Telework : what the Covid-19 crisis has taught us
It has been talked about for years, but it has been slow to take hold: despite an undeniable progression within companies telework was not evident, and even less a priority. Until the Covid-19 crisis turned everything upside down.
Mid-March, many governments all around the world locked down their countries. Overnight, millions of employees stopped going to work and had to improvise a new working life… at home. An unprecedented situation, which has suddenly made telework a concrete and daily reality. Facing this major upheaval and ensuring business continuity, companies and their employees have had – and still have – to overcome several challenges. Of course, some organisations were better prepared than others for this sudden paradigm shift: those that had integrated teleworking into their practices already had the right tools, methods, and processes in place. However, telework during the lockdown presents its own challenges, for which no one has really been able to prepare. Here are a few recommendations that we are currently implementing with our clients to help them face this unprecedented situation.
The first major challenge to be addressed is the digital tools that the company makes available to its employees. While technology is obviously not enough to guarantee good teleworking conditions, it is the indispensable basis for it. Laptops, cloud storage, messaging tools, videoconferencing tools, secure data exchange solutions … employees must have the basic equipment necessary for remote work, but also know how to use it! Under normal circumstances, the implementation of a telework policy is accompanied, in companies with limited digitalisation by training plans enabling teams to gradually adopt the new tools. In times of “Covid-19 crisis”, this training time has been reduced to a minimum. In this case it is essential that the rest of the organisation – hierarchy but also colleagues – adopt an empathetic and supportive attitude to help all teams to catch up.
The second major challenge is related to the organisation of working hours. At home, even more so than at the office, it is important for employees to define clear framework for keeping them efficient and getting time to rest. It is essential to respect fixed and reasonable working hours and to allocate specific time slots in the day for collaborative workshops to avoid overwhelming colleagues by untimely phone calls. Some other good practices such as short call of 30 minutes to reduce efforts and being more effective should be encouraged, or to allocate at least half a day a week to focus on long term actions.
These measures, which are effective in the context of traditional telework, are even more effective in today’s context. Firstly, because telework is no longer limited to a few days of the week: it is a continuous prolonged situation, which requires us to conserve our strength over time. Many employees also have to combine work and family life for example caring for young children or ensuring older children’s education at home. It is not easy to find the right balance, so companies need to create a climate of trust, caring and understanding to best cope with these new constraints.
The third major, and perhaps greatest challenge is building a cohesive team. For many employees, motivation is a matter of good working atmosphere, colleagues ‘interactions and conviviality. How do you maintain this bond despite the physical distance, which can become particularly burdensome when it lasts several weeks in a row? To ensure that teleworking does not necessarily mean isolation, it is important to create a certain number of rituals and moments dedicated to sharing and exchange: e.g. “coffee break” through videoconference, regular end of or afterwork sessions to in which your team can relax with each other, e.g. through online contests or games.. Creating a pleasant working environment and maintaining unity is not self-evident: the company must be proactive and proposing force in order to cultivate team spirit!
The Covid-19 crisis has pushed back the boundaries. We have observed that organisations currently pursuing their activities thanks to home office have been able to accelerate their digital transformation, based on strong company values and strong commitment. Even if the crisis impacts deeply company’s performance, it is also bringing us learnings on their ability to innovate and being agile. We can only hope, in the coming weeks or even months, that steering committees will initiate new strategic reflection on digitisation at all organisation level: one of the priority would be the spread the use of digital communication tool, as well as upskilling their collaborators by proving them the key to enter tomorrow’s workplace.