, if you need it. It’s key to send out enough information so that people know what you’re doing and can provide input. It’s much like saying to person who sits next to you at work, ‘look at this cool thing that I’m working on’. Managers need to encourage this kind of collaboration.”
Jacobson concludes by saying smart business owners will choose to use this time productively to prepare the business for post-lockdown. “Giving customers payment holidays will ensure they remain long-term customers of the business. This is an opportunity to build and maintain relationships that will stand the business in good stead going forward. It’s also a time when businesses can scout for new talent and develop new products. It’s opportune for businesses to gear up and plan ahead, to invest in doing better.”